Iím not a big JRPG guy. Iím not sure what compelled me to play these two games. Theyíre not the kind of thing Iíd usually bother with. I mean, I love Pokťmon. And Chrono Trigger, though I never finished it on account of the difficulty ramping up towards the end. But Iíve quickly abandoned games such as Dragon Quest IX, Final Fantasy VII, Super Mario RPG, and other such dabblings in the genre. I have a low tolerance for grinding, and for turn-based combat.
So why did I bother with Xenoblade Chronicles and the Last Story? I donít really know. I mean, there are great JRPGs on Xbox 360 and PS3 of comparable quality, arenít there? Like that last game from Mistwalker that Jim Sterling says is his favourite JRPG of this console generation. Or Nier Ė I heard that game was pretty original. But I know little to nothing about these games; theyíve gone pretty well under my radar. Perhaps Iím more inclined towards these games because theyíre on the Wii (my favourite console)? I donít know why that would be the case. I like high definition. But part of what sold me on them was this idea that theyíre from developers that want to craft truly special, memorable games, which they canít afford to do if theyíre also putting so many of their resources into the graphics. Cough Final Fantasy 13 yadda yadda.
Okay okay okay. The reason is this: through all the attention they received because of Nintendoís refusal to localize them, and Operation Rainfall, etc, I couldnít help but take notice of them, and so considering all the hype and fuss about them, I figured Iíd try one, and I judged from the word around at the time that the Last Story was the best one Ė the one to try, but then they started coming out in Europe and everyone said Xenoblade Chronicles was the best Ė and the best JRPG of this console generation, so I was like fine, I guess I oughtta play that one instead but I was still a bit curious about the Last Story and it was still really well received and then XSEED was putting it out in a limited beautiful packaging with a soundtrack and artbook and cool case and I couldnít resist. So I ended up playing them both.
But the point is this: I was cautious and sceptical of these games. I hoped Iíd like them, but I didnít really expect to. I was going into unknown territory, and I wasnít sure what to expect. But Iíve played both now, so if anyone reading is of a similar mind to me on JRPGs and remains indecisive on whether these games are worth playing: I offer my perspective.
Xenoblade Chronicles impressed me. I love the world and the characters. The world is wonderfully realized and very neat Ė it takes place on two enormous colossi frozen in mid-battle and the landscapes you run through are quite beautiful to behold. As for the characters Ė a lot of them are kind of generic Ė but theyíre just so upbeat, they have such fun with it, and then Reyn and Rikki really stand out. Theyíre ridiculous and the lines they Ė especially Reyn Ė repeat over and over and over and over and over again in his ludicrously English accent Ė I canít help but love him. And then there are the bad guys Ė giant robots, also with violently British accents, that want to eat the protagonists, and that are just so gleeful about it. Itís all very good in a campy sort of way.
The battle system is also completely unique and a good deal of fun. And my god, everything loads so quickly compared to what Iíd been used to, having just played Skyrim. But gosh. Iím running out of praise for it. There were times when I felt that the game was the most ludicrously offensive waste of time Iíd ever stuck with. Run a few feet. Engage in fight with robots. Run a few more feet. Another fight with robots. Observe size of level. Realize I will be doing this ceaselessly for hours. The horror. Back out in the open world, where Iím more inclined to run past enemies, I found myself getting my ass handed to me by the boss I needed to defeat to progress. Gotta grind. I found the game devolved into running across enormous maps, hitting every enemy along the way with my sword. A little over forty hours into the game, I decided to throw in the towel.
I also rather disliked trying to figure out what to equip on each of my many characters, and what to sell. Most of the sidequests, since they donít show you specifically where to go, as in something like Skyrim, were incredibly laborious and not worth doing. The whole gem crafting thing I felt was pretty obtuse and rather a hassle to do.
I still quite liked the game overall. I liked the parts in between the grinding, where I was actually progressing the story, doing unique fights for the first time, and exploring new locations. I liked the combat, and I liked upgrading my skills and stuff, but I didnít like it enough for how much of it there was. If the game werenít so thinly spread; if it didnít take so much to level up, I might have thought it a great game. As it stands, I think itís an impressive game. Sometimes the most offensively time-wasting game Iíve played, but good nonetheless. :)
The Last Story! I basically thought I was crazy for buying this game. Something in the same vein as Xenoblade Chronicles but not as good. Not as innovative Ė fewer modern conveniences. Without the campy characters. Ugh. Jimís review didnít help. But now that Iíve played through it Ė I frigginí love it, man! Itís so good! This game is a little over 20 hours Ė itís so well paced! There is no grinding! Itís an action RPG, dude! There is a feature called auto-equip, where the computer chooses the best equipment for your party automatically Ė itís a godsend! Now this is more my kind of game.
It gets better. The combat Ė though less unique then Xenoblade Chronicles Ė is more fun and varied. Throughout the game, youíre challenged to approach situations in all different ways. The combat is Zelda-ish, but with some great twists like the ability to command your party and diffuse their magic circles (which I wonít try to explain here). Itís easy to learn but results in a quite complex array of possible approaches to combat. There are also a ton of boss fights, and theyíre all appropriately epic and, like all the best video game bosses, theyíre puzzles, with unique ways of defeating them. Theyíre awesome.
The gameís story surpassed my expectations, which admittedly were incredibly low for a game called the Last Story. I have a passing knowledge of JRPG clichťs and stereotypical Ďmoodyí characters and stuff, which is what I was expecting, and these expectations werenít immediately dashed. I saw the characters as being pretty two-dimensional and the story as nothing really special at first, but as the game went on, I warmed up to the characters quite a bit, and the story went from serviceable, to totally serviceable, to, ultimately, actually fairly engaging. Itís pretty well-done. And not in a campy way. And the British voice acting is superb. Oh, and the music is fantastic!
The Last Story isnít perfect. I have a fair amount of little issues with it, but, individually, theyíre so petty theyíre not worth mentioning. From start to finish itís an excellent game that I wholeheartedly recommend.
Xenoblade Chronicles is deeper, itís got more going for it; for a certain audience, itís the better game, but I like the Last Story way more. For my tastes, itís way more fun. Itís 22 hours of extremely well-paced action-RPG bliss. Itís a completely different game from Xenoblade Chronicles and not what I was expecting at all, but Iím so happy at what it turned out to be.