Tag: Nobuo Uematsu

The Last Story: Flawed but Satisfying

So I finally got around to finishing The Last Story the other day. On the whole, I liked it.

It's certainly got a lot of the same old themes from Final Fantasy, as you'd expect from a game produced by Hironobu Sakaguchi where he appears to have literally just typed "Final Fantasy" into a thesaurus. There's a corrupt empire, an ancient threat from outer space, plants withering and the earth beginning to rot, a pair of starcrossed lovers from opposite sides of the tracks, and a focus on providing story explanations for game mechanics.

Many of Uematsu's themes, of the musical variety, return as well -- I heard hints of Terra, Edgar and Sabin, Gau, and Setzer in the ending alone, one of the final boss themes is a dead ringer for the FF7 boss theme, and the main theme recalls bits of Locke, Celes, and Aeris.

It's good stuff, though, and not too derivative; I'm probably primed to pick up all those little FF6 threads from all that listening to Balance and Ruin.

It's pretty standard High Fantasy genre stuff -- lots of horns and strings and timpani. It doesn't have the breadth or variety of Uematsu's 16- and 32-bit compositions, but that's a function of this game being a lot more tonally consistent than those were. I've talked in the past about how FF7 has more mood swings than a bipolar teenager. Last Story is much more steady -- there's plenty of levity to be had, but little or nothing in the way of racing giant birds or attending an opera.

For all that's familiar, it's a very different kind of game. It feels smaller in scale -- sure, there's still a cosmic threat that endangers all life on the planet, but the scope feels smaller. The game is centered around a single city -- the kind of thing that just wasn't done in JRPG's back in the '80's and '90's but which has become increasingly commonplace. More than that, the plot is intimately focused -- it's less about the events going on in the world than how they personally affect the handful of main characters.

Final Fantasy tends to focus on small ragtag parties who travel all over expansive worlds and eventually save the world. Suikoden focuses on small ragtag parties who participate in small regional conflicts and eventually gather large armies to overthrow dictators (and save the world). Last Story combines the intimacy of a Suikoden game's regional conflict with the intimacy of a Final Fantasy game's small, closely-knit party of player characters -- in a setting that's smaller than either. It's like what you'd get if a Suikoden game took place entirely inside the castle and its surrounding environs, or if Final Fantasy 7 had taken place entirely in Midgar.

And -- like a Suikoden game and unlike Sakaguchi-era Final Fantasy games -- it also creates the impression that there are more stories to tell in this world. The heroes save the world, the current threat is dealt with, but the Empire is still out there and who knows what else is going on in the world. This is the kind of game where there could be sequels set in this same world -- which is great, because that's still a rarity in JRPG's (except, recently, for Final Fantasy games that really, really don't need them, no matter how much I may have enjoyed Crisis Core), and both the main Suikoden series and the Ivalice series sadly seem to have stalled at this point.

At any rate, maybe I'll get into specific plot details another time, but for now I'm going to take a minute to talk about mechanics.


As for the gameplay, it's really quite enjoyable, but it has some warts, particularly in the boss fights.

The complexity of the combat is a good idea in theory. It's clearly designed to give a more satisfying experience than Fight-Fire-Cure.

In practice, boss fights tend to go pretty much like this:

