The Last Story: Mature yet Disappointing

After 6 tortured months of trying, I finally finished the masterpiece that is The Last Story. Mistwalker’s game had many levels of storytelling, largely revolving around social relationships. Between Arganan family strife, budding romance, group dynamics, and even inter-species conflict, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to call The Last Story an examination of relationships. In most cases, that examination was done thoroughly.

The Last Story Party

Yet the game ends with only a perfunctory conclusion to the big macro-level conflict in the game: the war between the humans and the Gurak. The Last Story disappointed me, and not because it took a stance that I disagreed with. I would’ve applauded an amoral position, in fact. Instead, TLS tried to side-step an entire issue.

For those new to The Last Story, I’ll summarize the Human-Gurak conflict. Centuries ago, humans and gurak used to co-habitate in the same cities, the same civilization. Yet a war broke out between the species, many atrocities were committed against the Gurak, and they were banished from human civilization. They left as a disorganized, impoverished victim of (implied) human aggression.

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The Last Story directly references the Gurak’s plight to Zael’s childhood. Zael, the protagonist, was displaced from his home when bandits pillaged his village, slaughtering most of the population and setting fire to the town. In Chapter 29 (covered more later), he recognizes the indistinguishable nature between their respective situations. Yet the game fails to impart a message through this historical connection.

Fast-forward to the present day of the game, and the Gurak have launched a war against humanity. Their grievances are partially historical but also modern. Because of deliberate actions taken by humanity, the land has gradually become infertile, and it’s disproportionately hurting the Gurak. When one adds the present famine with historical injustice, the Gurak are truly deserving of sympathy.

Roughly 2/3 into the game, in Chapter 29, Zael, the protagonist, spearheads an assault against a Gurak base. The attack is successful, but they arrive to find only women and children (i.e. zero combatants). The knights accompanying Zael,  fueled by racist hatred, begin pillaging and enslaving these civilians.

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Chapter 29 deals with numerous concepts: obedience versus doing the right thing, what constitutes just cause, and the amoralism of warfare, to name a few. Syrenne, disgusted by the knights’ conduct, makes a reference that smacks of the Nuremberg trials. “In the end, all they have to do is say ‘I was just following orders!'” It’s an explicit reference to the defense that Nazi war criminals put up to justify their actions, and since then, humanity has collectively decided that that excuse doesn’t cut it.

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See how The Last Story sets the stage for huge, important, meaningful messages about xenophobia, cultural attitudes, or some other big topic about how people perceive the “other”? About human behavior or morality? About reconciliation in the face of the lingering taint of history?  There’s even a point where Zael and the Gurak leader duel each other one-on-one, each professing their opinions on the war.

And then the Gurak leader dies, Zael wins, and a two-minute cutscene impresses upon us a litany of images about humans and Gurak co-operating, socializing, playing, and even pursuing inter-species romance. (Not joking. At all.) The game had an astounding second act, only to blow it in the third.

The Last Story had a chance to present a mature, nuanced view about injustice, racism, and the destruction about clinging to historical grievances. Instead, they turned the ending into a G-rated Disney movie.

As a gamer, I feel disappointed. The Last Story was willing to be mature about a number of other issues. Repeatedly in the epilogue, the main characters come to step into other people’s shoes and see other points of view. Calista, who had a troubled relationship with her uncle, finally admits that she was as much at fault as the uncle for their family strife. Zael and others struggle with their teammate Dagran’s betrayal, but they recognize how they’d forced endless burdens on him, almost inviting him to snap. Throughout the epilogue, in the aftermath of war, people learn to stop being self-centred and understand others’ situations.

And yet when it came to the overarching conflict, an inter-species war where resentment has been brewing on both sides for centuries, The Last Story pretends that we can erase the toxic atmosphere with a single brush-stroke. For such a mature game, it had a naïve moment worthy of Kingdom Hearts.

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Considering the inter-species hatred and war that existed less than a week prior, I doubt that this would actually happen. Please, be realistic.

I shouldn’t let this one facet of the game destroy my opinion of it. The Last Story is revolutionary, and I would be remiss to ignore its memorable characters, their genuine character development, the complex battle system, the stunning music, and the nostalgia for it that I’ll surely feel in 5 years time. But now, before I let this disappointment fester into something more malicious, I should state it outright.

In this single respect, the inter-species conflict between humans and Gurak, The Last Story did manage to disappoint me.

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