This time of year our better half will go into a torpor and if left uninterrupted will sleep forever. A physiology we took advantage of, not like that, to get a couple of hours of gaming in and finally saw the credits of The Last Story. Looking at the Nintendo Channel stats for this game our playtime of just under 41 hours was almost double the time that the 1753 other players (who have allowed Nintendo to publish their data) spent on this game. Other lesser sites also reported a playtime of 20 hours. So what kept us?
Well this is a head scratcher because unlike other RPGs, The Last Story does an excellent job of cutting out the obligatory filler content. There are only a dozen or so different dungeons. Armour comes in six different flavours and is easily upgraded without epic or repetitive quests for rare materials. We honestly just spent all that extra time taking in Lazulis City, a hub city, that's probably up there with the best game places to just spend time soaking up the sites and sounds, chasing the odd trivial side quest here and there and exploring every nook and cranny just for the sake of it.
It's a lovely place to spend time and has been efficiently created so that at first it seems labyrinthine but after a while becomes easily traversable but still with areas that can turn you around and niches with an extra item, character or subquest that are easily overlooked. More than this Lazulis City feels like a living breathing city. Rarely will you see three identikit citizens strolling down the street a la Grand Theft Auto and it doesn't feel like six interactive buildings linked together by a soulless architecture like No More Heroes' Santa Destroy. Lazulis City feels more like a working city than Xenoblade Chronicles' major cities which can at times feel like static buildings with stereotype behaving NPCs, breaking the immersion as the go for their daily walk, day in and day out. Lazulis citizens change their dialogue often enough and NPCs react to the progress of the main story, subtly giving hints about new subquests, hidden areas or what might becoming next.
Even the way that Zael can interact with the city and it's inhabitants is very limited but Mistwalker has piled in extras and secrets that make you go the extra mile to seek out the Orchid Gang, flirt with a string of women or deliberately bash your head on as many street signs as possible during the down time between progressing the main quest. You can even take on the job of an NPC, giving a market trader time for a smoke break as you flog your excess kit to other NPCs. Sounds boring but we probably spent close to one of our 40 hours doing just that.
The game delivers on the rest of what you might expect from a game and then some. Syrenne and Mirania stand out as female characters who are believable and atypical of the Mary Sues in most games (sadly Calista is a let down when she isn't being Jasmine from Aladin scene-by-scene). The localisation is the best I can think of in any game. So good that I can't picture Lowell, Syrenne or Horace ever being Japanese characters in the original version. The banter is of a quality that'll make you tread carefully so you don't skip it and there are moments that trigger a wry knowing smile rather than a full belly laugh. The main story is a bit hackneyed and the reuse of environments, up to four times in some cases, borders on the cheeky but just about gets away with it. The combat system that gave the development team quite a few headaches, according to the Nintendo Channel Interviews, works although once you unlock all the tricks in the offering you tend to stick to a rinse and repeat cycle of combos, the enemy tactics have been carefully thought about to encourage a variety in approach to a mob and stops things getting staid. The rest just ticks all the boxes, you can customise the appearance of your characters' armour in such a way that doing this alone provides a substantial distraction, the soundtrack is fantastic and there's a farming and trading mini game which is completely optional but strangely compelling.
Lastly, this title and Xenoblade Chronicles have underpinned a revelation we had about the Wiimote and nunchuk controllers for these kinds of games. Both titles can be controlled with a classic controller (Xenoblade Chronicles special edition came with one) but playing with a wiimote and nunchuk not only felt comfortable but a significant improvement over joypads. The Wii controllers are oft criticised for shoddy controls but motion controlling aside, the freedom and fluidity of not having your hands cramped around a joypad for hours on end is something that should be celebrated a lot more than it has been now we're expected to hold a fucking tablet controller.
So there we have it, we've fallen in love with the Last Story and can't recommend it enough. The caveat is that this is very much our sort of game. If you can't stand a lot of whimsy, don't care about little details or just don't do exploration for it's own sake then I can see how The Last Story might seem a shallow and short.