  1. Wait for a party member to explain what the boss's weakness is.
    • They will either explain this only once, in which case you will probably miss it, or they will explain it over and over again constantly forever until you go into the menu and turn the fucking voices off.
    • Also, occasionally, the game will fuck with you by introducing a simple concept in a completely counterintuitive manner. Like explaining elemental weaknesses in a battle with an ice-elemental monster at a point where the only offensive spell your party has is an ice spell.
  2. Try to hit "A" at exactly the right moment to perform the action that you need to perform to make the boss vulnerable; hope and pray that you are facing the object you're supposed to be interacting with dead-on and the "A" button performs the action it's supposed to instead of just rolling you out of range.
  3. Repeat step 2 until the boss becomes vulnerable to normal attacks. (In my experience this usually takes about 3 successful presses of the "A" button at exactly the right moment and about 50 unsuccessful presses of the "A" button that make you roll out of range and have to try again.)
  4. And then the rest of the fight is just Fight-Fire-Cure.
  5. Unless by this point you've been whittled down so badly that Syrenne is dead and Zael is on his last life. In which case you'll need to play defensively.
    1. Run around the boss in circles like it's a turn-of-the-century shooter, except without any shooting.
    2. Whittle the boss's health down, agonizingly slowly, with your remaining mages.
    3. If you do get hit, lunge for the nearest heal circle.
    4. Hope the boss doesn't just straight up fucking one-hit kill you.

So yeah. Combat makes some interesting decisions that are really nice in theory, but really fucking tedious in actual execution. It's the sort of thing that I think really could be improved in a sequel.

And while the game uses save points (boooooo), for the most part they're employed competently; they're spaced pretty close together and the game also has checkpoint saves that are even more frequent.

In fact, this works out pretty well right up until the last boss gauntlet.

The last boss gauntlet is fucking bullshit.

It relies on hoary old JRPG artificial difficulty tropes like spacing save points too far apart. In one case, there's a series of three consecutive battles with no save points or checkpoints in-between. Die in the third one and you'll have to replay the first two. But if you give up and quit, then the next time you restore from a save you'll not only have to replay those first two battles, but the boss fight right before them, because there's no save point after the boss. There's a save point before the boss, but you can't backtrack to it after you beat him.

And the last boss gauntlet is long. From the Point of No Return where you can no longer backtrack or buy equipment (which is distinct from the previous Point of No Return, where you could no longer backtrack but could still occasionally buy equipment), it goes something like boss, save point, boss, cutscene, checkpoint save, gauntlet of tougher-than-average regular enemies, checkpoint save, cutscene, boss, boss, cutscene, save point, cutscene, boss, checkpoint save, boss's second form, save point, cutscene, checkpoint save, another cutscene that you can fast forward through but can't actually skip, boss with three forms.

And, in addition to the complaints above, the difficulty of the fights is adjusted upward by things like repeatedly splitting up your party for no real good reason, and adjusted downward by sticking those last two save points in rooms where you can indefinitely spawn monsters that are laughably easy and yield ridiculously high experience.

In short, it feels like the frequent Sakaguchi problem of a climax going out of its way to keep ratcheting things up and reminding you that this really is the climax, with actual gameplay seeming to be an afterthought.

And then the game still doesn't end. I think it's actually nice that there's something to do postgame (not just a New Game+ but an opportunity to go back to town and do sidequests or what-have-you), but by the end there really was a feeling of "Jesus Christ, when is this thing going to end?"

There is seriously another numbered chapter after the Epilogue. That is not how fucking epilogues work!


You know, I was going to do a bit here about what I liked about the plot, themes, characters, and so forth, but instead I think I'm going to go eat my leftover beer bread, watch Daily Show, and then play FF6. Suffice it to say, I like how almost nobody's pure good or pure evil. Maybe I'll come back to this later.

Guess I kinda did leave this on a gripefest. But that's misleading -- check the title! I thought the game was pretty good.

I'm the darkness, you're the starlight, and I'm burnin' up in here

So here's what I've been listening to:

That's Balance and Ruin, a 5-disc collection of Final Fantasy 6 cover songs from OCRemix.

Now, I think it's still fair to say that Final Fantasy 6 is one of my two favorite games, though I suppose it probably needs an asterisk at this point.

