Finished it up this morning. My new game+ save is 18 hours on the dot, but I didn't do much of the town quests or mess around with the arena to much, so I can see it being 25-30 hours if you do everything.
Does game quality matter if it's fun?
That's the dilemma when trying to critique The Last Story. If you were judging it solely from "is it a good rpg?" perspective, the last story fails. If you were judging it solely from "is it a good action game" perspective, the last story still fails, although less so. But if you're perspective is "is it a fun game?" then the last story passes with flying colors.
The Last Story will probably be one of the most fun games this year, and it's definitely one of the more fun games on the Wii for sure. The game is constantly exciting, extremely accessible, and always makes you feel like an awesome gamer. As someone else put it early in the thread, "it's Mass Effect 2 with swords & magic". It has the same kind of stop & pop constant fun as ME2.
Gameplay - Combat
The real time system of TLS is so fresh, that's it's tough to describe without playing it. It's like Mass Effect x Tales of the Abyss. You run around slashing enemies and using powers, but similar the FoF system of Abyss, those powers leave elemental magic circles which you can then use to change your attacks. By the end of the game the strategies boil down to having a bunch of element spots around the floor that you can instantly fly over to and activate for buffs/debuffs or heals.
On the other hand, after a while the combat tends to feel a bit less fresh because frankly there just isn't that much depth to it. Similar to the combat in ME2, it's kind of "lite" on the rpg-strategy and more on just doing the same things from a very limited moveset. Because you can only control Elza, you basically have these attack options 1) slash a guy, 2) hide and then pop out and slash a guy, 3) use your one magic attack to activate circles, 4) shoot your bow arrow. While the circle system actually gives that more depth than it sounds and you spend most of your time ordering your sub-characters, the truth is that the limited moveset of both Elza and the rest of the cast give a game a learning curve that is perfect for about 10 hours and then sorta plateaus. But it tends to stay fun.
The other thing that's a bit unfortunate about the combat is that the game is really really easy until the final bosses. You can probably just run up and slash everything you see for most of the game without having to really go any deeper. This is great because it makes the game very accessible, but the lack of challenge is a bit of a shame. The final chapter, which has some tough bosses, is where the game really shines and is easily the best chapter in the game.
To be fair though, I have to admit I'm a bit glad the game is easy. Why? Because the controls, camera, AI, and glitches in the game are a little more than I like to deal with. The camera in particular is spaztastic. With the lock-on being more worthless than worthwhile. And then little stuff like assigning ROLL to the same button as ATTACH so if you run up to something you want to take cover behind and hit A to take cover, half the time you roll right past it instead of attaching. Same thing goes for when you have to pick up objects and you're being chased by enemies so you run up to hit and hit A (or down with manual controls) and you roll over it. The game definitely could have done its control scheme a bit better. And I had some nasty glitches, the worst being after a boss, the camera decide to get stuck locked at the ceiling so I had to go into FP to find the exit and then run out the exit while not seeing my character and having the camera spin around pointed straight up, lol. Could use some more polish for sure.
Also I want to mention that the boss fights are great and the highlight of the game as they play out more like Zelda where you need to figure out the solution to the puzzle to beat them. Very fun. Though the game also tells you the answer to the puzzle as your teammates shout what you need to do as you're fighting. I wish you could turn that off!
But overall the combat is great. Or at least a great start. I'd love to see a Last Story 2 that builds on the systems introduced here.
Gameplay - Non-combat
This is one of those "do you want an rpg?" grey areas when looking at the game. If you want an rpg experience of exploring environments, traveling the world, meeting people, towns, etc... you will hate this game. If you get past the fact that TLS really isn't an rpg, this stuff will bug you less because it's not like Gears of War really has anything to do outside shooting monsters and people are fine with that!
