Just starting out on your grand adventure? Let Blake Peterson tell you how to ensure that The Last Story isn't in fact... your last.
1. Watch the tutorial videos
This sounds like a total no-brainer, but it's actually pretty easy to skip the tutorial videos (initially prompted with the + button until you dismiss them or leave the area) especially if you're prompted for one right before the beginning of a cut-scene or moving into a new area. I completely missed the tutorial on tactical squad control because I moved to a new area immediately after getting it, and had to go to the menu and watch it once I realized I was missing out on a huge part of the game a half hour later.
Luckily they can be watched at any time from the pause menu (opened by pressing "-"). A good number of the negative reviews I've read for this game seem to me to boil down to the reviewer missing some primary game mechanics, and perhaps missed a tutorial that explained it.
2. Once combat starts, stay/get into cover, then use tactical command.
The most effective way to fight battles in The Last Story is to use tactical battle commands (enter tactical mode by pressing up on the d-pad, which isn't available until 4-6 hours into the game) to direct your companions to take out high profile targets (like mages, healers, commandos or giant trolls) and then go nuts on the little guys. In order to do that you need to let your skill gauge fill up completely, which can be done while waiting in cover once the battle starts.
From cover you can attack with your crossbow, including using burst or ice arrows to do element specific damage to foes. Another huge advantage is that you can use the slash command from cover to dash out and attack enemies for a much stronger attack, or even an instant kill if they are confused (you'll know because they'll have a question mark above their heads).
It's tempting, and fun, to dash right into the fray and club the enemies into submission, but this will likely result in longer more frustrating battles as your allies are killed off, and later enemies have a guard ability to protect against head-on attacks, making Zael's combat abilities less effective without support.
After you issue your commands, go nuts and slash everyone to ribbons until your skill gauge fills up again and you can issue more commands.
3. Once your skill gauge fills up use the Gale ability from the tactical menu to disperse magic circles and create status effects
One of the most powerful combat mechanics in the Last Story is the Gale ability. You can use this to have Zael disperse the effects of your own magic to create powerful status effects (dispersing Calista's magic results in a barrier, fire magic in a break in the enemy's guard, ice magic will make the enemy slip and fall prone, and so on) do active damage to an enemy, or invert the enemy's spell circles.
It's advisable to let your skill gauge fill up all the way and activate Gale from the tactical command menu, because holding A to activate gale will removed bar a from your skill gauge, increasing the amount of time before you can open your tactical menu again.
4. Use the gather ability, and block.
Use the Gather ability, (mapped to the C button) to draw aggro away from your mages and fighters, restore the health of your fallen allies nearby, and (later in the game) increase your burst limit.
When casting spells, your mages will float in the air, making themselves easy targets for enemies. One hit and they drop to the ground and have to start all over from the beginning. By using gather, you draw the enemy attention away from your spell casters and towards yourself. Likewise, your fighters will be targeted by enemies and surrounded if you don't draw the enemy away.
However, this only works sometimes outside of cover, if the enemy can't see or sense you're there, they'll go back to attacking your caster.
Another advantage of the gather ability, later in the game, is that it increases your burst limit ability when you are hit. This is where blocking comes in handy, to deflect excess damage. When your burst limit fills, you can release it by deactivating gather by pressing the "C" button to let out a burst of energy that will strike all enemies in the area, and possibly stun them.
Blocking is also useful once you receive the ability to counter. Once an enemy initiates an attack, if you time your block appropriately you will parry and riposte, doing unguarded damage against them. This is particularly useful in one-on-one battles or duels with foes like Therian and General Ashtar.
5. Shoot enemy mages with your crossbow if you can't get to them before they are finished casting.
Just like your mages, enemy mages will float in the air until they are finished casting their spell (a countdown timer will appear above their heads, letting you know how long they have before they can cast their spell). If you can't cross the distance to get to them, or direct one of your squad mates to hit them, shoot them with your crossbow before the countdown reaches zero. They will have to start all over again, but by then your skill gauge should have filled up and you can target them with your other characters in tactical mode.
6. When prompted, use the Z button to use magic to target structures with magic.
When in cover, the Z-button prompt is always present to be used with Zael's crossbow. However, in a lot of fights in the game, the crossbow site is also used to allow Zael to target structures and enemies with magic, often allowing the fight to be ended quickly.
In one of the first combat tutorials in the game, Zael is prompted to use the Z button to look at a bridge, where he's given the option of taking out the enemies on it with a crossbow or having Yurrick take it out with magic. This happens a lot in the game. However, you may only notice the area-specific Z-button prompt at the start of a fight, when prompted by dialogue shouted in combat by support characters, or when not in cover.
This is also an easy thing to ignore, especially if you get caught up in the nitty-gritty of hack and slash combat.
When prompted, use magic, every time. It's efficient and often has a really cool environmental destruction effect associated with it that makes for a fun set piece.
7. Upgrade Weapons and Equip the right weapons for the right enemies.
The difference in attack power between an upgraded weapon and one that hasn't been upgraded can be pretty extreme. Take the time, in-between missions, to look for an upgrade shop and search for upgrade items in dungeons from chests and fallen enemy drops.
Equipping the right weapons: Maybe this seems like a no brainer, but it's really easy to rely on The Last Story's Auto Equip feature to equip your party members with the weapons that will yield the highest combat stats.
However, aside from their elemental affinity (enemy weaknesses can be checked by aiming at them with the cross bow and pressing the + button) there are certain weapons that do extra damage against other enemies. The Reptid Edge, for instance, has a combat multiplier against Reptids that increases as you upgrade the weapon. This weapon is almost never auto-equipped due to its lower general statistics.
Additionally a weapon like The Emperor, though really powerful, will reduce the lives of whoever it's equipped to automatically to one life. While not a deal-breaker for most battles, this can make boss fights a challenge if you have a support fighter K.O.'d right at the start of the battle and have to wait for Mirania's Revive spell to charge. If you have it equipped on Zael, it could mean a quick trip to a game over screen.
However if you use the auto-equip feature and The Emperor is one of your most powerful swords, it will automatically be mapped to Zael, or another fighter.
8. Keep an eye on your party's life gauges
Every character starts a battle with five lives, and when their HP reaches zero, they lose a life and Zael must activate their next life by moving near them with the gather ability activated. If their lives reach zero, they'll be K.O.d, and can only get a life back by using Mirania's Revive spell, which she doesn't get until she reaches a high level late in the game.
If you notice that your party members are losing a lot of lives change your tactics, use the Gather ability more to draw aggro away from them, or worst case scenario, find a summon glyph in between story battles and use it to grind until your party members level up.
9. Do everything, talk to everyone in Lazulis town and Lazulis Castle between missions.
In The Last Story, the town is your world map. All side quests and missions are generated here. Additionally the more people and companions you talk to in the town the more developed the story is, and the more background on Lazulis Island and the world of The Last Story you get to explore. So when you get a summons to go talk to The Count, ignore it and keep on exploring until you've expended all your options.
There are whole areas of the town, quests, and side missions, that you can completely miss by sticking straight to the main story. And that of course means missing out on items and other loot as well.
10. After you find one floating item in Lazulis town, press z again almost immediately afterward.
The floating items in Lazulis town come in sets of five, with rarer items filling out the end. Often you will have to turn around to find the next item, so after finding one, nudge the analog stick in the opposite direction you're looking to have Zael perform an about-face and then hold the Z-button to look for the next item.
If you miss one, don't despair! Just exit that section of the town and re-enter it to start the process over again. You should encounter a floating item soon after entering that section (usually an alley).