Five hours in, I can’t help but think to myself that The Last Story is very much the Final Fantasy game we deserve, but the game the Square-Enix has abandoned. There are shades and echoes from previous Final Fantasy games everywhere for anyone who is familiar with the franchise. It plays and feels like Final Fantasy in all but name. The character archetypes pick up right where Hironobu Sakaguchi left off in Final Fantasy X. Interestingly enough, the crest on The Last Story logo has a set of roman numerals around its edge numbering from I , II, III and ending in X. This would seem to imply that in Sakaguchi’s mind, this would be his 11th single-player entry into the Final Fantasy series.
The castle town in Lazulis reminds me of San d’Oria in Final Fantasy XI and Alexandria in Final Fantasy IX, a bustling but quaint medieval town. The game design borrows heavily from Final Fantasy XI and XII with a massive and beautifully rendered 3D world filled with NPCs and a really nice depth of field effect for objects , NPCs and allies. There are open ended interludes between narrative segments to allow for questing, weapons upgrading and earning gold. So much so that there is a MMO feel to this offline game given all the NPC quests, looting and gear grinding to be had. In fact, The Last Story has an on-line mode where players can play co-operatively and competitively. I haven’t it tried yet, but I assume gold and loot earned can be carried over to the main game.
The battle system isn’t turn based, but an evolved RTB (real-time battle) system found in Final Fantasy XI and XII with a stronger emphasis on tactical combat and strategy. As a result, the camera system in The Last Story can be a little jumpy because movement, use of the landscape can often lead the camera astray. I much prefer the more restrained ‘third person’ camera in Final Fantasy XI and XII.
It’s a great thing Xseed was able to bring this title to North America, and they did it in style, complete with a faux-book jacket housing the Wii game and a slim but worthwhile artbook. Pre-orders (I got mine via Amazon) also had a bonus CD included, with selected tracks from compositions by none other than Final Fantasy's Nobuo Uematsu.
From what I’ve seen, heard and played of The Last Story so far, it feels like the start to a wonderful game that harkens back to the golden age of Square RPGs in the mid to late 90s, much like the other late release on the Wii, Xenoblade. I wouldn’t have it any other way.