Now, it's taken years of planning, countless dark magic rituals, and the sacrifice of a beloved pet rat, but the Wii has finally, bewilderingly and brilliantly become the go-to format for the big-budget JRPG.
Monster Hunter Tri was the instigator, generating an army of warriors with oddly curved claw-hands; the incredible Xenoblade came next, proving that both the Wii and the genre can do open worlds. And now The Last Story hits the UK this coming February. We've been playing the English version of Mistwalker's bold, unusual, all-encompassing RPG, and after a few overwhelming and content-packed hours in Lazulis City, we're still no closer to finding a neat pigeonhole to stuff it in.
But it can't hurt to have a go. The Last Story is a real-time tactical action role-playing shooter, or RTTARPS for short. We'll go into the specifics of its initially baffling combat later, but beyond that it's also a game with great characters, an exceptional translation, and the same wonderful British voice acting that made Xenoblade's motley band of adventurers so enjoyable to listen to. ("Man, what a bunch of jokers" aside.)
SONG TO THE SYRENNE
Right from the opening line - "Let's get these Reptid bastards" - you know your ears are in for a decidedly different treat to the usual shrill tones of a 40-year-old voice actor pretending to be a 14-year-old girl. The line in question is uttered by Syrenne, a hard-drinking mercenary with a lascivious nature, but it's the disarmingly natural delivery that endears her to you instantly - not to mention the fact that her actress appears to be a genuine Northern lass. Of course, as with Xenoblade, the result is a slight disconnect between the voice and the character - these are regional, salt-of-the-Earth types that look like they're dressed for the Tokyo fashion show - but it's a feeling that fades the more time you spend in their illustrious company.
Syrenne's a member of a seemingly unnamed group of mercenaries operating out of a tavern (where else?) in the gigantic Lazulis City. She's joined by Lowell, a charming Scottish mage with a penchant for the ladies; Dagran, a more reserved greatsword-wielding warrior type; Yurick, a grumpy kid-wizard with a suspiciously missing eye; and a quiet, petite healer named Mirania. Oh, and we almost forgot about Zael, the comparatively bland male model/orphan who's soon identified as the main character.
It's a great bunch, on the whole, and unlike a lot of JRPGs you truly feel as if you're part of a close-knit team. It helps that they don't all get along - early on, Syrenne refers to Yurick as "creepy eyepatch kid", which is as accurate as it as hilarious.
You're certainly thrown into the thick of things together, as the gang explore a dank cave on a mission to exterminate a bunch of Reptids - goblin-like creatures - for a certain Count Arganan, who lords it over Lazulis Island where the game is set. After surviving an attack by some unkillable skeletons - only to see Syrenne take an arrow to the heart (noooooo!!!) - Zael's granted a mysterious power by a mysterious entity, which allows him to mysteriously revive downed characters (among other mysterious things).
The stage culminates in an epic Lord Of The Rings-style boss battle on a crumbling bridge, and before you can say "You shall not pass!" in your best Ian McKellen voice, the mercs are already basking in the sunshine, returning to Lazulis to claim their hard-won reward.
If you're concerned about spoilers, you should know that all of that happened during the first 45 minutes or so of the game, during the tutorial dungeon. The real Last Story begins when you approach the city itself, something the game reinforces by saving the title screen for its glorious reveal.