A long time ago, the combat in Japanese role-playing games was extraordinarily simple. Classic turn-based RPGs would hit you with a deluge of random and scripted battles. To beat them, you'd select options like "fight" or "magic" from a series of dropdown menus. You'd usually only die if you were under-leveled, in which case the solution was also extraordinarily simple: Go level up.
The Last Story, a Wii RPG by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi that will be out in the U.S. this summer, is anything but simple. Its massive, intense battles blend elements from a number of older RPGs, from Final Fantasy Tactics to Valkyria Chronicles. There's cover, stealth, and even a first-person perspective that you can use to look for clues among the game's environments.
From what I've seen so far, it all seems very cool. Here's what you should know about the upcoming RPG, broken down into bullet points because who doesn't love bullet points?
- There's one major city, and it's chock full of weird, lively details that you'll discover as you play. You can run into shopkeepers and do bizarre things like throw a prank banana to make the city's poor denizens slip and collide into one another. Publisher XSEED's Tom Lipschultz, who sat down at E3 to give me a quick look at The Last Story, says the city feels "very alive."
- Here's how you know this is a Japanese game: You can put different types of dye on your characters' armor to customize their appearances. One of those dyes is invisible. In other words, you can make all of your characters parade around the whole game in their underwear.
- Let's talk about combat. Every single battle starts down with a top-down look at the battlefield so you can see where all the enemies are, not unlike a tactical role-playing game. We then zoom down to third-person perspective so we can actually, you know, kill them.
- Lipschultz starts off a sample battle by hiding behind a column and pointing out that there's an enemy in front of us who doesn't know we're there yet. You can take cover, sneak around between pillars and other obstacles, and attack them from under cover. Stealth!
- We pull out our bow and shoot the enemy in the back. He's alarmed, but still doesn't know who hit him. Because we're being super stealthy.
- Then we jump in and slash him up. Once this guy's dead, Lipschultz shows me what's called Command Mode, in which you can bark orders at your party members and send them to do things in real-time strategy fashion. So you might send an archer to pick off stragglers on one side of the battlefield while you fight baddies on the other.
- You can use an ability called "Gathering" to draw the attention of enemies around you. This way, your main character can tank while your allies handle support.
- When you see an enemy sorcerer or magic-user starting to cast a spell, you can go up to them and interrupt it before it goes through.
- Some enemies will grab onto you with their tentacles. You'll have to shake them off. Or you'll die.
- BTW, The Last Story supports the remote and Nunchuk combo, but it plays best with the Wii's Classic Controller.
- I'm totally overwhelmed by how complex this system is. In a good way. When you're not casting spells or sniping baddies, you can also send your wizards to destroy bridges and block off enemy routes.
- There are "mini-cinematics" in the middle of battle that will play when you do particularly cool things, like destroy bridges and block off enemy routes.
- You might worry that with battles this complicated, you might get to the point where you're sick of fighting and you just want to progress the story. Fortunately, there are no random encounters: every battle is scripted and predetermined. (If you want to grind—which Lipschultz says will never be necessary—you can fight random battles at a certain magic circle.)
- XSEED won't tell me when it's coming out. All they say is "summer 2012." When I pressed them for specifics, here's what they said: "XSEED Games would just like to clarify that the exact release date for The Last Story has not actually been announced yet. The game was announced as a summer release, and we are still planning to release the game later this summer – we'll have an exact date soon. There was a bit of a mix-up when some online retailers moved their placeholder dates and sent notices to pre-order customers, but the title has not actually been delayed."
- I wish it was in HD. I really, really wish it was in HD. Like Xenoblade before it, this is a gorgeous game that suffers because of the Wii's hardware limitation.
- XSEED's Lipschultz tells me that the story doesn't break new ground, but what it does, it does really well. I ask him if there are any particular games he might compare it to. His answer: Vagrant Story.
- By the way, XSEED isn't doing a new localization for the game. They're sticking with the European release. So be ready for lots of British voices. Lipschultz promises that the Britishisms fit the game well.
- The game's score was composed by Nobuo Uematsu. Nuff said.
- With the Wii U launching this fall, this could be the last new game you ever play on your Wii. End of an era!
So that's The Last Story in a nutshell. Although Kotaku's Richard Eisenbeis has already published an official review of the upcoming RPG, I'm sure I'll have more thoughts and impressions when it migrates to America later this summer.