I guess the closest experience would be Dragon Quest Swords. Like DQS you have a town (that's much bigger in TLS) and you can walk around in that town. And then you go up to people who say essentially "do you want to continue the story" and when you click yes you're transported into the next corridor slasher dungeon or couple of dungeons and then you'll end up back at the town again. In the town you can do sidequests, but the lack of modern standards like a quest log to keep track of who asked you to do something and what they wanted, made the quests less enticing for me personally. Since there's no world or even environment out of the town to explore, all the quests are solved just by walking around doing things in the town or a few of them have their own unique "chapters" where they take you to a new location to do them like the normal game chapters.
And that's it. You can walk around, do some fights at the arena, do the quests in the town, shop or jump to the next setpiece. Because the scope of the game is so small (it's like a 2 hour summer action movie, rather than a novel or 20-50ep tv show), there's just not much to the world. TLS is mainly an on-rails action game.
Gameplay - Character Growth
One thing that's nice about TLS is that there's no grinding. If you want to gain levels before a boss you can call out enemies in a room next to the boss and fight them for 20 seconds and gain a level each time. It's simple, effective, and not important at all because stats don't matter much in TLS. TLS is an action game, if you get the strategy right, you win.
But in addition there's also a weapon/armor system where you get loot from dungeons and upgrade them and weapons have inherent abilities that make them unique and armor is visible and unique and looks cool. Tbh, this is just ok. On the plus side there is a lot of loot in dungeons and that's always fun; it's great picking up an item that glowing orange and says RARE. On the other hand upgrading weapons feels like a chore as it's boring and just breaks up the action. And while visible armor is great, there's like, less than 10 pieces of armor in the whole game. I think my cast looked the same for the entire 2nd half of the game. After playing Xenoblade with tons and tons of visible armor, it's a little sad.
While TLS may be Sakaguchi's take on Mass Effect 2 and to a degree Gears of War, the plot and writing quality tends to be more towards the latter than the former. I love Sakaguchi for his creative game design and his 90s throwback style, and it pains me to say it, but the man can't write, at least not anymore. Blue Dragon turned out well, but Lost Odyssey (outside the 1000 year stories written by actual novelists) was junk. The Last Story's plotting and dialogue feel exactly like Lost Odyssey's main plot, straight down to the over-exaggerated villians, characters who never see the obvious and a personality-less main character who is basically just generic beefy guy A. I know LO has some fans, so maybe some people will enjoy it but while I loved the 1000 year stories in LO, I thought the plot and cast boring and generic. Which basically sums up TLS.
I also feel this hurts TLS a little more than LO though because TLS could almost be called an interactive movie. It's an on-rails experience with constant cutscenes every 2-5 mins that probably make up around 30-50% of the gametime. So when you're spending a good chunk of your time watching the story, it doesn't seem that unreasonable to want it to be good. I mean if Xenoblade was presented in the same way it'd still be great because Xenoblade's plot was extremely interesting and the cast and dialogue were well written. But here...not so much.
But like a Michael Bay movie, most of the time the lack of intelligence of the writing doesn't really bother you since it's presented in an exciting way to make the game feel like you're playing through the latest 2 hour explosive summer action movie. The pacing is amazing most of the time. It's like Call of Duty with constant things blowing up and happening left and right. TLS does CoD far better than FFXIII's attempt at it. It's only in the parts where the game stops and tries to add real emotion to the paper-thin characters and falls totally flat, that you kind of wish Sakaguchi would just let someone else write his stories.
The Characters also feel inspired by Gears of War. Your sub-cast of mercenaries have about as much depth as Dom or the loveable Cole Train. Taking a cue from FFXIII, TLS has active party talk while you're running through the dungeons. This is great as it makes dungeons a bit more lively and like with Gears, it's always fun to chat the chat while slicing monsters in half. One thing though, that is kind of annoying is the timing on these party talks. For instance you'll open a door and your crew will start talking, but the second you walk through the door it'll end the chat as it loads the new area. So if you want to finish hearing the whole conversation you have to keep stopping in front of doors and not going through them until everyone is finished talking. You kind of think they would have recorded the dialogues to be the length of time it takes to run through the corridor from one end to another since the game is so linear ^^;
Very, very inconsistent. You can see it in this thread, you can see it on gamefaqs, you can see it in other forums where people are playing TLS. Half the people think the game looks terrible, one of the worst looking games on Wii. Half the people think it looks great, one of the best looking games on Wii.
