There’s a narrow alley tucked into a corner of the industrial castle town, hidden behind the bustling Arena Square. Armorsmiths and swordcrafts crowd the path, talking shop and hawking wares to passersby in a gaunt corridor of tiny workrooms. In the alley’s only empty corner, a lean brute presses an elderly shopkeep against the grimy concrete and slyly demands a cut of profit.
It’s a place foul with sweat and industry. It swelters with forge and struggle. A stroll from end to end offers a glimpse of the desperation that is life for these lower class tradesman. They fight for survival, crammed into a corner of the last thriving city on the last prospering island in a rotting world.
The locals call this slum strip Artisan’s Way. It has an effortless narrative density that's so refreshing to see in a JRPG. The Last Story could have been about this place. It’s not. The Last Story is about a vampiric meteor that shoots giant lasers.
The fan campaign that convinced Nintendo of America to actually publish a hardcore Wii game this year can now celebrate its second victory. Another high profile Wii game found its way to the USA last month, though leery NOA decided to pass the risk of publishing to Xseed Games this time around.
The Last Story is the latest game from director Hironobu Sakaguchi and composer Nobuo Uematsu, the duo that made Final Fantasy an institution (and vice versa). It’s hard to believe a publisher would refuse to localize a game with those two names attached, but Nintendo’s no stranger to unbelievable decisions.
I'd been waiting for this game to hit the USA for over two years. Then I had to wait even longer when my copy was put on backorder for a month after it finally launched. Here’s hoping it was worthwhile.
It was four minutes into Tales of Graces f that I met the amnesiac with the impossible purple pigtails. She didn't know who she was, or where she came from, or anything really. She was a deadly martial artist, but nearly walked right off a cliff. Later she asked the meaning of the word "friend." I threw up in my mouth a little and realized that Graces f would be a tale quickly forgotten. In hindsight, I guess the cover art should have served as warning.
But if the whole game boiled down to waiting for the kid in the Elvis getup to realize that the king is possessed by a demon, I wouldn't have played it for almost ninety hours. Yes, a lot of time is wasted running errands through copy-paste corridors while the characters say how they feel and explain magical jargon. But then you run into a giant spider, and the kids' anime story melts away for a few seconds of glorious battle.
I'll even say that Tales of Graces f has my favorite RPG combat, taking the crown from predecessor Tales of Symphonia. Graces f layers new abilities and limitations onto Symphonia's melee-and-magic arena skirmishes, and the end result is a more dynamic structure that makes earlier games in the series look like button mashing. It's also complicated as hell.
The long-awaited localization of two high profile JRPGs has delighted the dwindling Wii fanbase. After years of holding out, Nintendo was finally convinced to bring potential hits Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story to the new world by distribution partners GameStop and XSEED, respectively. The orchestrators of last year's Operation Rainfall fan campaign deserve a pat on the back (though I was doing it before it was cool).
But another Wii JRPG topped my personal wishlist, then and now: Tales of Graces. The Tales series' claim to fame is its thrilling real-time battles, and Tales of Graces looked like the next evolution of that combat system. Months turned into years as I waited for a localization announcement, eventually accepting the improbability of my playing the game.
Fortunately, Namco Bandai's love for milking the Tales series eventually prevailed; late last year, the PlayStation 3 port of Tales of Graces was confirmed for release here in North America. I've built up some expectations, no doubt aggravated by the years of waiting. For me, these first sixty minutes of Tales of Graces F weigh more heavily than a JRPG intro should. Does it crack under the pressure?
The Nintendo DS is easily the go-to console this generation when it comes to RPGs. As a developer, you'd be hard-pressed to have your title stand out in a library already rife with role-playing goodness. There are exceptions however, and Camelot's Golden Sun franchise is certainly one of them. The series' notoriety on the Game Boy Advance was enough to perk people's ears when Golden Sun: Dark Dawn was first announced. The sequel comes to us 7 years after the The Lost Age, with 30 years having passed in the game's universe. The original GBA games were hits. Does the sequel live up to the legacy they left behind?
If you take a glance at the beginning of my First Hour review, you'll see that I've listed what, I feel, makes a damn good Golden Sun game. I thought I'd keep this review simple and basically go through each of the points I already made and comment on what's changed and whats been added or subtracted from the core experience.