Digression: While FF6 is a great game, it hasn't aged as well as some of its 16-bit contemporaries. Super Mario World, Mega Man X, and Super Metroid, for example, still stand as the pinnacles of their respective series and respective niches of the side-scrolling platformer genre; they're as close to perfection as a game's ever gotten, and, as years of remakes, sequels, and knockoffs have shown, are pretty damn difficult to improve on and shockingly easy to fuck up. In the Square family, I've always preferred FF6 to Chrono Trigger, but I think it's undeniable that CT's graphics and gameplay hold up better even if it's a shorter game with less-developed characters. And as for A Link to the Past -- well, that would be the other of my two favorite games, and it needs no asterisk.

The other thing that needs no asterisk? Final Fantasy 6 has my favorite video game soundtrack. Its depth and breadth are stunning; it's Uematsu at the top of his chiptune game. It's the only video game soundtrack I've ever bought, and if you name any of the 12 primary playable characters, Kefka or Gestahl, either of the airships, or for that matter most of the locations in the game, I could hum the tune off the top of my head. (And I could probably get either Gogo or Umaro, too, but I admit I might not be able to come up with both of them right away.)

Now, I love what OCRemix is but the truth is that in the past I've found their work hit-or-miss-but-mostly-miss for my tastes. The artists there, understandably, lean toward the techno/electronica style, and that's not my cuppa -- which I guess may be ironic coming from somebody who's checking out cover tunes of old video game songs in the first place.

Anyway, there's a good bit of that stuff on Balance and Ruin, but there's a whole lot else, too. There are plenty of orchestral arrangements here, and the soundtrack runs the gamut from faithful homage -- A Fistful of Nickels, by zircon, XPRTNovice, Jillian Aversa, and Jeff Ball, takes Shadow's Ennio Morricone influence to its logical conclusion with whistling, vocals, harmonica, violin, guitar, trumpet, and Jew's harp -- to riotous reinvention -- The Impresario, by Jake Kaufman and Tommy Pedrini, reimagines the Opera scene by way of Bohemian Rhapsody with a quick stop at West Side Story on the way -- to impressively effective minimalism -- Shnabubula and Gabe Terracciano cover the entire Ending Suite with nothing but a piano and violin.

At any rate, it's delightful, and the whole thing's a free download. Go to ff6.ocremix.org and you can grab a nice legal free torrent of the entire album in FLAC -- or MP3, if all this talk about SNES games has left you nostalgic for inferior 1990's technology.

You know what it makes me wanna do? Replay FF6. Random encounters and all.

But which version? The new Woolsey Uncensored Edition looks promising. On the other hand, I liked Slattery's translation quite a bit too; maybe I'll give FF6 Advance another shot. With the music patch, of course.

I should probably finish Last Story first. You know, the soundtrack's no FF6, but Uematsu's still got it.

To-Do

Games I've Bought and Haven't Played Yet

  • Dragon Quest Builders
  • Affordable Space Adventures
  • Mad Max
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
  • Gauntlet '15
  • Civilization 3
  • Civilization 4: Colonization
  • Cities: Skylines
  • X-COM: UFO Defense
  • X-COM: Terror From the Deep
  • X-COM: Apocalypse
  • X-COM: Interceptor
  • X-COM: Enforcer
  • Pirates
  • Starships
  • Ace Patrol
  • Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies
  • Chameleon Run
  • Hitman Go
  • Dropsy
  • The Banner Saga
  • Punch Club
  • Super Stickman Golf 3
  • Ys: The Oath in Felghana
  • Ys 6
  • Ys 7
  • Ys Origin
  • Grandia 2
  • Trails in the Sky 2
  • This War of Mine
  • Nuclear Throne
  • Renowned Explorers
  • Nova-111
  • The Magic Circle
  • Super Avalanche
  • Tailwind Prologue
  • Strikbold
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Shantae and the Pirate's Curse
  • A Boy and His Blob
  • Human Resource Machine
  • Retro City Rampage
  • Morrowind
  • Oblivion
  • Bioshock 2
  • Bioshock Infinite
  • Orange Box
    • Half-Life 2
    • Episode 1
    • Episode 2
    • Portal
    • Team Fortress 2
  • Dungeons & Dragons Anthology
    • Baldur's Gate
    • Baldur's Gate 2
    • Icewind Dale
    • Icewind Dale 2
    • Planescape: Torment
    • Temple of Elemental Evil
  • Fallout
  • System Shock 2
  • FarCry
  • Eversion
  • Aquaria
  • Gish
  • Penumbra: Overture
  • Lugaru
  • Trine 2
  • Mark of the Ninja
  • Eets Munchies
  • FTL
  • Rocketbirds
  • LIMBO
  • Shadowman
  • Penny Arcade Episode 2
  • Shank
  • Shank 2
  • The Baconing
  • Plants vs. Zombies: GOTY
  • Fist of Awesome
  • Reaper
  • Super Comboman
  • Ascendant
  • Fist of Jesus
  • SteamWorld Heist
  • Windward
  • Ziggurat
  • Kentucky Route Zero
  • Beholder
  • A Story About My Uncle
  • Neon Drive
  • Double Dragon: Neon
  • Paper Mario
  • Shenmue