Personally I just think it's totally inconsistent thanks to having X360/PS3 level effects like HDR lighting or depth of field or HD quality water combined with the worst texture work known to man and PS1-level flat geometry.
Even the animation is bizarrely inconsistent. For cutscenes or talking faces, or certain battle animations, the animation is stiff and low-budget cheap. Otoh, you have really nice movement animation that reacts to signs by ducking under them, or rails by leaning against them.
Then on top of that you throw in the art direction which is mainly brown and lacking-color and you have a package that can be appealing at times (parts of the castle, parts of town) and incredibly ugly at other times (dungeons, certain other areas).
Also I just gotta say the texture work is a mess. The main characters all look great, but any side stuff was given no effort. For example in chapter 35 there's this one cutscene where a knight is talking to you and the camera is close up on his body and you can't tell what anything is. It's just a huge blur and PS1 level textures. From a distance the knight model looks fine, but get close up and the textures are just awful. You also see PS1 textures on the walls or objects or clothing scattered around. I dunno if the game just had a really really low budget or if they just said "textures, who cares" but the texture work is about on par with launch-era PS2 rpgs like Tsuganai or some PSP stuff.
But I also want to point out that the water is amaaazing. Especially for the Wii. It's really the stand out visual point of the game.
Another area where I've seen and am sure there will be much debate for years to come.
In TLS, Uematsu has decided to forgo the Uematsu melodic style that he used in BD/LO and FF games for a movie-soundtrack style. What this means is that while you're playing the music always fits the game and helps make it more enjoyable. But it also means that without having distinctive "town A song, dungeon B song", outside of the main title tracks and one boss tune towards the end that actually sounds classic Uematsu, the rest of the music is not very memorable.
Personally I'm going to side with the side that feels the ost, while competent, is a letdown as I re-listened to the first 10 tracks of the LO ost after finishing TLS, and every single one of those tracks was on a completely different level than the TLS soundtrack. I'm a fan of distinctive rpg music and was looking forward to another great Uematsu score (I bought the BD & LO osts), but came out disappointed here.
The game is short, yeah. The main story is about 20 hours and there's around 5-10 hours of sidestuff and a new game+ if you ever want to replay it. But you can't really compare it to an rpg game length because of the pacing. In TLS you're always run run running through the chapters at a brisk and exciting pace. This is much different than the stop and go pacing of a standard 30-50 hour rpg. So while you'll finish the game relatively quickly, you'll be glad it was kept short with great pacing.
Also there's this online mode or something, but that's not really my thing so I can't comment on it. If you like online gaming, going by what everyone else is saying it should be fun and add plenty of time.
My experience with The Last Story was that the graphics were kind of bad, the music was a letdown, the story and characters were cliche and dumb, the gameplay was simplistic and easy, there wasn't any world to explore, and the game was very short. If I was to only look at the parts, I would give the game a 6/10.
But a game is more than the sum of its parts, and TLS is a game that proves that. For almost every negative, there's a positive on the other side of the coin. Short game? Great pacing; Streamlined combat? Fun combat. Stupid plot? Lots of explosions. Most importantly, the game was just a lot of fun. Really, really fun. And fun should count for something, shouldn't it? I mean a lot of the games that get 8s or 9s from review sites aren't even that fun to play :P
So at the end of the day, I think The Last Story is a bad game that's ridiculously fun to the point that it becomes an enjoyable good game. Sakaguchi has succeeded in making the first Michael Bay game. Just don't go looking for an rpg. For your own sake.