I sure hope it isn't his Last Story!
When I started playing Mistwalker's The Last Story I wasn't terribly impressed; the story seemed trite, the action simple and dull, and the environment a weird Wii-resolution copy of an Assassin's Creed city that you couldn't climb in. Then at about six hours in, I started to get a familiar feeling, something I hadn't felt in a long time. It was the same feeling I had playing Final Fantasy IV on SNES. It's also right around this point that the story takes a major turn and the game gives the player tactical control in the battlefield.
On the face of it, The Last Story's narrative feels very straightforward. You play as Zael, a mercenary with aspirations of becoming a knight. In local politics, Lazulis Island's princess is about to marry for political gain; so when Zael suddenly helps a young woman escape the castle guards… you can see where this is all going. For a while it seems to be treading down a very tried and true pathway, but then things surprisingly shift, and the game moves sideways; it feels so familiarly delightful.
The Last Story's narrative somehow avoids everything I disliked about the story and characters in Final Fantasy X. Everything here is done with greater finesse and intelligence. The lead character, Zael, is cheerful without being buffoonish. The romance story is told in broad strokes, but doesn't feel contrived or forced. The cinematics are a rich mix of pre-rendered scenes and in-game rendered scenes; the game never feels like you're playing just to get to the next cut-scene. The story of The Last Story may drive it, but it's actually a really entertaining game to play, with its mix of brawling and tactical action.
The game features a cover-based shooting and sneaking mechanic, squad-based tactical combat, hack-and-slash action, and MMO-like aggro draw. As the squad leader, Zael can direct his companions attacks when his skill bar fills, hide from sentient enemies, trick them by using cover, and revive fallen allies by activating his "Gather" ability which draws aggro from the enemy, allowing allies time to cast spells without being distracted and interrupted. These baseline abilities are soon augmented with special limit-break style attacks for each of the (often five or six) companions. I played with the Wii-mote and Nun-chuk and found the controls to be amazingly well-tuned, with only a few camera issues here and there if Zael's back lists too close to a wall or pillar.
When Mistwalker's prior game, Lost Odyssey, was released on the Xbox 360, it was praised for its unconventional story concept and narrative execution, but criticized for the lack of innovation in gameplay. The Last Story makes up for it in spades. Mistwalker head Hironobu Sakaguchi was quoted in interviews that gameplay would be more of a priority in following games. You can see the influences in every part of the combat.
Narratively, what stands out to me the most about The Last Story (aside from the excellent British European dub that was carried over for the US release) is its ending. I don't know that I've ever played a game that ended so incredibly well. The game is incredibly linear, contains an absolutely sappy love story, and an end villain so telegraphed that you can see it coming from some of the earliest chapters of the game. But it's handling is so genuine, so tender, that it's hard not to be affected, even though the game paints its emotional narrative in such broad strokes. After completing it, I immediately started a second playthrough and was surprised at how different the characters were in the beginning of the game from the end. The character growth snuck up on me.
The game has an online multiplayer component, both deathmatch and co-op. Co-op was more fascinating, allowing each player the opportunity to play as one of the NPCs in a party during an enemy encounter. It felt vaguely like a cracked-out MMORPG, with the speed of encounters tuned up (not quite to Mass Effect 3's standard, but in a lesser vein). While playing multiplayer, weapons, items, and dyes appeared as rewards for completing matches (even losing yielded some loot).
For collectors and completionists, The Last Story allows players to customize the look of their characters, with colors and effects (one early effect available from multiplayer is "buzzing flies" that hover around the character) added to the available pallet by collecting items for local merchants to create "dyes." It also boasts a fair amount of fetch quests, side quests, and other non-essential content that can be accessed in the Lazulis Castle town that acts as the game's central hub between primary story missions.
If there's one place where The Last Story pales, it's with the Wii's hardware. In larger areas the framerate slows, textures are muddy, and the game at its worst resembles a mid-level PS2 title. At best the imagery is just plain gorgeous, where the designs have the opportunity to shine through, and the hardware hasn't limited the visuals. The game also isn't difficult, provided you move at its pace. If you don't, boss encounters can be punishingly difficult.
Despite that boss-difficulty spike, the game provides summoning glyphs in areas near bosses to allow the player to summon generic enemies to grind if their level isn't adequately up to snuff (in my rush to reach the final boss, I went in intensely under-leveled). While the grinding was a bit annoying, the battles in The Last Story generally finish so quickly that it was hardly a chore, and I only had to do it once in the entire game. That this was a solitary occurence is a tribute to the game's incredibly strong pacing.
There might be a tiny bit of a joke in the name The Last Story. Early in his career, Hironobu Sakaguchi was fed up with game design and decided to quit. He went to his boss and asked to do one last game before he left. That game was the original Final Fantasy, the "final" in the title was because it was to be his "final" game. For twenty years afterward, even following Sakaguchi's departure to form Mistwalker, the series dominated the JRPG market. I hope that "Last" in The Last Story is just meant to be a good luck charm, because I could do with twenty years of this kind of innovation. This game is the product of a true master.