The Average Gamer

A Journey Through Mistwalker

Hironobu Sakaguchi, the world famous ‘father’ of Final Fantasy, could well be considered the Miyamoto of JRPG games. Since the unfortunate box-office bomb that was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (which Sakaguchi directed), Sakaguchi left his presidential position at Square (which ultimately became Square Enix), and founded his own company, Mistwalker, in 2004.

Since that time, Mistwalker have developed a range of titles, for different platforms, and their next release will be The Last Story for the Nintendo Wii, releasing 24th February in Europe. This will be Sakaguchi’s first title as director since Final Fantasy V, way back in 1992. He has also enlisted the immense talent that is Nobou Uematsu, who also left Square in 2004. Uematsu has composed the score’s for all their games so far. Let’s take a look at what has been, and what to expect in the future.

Mistwalker initially signed up with Microsoft to produce Xbox 360 exclusive titles, of which there are two: Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. Blue Dragon in particular helped boost sales of the Xbox 360 in Japan, at the time of its release (2006).

“Microsoft sold 35,343 Xbox 360s – an increase of nearly 90 per cent over the previous week’s figure of just over 4000 consoles. It’s likely that the rise was linked to the release of Blue Dragon, which was developed by Mistwalker, the studio led by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi.”
– Ellie Gibson, Blue Dragon release boosts Xbox 360 sales in Japan, GamesIndustry.biz

Blue Dragon is as traditional a JRPG as you’ll ever come across. A group of heroes set about to save their land from an evil ruler, traversing a massive world and using turn-based combat to defeat foes along the way. This may well be deemed old-fashioned in the western world of gaming, but it certainly still has its fans, including myself. Blue Dragon was one of the first 3D RPGs released for this generation of consoles. It boasted the unique art style of Akira Toriyama, creator of manga series Dragon Ball and whose style is also used on video game series Dragon Quest.

Party of Five, anyone?

The game itself is indeed very long. This was the first multi-disc Xbox 360 game released, encompassing the whole adventure on 3 discs. In my opinion, although I’m still making my way through it slowly but surely, it’s JRPG-by-numbers, but still enjoyable because I knew to expect that. There were some good touches. For example, the battles are not the often-loathed ‘random’ battles from past Final Fantasy games, but instead are induced or avoided by engaging/escaping the enemies on screen. Hitting them first also gives you the first hit once a battle is initiated. Blue Dragon is nothing new, but that does it no harm at all.

Mistwalker’s next big release was Lost Odyssey, again for the Xbox 360. Boasting incredible visuals, this 4-disc epic is still a favourite among many an RPG fan, both east and west. For those waiting for their Final Fantasy fix at the time (that never came), this more than filled the gap. While there have always been varied opinions of Final Fantasy XIII, Lost Odyssey still sits firmly on my gaming shelf where Final Fantasy XIII fell off, never to be touched again. Lost Odyssey may have reverted back to random battles, but the battle trigger system (pressing within a time frame to land extra hits) is superior to Blue Dragon’s old school ‘press A and wait’ system, providing more interaction and more reward for doing so.

The story and characters are excellent, providing moments of danger, fear, action, even comedy, and giving the gamer a great sense of empathy to boot. You really feel you are following the journey that Kaim, the lead character, is taking, and will be as determined as he is to find out about his past.

Following on from the success Blue Dragon brought (more so in Japan than here), a franchise was born. An anime series was created, and 2 sequels were also developed, this time for the Nintendo DS. The first was the unimaginatively titled Blue Dragon Plus. This entrant to the series was billed as a real-time simulation RPG – much more like Final Fantasy XII – and retains the Toriyama-style visuals that define the series. Blue Dragon Awakened Shadow soon followed also, continuing the real-time strategy experience, and adopting Dragon Quest IX’s route of allowing creation/customisation of your own lead character.

Following the Nintendo DS releases, Mistwalker stayed with Nintendo, culminating in the production of The Last Story. It may also prove to be the Nintendo Wii’s swansong RPG, with the impending release of the Wii U console. It looks fantastic, and is a release I was hoping for since it was announced nearly 2 years ago.

Since that time, The Last Story has been on release in Japan for around a year now, and was long thought to be only fit for the Japanese market.

“With all the conversions, when we do it in Europe we’ve got to do the whole of Europe,” Nintendo UK boss David Yarnton told Eurogamer. “So it’s multiple languages. It has to be viable.”

Thankfully, the game is viable for Europe. Considering how well Monolith Soft’s JRPG Xenoblade Chronicles has done on the Wii, The Last Story is certainly marketable. Like Xenoblade, it is a console exclusive. Details are still forthcoming, with no European version reviews emerging just yet, but UK magazine Edge did review a Japanese copy, which even for them is usually unheard of. From what reviews I have read, The Last Story is promising to be the most cinematic game the console has seen, with full voice acting throughout, beautiful cut scenes, and a narrative packed with action, romance and betrayal.

It also promises to have a game length that is more flexible; unlike most JRPGs that last 60 hours plus, the main story is around the 20-30 hour mark, but, should you choose to complete side quests, this can easily double that. This, along with co-operative AND multiplayer deathmatch modes, Mistwalker are certainly trying to innovate the JRPG, more so than Final Fantasy XIII ever could, in my opinion. This could indeed be Sakaguchi setting the trend once again, as he did with the original Final Fantasy all those years ago.

The Last Story will be released only on Nintendo Wii in the UK and Europe, on February 24th.

One Comment

  1. JRPGamer

    9th Feb, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Thanks for the article. I just recently picked up Blue Dragon and haven’t gotten around to it yet, however, I played Lost Odyssey and LOVED that game. The characters were endearing, the story brimmed to the top with emotion, and the music epic. It’s one of those games that you won’t forget long after finishing. Really looking forward to The Last Story. I love its art direction; and the battle system seems to be fun and tactical. Now, if only Nintendo would release it in NA along with a limited edition…