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Game Review

A good novel can almost envelop you.

After you've spent many hours reading a character's story and living vicariously through him or her, it can be difficult putting a well-written tale down and stepping away from its fictional world.

The Last Story works on your brain and your heart in exactly the same way.

This JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) isn't just another giant sword-swinging quest title. Yes, it has those typical gaming bits in its mix, but it wants players, rather, to focus on the gaggle of young renegades at its core and take the time to slowly become part of their story.

This is a game of forbidden romance and mystery, monsters and a princess; an epic tale that keeps you locked in a fantasy world while it spoons out compelling cutscene clues and character dialogue bits about the web of relationships that ties its protagonists together. Why does young Zael have whimsical dreams of someday becoming a knight? What makes the magic-caster Yurick such a loner? Is there something driving the tattooed Amazon, Syrenne, to numb herself with hard-knuckle battles and a constant flow of ale?

An Island World of Stories and Quests
The tale is set in a fantasyland that's caught up in the throes of a massive war between corrupt governments. This horrible war has been so devastating that the place itself is beginning to calcify and crumble away, filling the air with glowing feather-like shards. Whether they know it or not, it will be up to young Zael and his spikey-haired band of blade-for-hire mercenary friends to beat monsters, follow questing clues and save their world.

The main story quests are all pretty linear, but since the game's world covers the sprawling island city of Lazulis, things feel fairly open and flexible. Quests range from fighting enemy hordes in the castle to finding lost children in more shadowy quarters to battling monsters in dank subterranean caverns. And between the narrative-advancing quests and struggles with enlivened skeletons there's the chance to just sit and chat at a local tavern or walk the cobblestone streets of the city and interact with the citizenry there—each with his or her own tale to tell or item to sell.

The fighting mechanic offers some combat choices for a gamer to control, such as firing Zael's crossbow at a distant foe, dodging an enemy projectile, taking cover or telling Yurick where to aim his magic blasts. But a lot of this game's action is automatic. You simple push your hero in the direction of an enemy, and the good guy takes care of the blade slashing or friend healing on his own without any further button-mashing prompts. It's an odd-feeling system at first, but it does lessen the sense of being at the stabbing heart of the combat—helping it all seem, in a way, like you're watching things unfold of their own accord. Like you're reading a book.

Novel Intentions
That diminished control over the hacking and gashing doesn't mean you're totally insulated from any and all content issues. There's still a quantity of things here to be aware of: Enemies tumble to the ground when defeated, sometimes yelling out in pain; dark magic powers some of the fighters; and foul language can be quite prominent. In the very first line of the game's dialogue, for instance, the ever-vocal Syrenne grumbles out her displeasure at some "b‑‑tard" she's chasing. Words such as "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑n," "arse" "p‑‑‑" and even the s-word punctuate the script.

And while we're talking about Syrenne, I should note that she's regularly part of several other T-rated troubles. She and others speak freely of flirting sexually. She wears chaps and drapey tunic outfits that reveal much of her shapely, heavily tattooed body. (Other characters can follow suit as players gain the ability to equip them with different sets of armor, including invisible ones that give the appearance of wearing little more than undies.) She's also a heavy drinker who often cheers the joys of swilling as much alcohol as possible. The story chuckles at her drunkenness, at one point showing her almost singlehandedly drinking a tavern dry.

Like any novel you might dive into, then, you're at the mercy of whatever the author might want to share with you—for up to 40 hours in this case.

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August 14, 2012

On Video

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Bob Hoose

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