Games I've Bought and Haven't Finished Yet

  • Breath of the Wild
  • Super Mario Maker
  • Shadow of Mordor
  • Tomb Raider '13 -- Finished 2017-06-13
  • Owlboy
  • Rayman Origins
  • Freedom Planet
  • Civilization 6
  • A Link Between Worlds -- Finished 2014-08-28
  • Majora's Mask
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening -- Finished 2015-03-14
  • Shin Megami Tensei 4
  • Devil Survivor Overclocked
  • Mario Kart 7 -- Finished single-player 2014-07-20
  • Super Mario 3D Land
  • Ys -- Finished 2017-02-04
  • Ys 2
  • Ys: Memories of Celceta -- Finished 2017-02-01
  • Axiom Verge -- Finished 2016-09-11
  • Stardew Valley
  • Mighty No. 9
  • Transformers: Devastation
  • Trails in the Sky
  • The Stick of Truth
  • Final Fantasy Type-0 HD
  • Shovel Knight -- Finished 2016-02-15
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown
  • Civilization 4 -- Finished a full game 2016-01-23
  • Civilization 5 -- Finished a full game 2016-02-14
  • Undertale
  • I Am Setsuna
  • Shantae: Risky's Revenge -- Finished 2016-08-07
  • Adventure of Mana
  • Witcher 3
  • Skyrim
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • Bionic Commando: Rearmed
  • Guacamelee -- Finished 2015-02-21
  • Valkyria Chronicles -- Finished 2014-12-20
  • Valkyria Chronicles 2
  • Walking Dead: 400 Days -- Finished 2014-01-05
  • The Wolf Among Us -- Finished 2014-07-18
  • Psychonauts
  • Super Mario Galaxy -- Finished 2013-06-15
  • Super Mario Galaxy 2
  • Xenoblade
  • Last Story -- Finished 2013-07-13
  • Red Dead Redemption
  • Gears of War
  • Crackdown
  • Dead Rising
  • Tactics Ogre
  • Star Ocean: First Departure
  • Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles
  • Dragon Quest 9
  • Etrian Odyssey 3
  • Retro Game Challenge
  • Mega Man ZX
  • WarioWare DIY
  • Half-Life
  • Cthulhu Saves the World
  • Bastion
  • DuckTales Remastered -- Finished 2013-08-22
  • World of Goo
  • Samorost 2
  • A Virus Named TOM
  • Fez
  • Brutal Legend
  • Ghostbusters
  • Penny Arcade Episode 1
  • Legend of Grimrock
  • Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril
  • Pier Solar
  • Metroid Prime 2
  • Persona 4
  • Mega Man X8

Games I've Received as Gifts and Haven't Finished Yet

  • Portal 2
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Hatoful Boyfriend
  • Shower with Your Dad Simulator
  • The Walking Dead -- Finished 2013-02-17
  • Donkey Kong Country Returns
  • Kirby's Epic Yarn
  • Mega Man 10
  • Kirby's Canvas Curse
  • Dragon Quest 6

