Despite its title this is, in many ways, a first story. The Last Story presents a cast of fresh faces in mercenary Zael and his band of cohorts, a new world in the lush diversity of Lazulis Island and a clutch of innovative new game mechanics in its fascinating battle system. Despite its originality, though, this game's DNA is timeworn and at times familiar.
Hironobu Sakaguchi joined the games industry almost 30 years ago, creating his first hit in Final Fantasy, a NES game named to reflect the fact he expected it to be his last video game.
It was bold and adventurous for the time, a unique Japanese take on the Dungeons & Dragons desktop games that had gripped America during the 1970s. In the game's threadbare story a group of young mercenaries rises up against an unspeakable, world-threatening evil, establishing a premise that would echo down the years to today's blockbusters.
Contrary to Sakaguchi's instincts, Final Fantasy proved to a success, popularising the role-playing game in Japan and giving rise to a series that would go on to sell more than 90 million games worldwide, not to mention countless associated spin-offs, movies, television series, figurines and even soft drinks.
Sakaguchi maintained a steady hand on the Final Fantasy tiller until 2002 when, following the gigantic flop that was the spin-off movie (it lost an estimated $120 million at the box office), he left the company to set up his own development firm Mistwalker, in Hawaii.
The Last Story is that studio's fourth game, the first for Nintendo Wii and arguably the closest in ambiance and ambition to the series with which Sakaguchi made his name.
It's no accident that the words 'Last Story' offer a gentle play on the phrase 'Final Fantasy'. Perhaps Sakaguchi is hoping that his latest creation will replicate some of the staggering success of his first.
That's not to say that this sprawling, vibrant Japanese RPG is derivative. Its story focuses on a small group of fighters and mages, led by an orphan boy, rising up against an unspeakable, world-threatening evil. This game's style and execution are entirely its own, though, succeeding on almost every level - art, music and design - to carve its own path in the genre its maker helped to define.
And My Axe!
Zael is a mercenary, the sort of fighter who takes on missions for the right price and who is feared, but also looked down upon by the citizens of Lazulis. It's not his first choice of vocation. Zael has always dreamed of becoming a knight - a similar line of work that comes with a dose of respect - and this sense of inadequacy drives him to do the best in every task sent his way. Indeed, the young mercenary harbours dreams that he still might one day become a knight and it's this secret ambition that fires him through the plot like a speeding arrow.
The game, which is split into 40-odd chapters, opens with Zael and his friends on a freelance mission which, when completed, sees the team head back to the local pub for some rest, relaxation and recreational flirting. The salt-of-the-earth cast is instantly likeable and is voiced in its entirety by British voice actors (boasting a fine range of regional accents, to boot) and the sense of camaraderie between each goes a long way to helping you to feel as though you are a part of something.