Unlike old-school JRPGs with their leisurely turn-based play, these games both offer action-RPG-style fighting. Of the two, Xenoblade allows more old-school RPG structure to peek through its action veneer. The Last Story, on the other hand, often feels like a flat-out action game with a little role-playing around the edges.
If you are a fan of old-school, turn-based JRPGs, you would probably prefer Xenoblade’s approach. If you’re more of an action gamer, though, you are more likely to like Last Story’s system.
I have always been more of an action gamer.
Winner: The Last Story
It is an almost inescapable rule that any role-playing game with a great story will have boring combat, and any game with great combat will have a forgettable story. Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story both have great combat, and thus, unsatisfying stories. But these stories fail in very different ways.
Last Story is predictable and clichéd, whereas Xenoblade contains a more elaborate and original story with a few genuine surprises and a unique premise. While that should give Xenoblade the upper hand, its story is weakened by bland characters and a conventional approach, while the Last Story gets a leg up from more focused storytelling, sharper dialogue, and slightly more engaging characters.
The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles both have the basics found in most RPGs. As you win battles you gain experience points that level you up into an increasingly powerful warrior. You can acquire weapons and armor and upgrade them using found objects and cash.
But Xenoblade Chronicles goes beyond the basics; each article of equipment offers a mix of strengths and weaknesses, and beyond that a gem-crafting system allows you to change weapons in significant ways. There is yet another elaborate system to earn and assign various abilities. For those who really want to delve into character development, there is no debate on which game is better.
Winner: Xenoblade Chronicles
The Last Story doesn’t have too many major flaws. I hit a couple of bugs – twice I chased people and suddenly ran right out into empty space and once I had to go back to the last checkpoint after an invisible barrier prevented me from continuing forward – but the game is pretty well put together. There are also some minor annoyances like immovable characters accidentally blocking the way, but that was only a serious problem a couple of times.
With greater complexity comes greater dysfunctionality, which may be why, in the same way that there are dozens of great features in Xenoblade Chronicles, there are also myriad annoyances. Menus are consistently unwieldy. The gem crafting menu resets every time you craft a gem, so after leaving your gem IV collection in order of type you are returned to your gem I collection in the default sort. After turning off subtitles in the menu, I still got subtitles 95% of the time (Last Story at least lets you consistently remove subtitles from cut scenes, although it keeps them for everything else). The game is often unnecessarily frustrating; finding a particular character or item can be exhausting and tedious, and one’s inventory will eventually fill up with useless items that you have no way of knowing are useless without a cheat sheet. (Although I don’t think I hit any actual bugs, which is impressive.)
You can argue that its epic scope makes Xenoblade’s aggravations understandable, but they are still wearying.
Winner: The Last Story.
When the Wii was introduced, it was said to be about as graphically powerful as an Xbox, and yet the quality of Wii visuals has generally been much lower than that. The Last Story is the first Wii game that really matches the look of a first-class Xbox game, and while that won’t impress anyone with a 360, it’s a notable achievement on the Wii, and one Xenoblade Chronicles does not quite match.
In terms of the score it’s pretty close. Last Story has an absolutely gorgeous theme song, but overall Xenoblade has more interesting incidental music; after 140 hours of play I still enjoyed it. Both scores are excellent.
In terms of the voice acting in the English versions, Xenoblade suffered from a poor casting choice in Shulk, who sounds slightly snooty with his upper-class British accent. Last Story’s similar protagonist Zael has the voice I would have wanted for Shulk. In general, Xenoblade’s voice acting is more cartoonish than Last Story’s. Xenoblade also has those voices repeating certain battle phrases endlessly, whereas Last Story offers varied dialogue appropriate to the situation.
Winner: The Last Story
There’s no contest on this one. I completed The Last Story in about 30 hours; I spent 140 on Xenoblade Chronicles. Xenoblade’s vast, open world dwarves Last Story’s much more constricted one and allows you to feel you are free to explore almost every inch via walking, swimming and climbing. Last Story may have a few dozen sidequests, many of which are no more than collecting cooking ingredients, but Xenoblade must have hundreds, many very elaborate, some containing interesting side stories. Completing everything in The Last Story will take less time than just completing all the side quests of Xenoblade.
Winner: Xenoblade Chronicles
There is a lot to be said for each of these games, and one person’s complaint about a game could be another’s favorite feature. The Last Story could be labeled insubstantial or tightly focused. Xenoblade Chronicles could be seen as generous and complex or ungainly and diffuse. Last Story’s combat could be accused of being too action-oriented, Xenoblade’s could be accused of uncomfortably straddling two gameplay styles, and these could be seen as good things or bad things.
In my comparison above, The Last Story wins on more categories, yet I still have to hand victory to Xenoblade Chronicles, because when The Last Story wins a category, it does so by a little, but when Xenoblade wins, it does so by a lot. This epic game is four times as long, has far more side quests of far greater variety, has a more imaginative premise, and offers a greater sense of world immersion.
While Last Story can’t beat out a game that is easily one of the greatest JRPGs of all time, it is still a wonderful game. In any contest, there has to be a loser, but among JRPGs, both of these games are winners.
Victor: Xenoblade Chronicles