If the necromancer hits me with one more fireball, I’m toast.
He’s the toughest boss I’ve faced so far, and the good news is, I’ve whittled him down to his last chunk of health. The bad news is, I’m on my last life, my AI teammates aren’t doing much better, and the next fireball that hits will probably finish me off. If I can close in with my sword, before the necromancer’s spell timer counts down, the battle will be over. The trick is lasting that long.
There he is! The necromancer has spent the fight teleporting around the room, but I see him now. I fumble with my bow, spray a few Wizard Slayer arrows his way. If I hit, I’ll interrupt his spell, buying myself a few precious seconds. And I hit. The timer disappears. I charge in, ignore the skeleton bodyguards, raise my sword…
… and the screen erupts in flame.
But this fireball comes from the party sorcerer, controlled by the AI, and it could not have come at a better time. The fireball took the necromancer to his last sliver of health. One last slash, and it’s over. I’ve won. More accurately, to give full credit to my AI-controlled teammates: we’ve won.
Welcome to The Last Story, a 2012 Wii action-RPG from Japanese developer Mistwalker (1). TLS never managed to replicate fellow Wii RPG Xenoblade’s jump to cult classic – but if you ask me, TLS is both the better of the two, and one of the most underrated games in years.
Of all the magic woven by storytellers, immersion has to be one of the most precious threads. How wonderful it is that we can pick up a book, or play a game, or sit in a cinema, and be transported into another world! The people who write bullet points for video game boxes know this, which is why “immersive” is one of their favourite buzzwords. So is “visceral”, which I find telling. To be immersive, it seems, a work should have us on the edge of our seats: tense, excited, ready to feel its characters’ pain as if it were our own. But there’s also another kind of immersion – think of the proverbial warm soak. An immersive world can be utterly relaxing, an invitation for us to kick back and lose ourselves for an hour or two. Nearly 20 hours into Xenoblade Chronicles, I can say it exemplifies the latter.
Xenoblade is an RPG for the Nintendo Wii – a platform exclusive, as a matter of fact. It’s a party-based JRPG that bears a striking similarity to 2006’s Final Fantasy XII, in that there are no random encounters and no distinction between an overworld, area maps, and combat screens. Rather, like a Western RPG, monsters are clearly visible – and combat takes place – in the field. Combat is real-time, and the player only controls one party member at a time, chosen before battle starts; the rest of the party is controlled by a generally competent AI. Since the chosen character will auto-attack enemies, the player’s job is to manage aggro, special abilities, and cooldowns. (Not items; there are no potions, stimpacks, antidotes, or the like in this game.) I’ve heard this compared to MMO gameplay, and it’s certainly different from what I’m used to.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn for Wii is one of the cutest, most adorable games I have seen in some time. You can check out gameplay footage here at Giantbomb. I particularly love how Kirby’s eyes seem to float as a result of inertia when he jumps or bobs up and down. Sackboy from LittleBigPlanet had better watch out, lest he lose his crown as cute platformer mascot…