The Wii created a bona fide frenzy when it was launched six years ago. Now, most Wiis are gathering dust on back shelves, if they haven't been unplugged and thrown away. As Nintendo gears up for the holiday release of the Wii's successor, the Wii U, new games for the old system have been nearly nonexistent.
"The Last Story" (Xseed, $49.99) couldn't have a more appropriate title because it does indeed appear to be the Wii's last gasp. It's an ambitious adventure that struggles constantly against the limitations of the underpowered console. And it's quite a letdown, considering the track record of its creator.
Hironobu Sakaguchi, the director of "The Last Story," is best known as the creator of the landmark "Final Fantasy" series. He's also the author of one of the finest role-playing games of the current generation, the Xbox 360 epic "Lost Odyssey." I'm a huge fan, but I found his latest journey more exhausting than exciting.
The protagonist is a young mercenary named Zael who dreams of becoming a knight. While visiting his empire capital, Lazulis City, he shares a romantic evening with a melancholy beauty named Lisa. If you've ever played a Japanese RPG, you won't be surprised by the revelation that Lisa is really Calista, heiress to the throne. She's betrothed to a creepy popinjay, and her brilliant uncle Count Arganan seems less than trustworthy, so it's up to the kid to prove he's a worthy suitor.
Zael gets his chance when he and his merc buddies find themselves on a mission to infiltrate the command base of the Gurak, a monstrous race bent on the destruction of Lazulis. But who's the real monster: enemy Gen. Zangurak or the calculating Arganan?
I haven't spoiled anything here, because anyone familiar with the genre will see the plot twists coming hours before they actually emerge. Zael himself is a hoary RPG trope: the chosen one, granted supernatural powers by "the Outsider" and destined to become the savior of the planet. And with the exception of a few uninspired side-quests, the tale is relentlessly linear, eschewing the free-roaming exploration of Western RPGs like "Skyrim."
As hackneyed as the plot is, though, Sakaguchi and the team at his Mistwalker studio do make a noble effort to freshen up the gameplay. The frequent, random battles of the "Final Fantasy" franchise are replaced by defined scenarios at prescribed locations. As your party approaches, you get an overhead view so you can scope out the competition and plot out a strategy.
Unfortunately, your companions usually don't listen to a word you say, so the fights devolve into free-for-alls. Near the end of "The Last Story" you gain the power to pause the action and issue commands (as in "Mass Effect"), but your choices are limited. Despite the lack of control, most of the skirmishes are easy to win — although I often found myself triumphant without knowing why.
Graphically, "The Last Story" barely matches the quality of Sakaguchi's late-1990s PlayStation games. There are occasional glimpses of beauty in the non-interactive cut scenes, but much of the game is marred by muddy environments, blurry textures and clunky character animation.
Sakaguchi fans fought to get "The Last Story" released in the U.S., but it's a lackluster effort from the master. Let's hope it isn't really his last story. Two stars out of four.