Games I've Borrowed and Haven't Finished Yet

  • Destroy All Humans -- Returned
  • Batman: Arkham City -- Finished 2012-12-02

Games I Got for Free and Haven't Finished Yet

  • AM2R
  • Spelunky
  • Batman: Arkham Knight -- Finished 2015-08-12
  • Batman: Arkham Origins
  • Game of Thrones
  • Monument Valley
  • GTA: San Andreas
  • Wario Land 2
  • Sonic 4 Episode 1
  • Ultimate NES Remix -- Finished 2015-05-24
  • New Super Mario Bros. 2 -- Finished 2015-03-18
  • Torchlight
  • Bioshock
  • Fallout 2
  • Bard's Tale (Android)
  • Mighty Gunvolt -- Finished 2014-09-11
  • Game Dev Story -- Made it to endgame 2014-03-29

Games I've Bought and Haven't Finished Replaying Yet

  • Batman: Arkham City -- Finished 2015-01-06
  • Valkyria Chronicles
  • Mega Man Legends 2
  • Mass Effect 2
  • Sonic CD
  • Mega Man: Powered Up
  • Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X -- Finished 2015-10-12
  • Crisis Core
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Mario Land 2
  • Zelda 2 -- Finished 2013-05-05
  • Final Fantasy 6 Advance
  • DuckTales Remastered
  • Skies of Arcadia

Remakes I Haven't Finished of Games I Have Finished

  • Final Fantasy (PSP)
  • Final Fantasy 4 DS
  • Final Fantasy 5 (Android)
  • Sonic 2 (Android)
  • Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland
  • Mega Man Legacy Collection
  • Dragon Quest 7

ROMs I've Downloaded and Haven't Finished

  • Retro Game Challenge 2
  • SaGa 2 (DS)
  • Earth Bound
  • Earthbound
  • Soul Blazer
  • BS-Zelda -- Time limit ran out; unwinnable; not going to start over
  • BS-Zelda: LttP
  • Sonic 2 Delta
  • Phantasy Star Generation 1
  • Super Mario 3mix

ROMs I've Downloaded and Haven't Played

  • 7th Dragon
  • SaGa 3 (DS)
  • Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem
  • Soma Bringer
  • Tales of Innocence
  • Valkyria Chronicles 3

Games I Got for Free and Haven't Played

  • Rising Storm
  • Jotun
  • Shadow Warrior
  • Lost Odyssey
  • GRID
  • DiRT Showdown
  • Dungeons 2
  • Saints Row 2
  • Corporate Lifestyle Simulator
  • Huntsman: The Orphanage
  • Fantasy General
  • Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate
  • Tropico 4
  • Bionic Dues
  • Divine Divinity
  • Sonic 4 Episode 2
  • Gothic 2
  • Ultima 4
  • Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire
  • Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams
  • Akalabeth
  • Shadow Warrior Classic
  • Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games
  • Wreckateer
  • Penny Arcade Episode 3
  • Star Command
  • Magrunner: Dark Pulse
  • Warlock: Master of the Arcane
  • Aliens vs. Predator Classic 2000
  • Metro 2033
  • Teleglitch
  • Mount and Blade
  • Stealth Inc 2
  • Gabriel Knight: SotF20AE
  • Dreamfall Chapters
  • SPACECOM

Games I Got for the Multiplayer
(so finishing them isn't really the point)

  • Super Mario 3D World
  • New Super Mario Bros. U
  • New Super Luigi Bros. U
  • Super Smash Bros Wii U
  • Splatoon
  • Mario Kart 8
  • Yoshi's Woolly World
  • DKC Tropical Freeze
  • Goat Simulator
  • Rocket League
  • Pac-Man 256

Games I've Funded on Kickstarter that Don't Exist Yet

  • Project Phoenix