Hironobu Sakaguchi is renowned all over the world as a game creator thanks to his Final Fantasy Series. After leaving Square Enix in 2004, Sakaguchi crafted a few titles for major consoles under his own studio ‘Mistwalker’.
Blue Dragon (2006), and Lost Odyssey (2007) were highly publicized, receiving large media coverage before their respective releases. Neither title achieved Final Fantasy levels of critical, and commercial success. But, for J-RPG fans it was comforting to know that Sakaguchi had continued developing AAA Japanese-RPGs in an era where the genre’s popularity had begun to decline.
The Last Story
Sakaguchi’s ride as a game creator managing his own studio wasn’t smooth. Both Blue Dragon, and Lost Odyssey underperformed in Western markets, and Sakaguchi’s often talked about, but never released Xbox 360 project, ‘Cry On’, never made it out of its troubled developmental phase.
The Last Story then, ironically, remains Sakaguchi’s last ‘big game’ effort on a home console. It is a game that had its own share of troubles, as Sakaguchi’s original idea for the title to be a Sci/Fi RPG was shot down by Nintendo. Nintendo wanted a ‘Romanticist’ approach, as the company felt that such a game would resonate better with audiences.
Given the Wii’s incredibly large installed user base at the time (2011), and the fact that – it seemed like – neither Sony nor Microsoft were interested in funding his work, Sakaguchi was forced to stick with Nintendo, even if it meant losing power over major creative decisions behind the game.
When asked by IGN in 2012 about the challenges and rewards behind The Last Story’s development, Sakaguchi brought Nintendo’s influence on the development of the game to the forefront:
At the initial stage our plan was completely shot down by Nintendo. To create an entirely new world view and characters again was a bit challenging but rewarding in the end. That would probably be the answer on both accounts. – Hironobu Sakaguchi
Added to the fact that Nintendo had many of its employees working in conjunction with Mistwalker during the game’s development, the Wii hardware brought its own set of issues for the studio. Sakaguchi and his team had come from working on powerful hardware (Xbox 360) to work with outdated tech on the Wii.
When asked about the challenges that the Wii presented, Sakaguchi was very forthcoming:
It’s unfortunate, but the final issue that always seemed to deny certain ideas was the SD resolution limitation. However, within those parameters we aimed to create a title with beautiful graphics that can compete with modern day specs. I would be pleased if people would view our efforts to their best by switching their cables to advanced connection cables or by playing it in the best environment possible. And though the resolution may be SD, I think players will really enjoy the sophisticated world. – Hironobu Sakaguchi
It is fascinating to think about how The Last Story would have turned out if Sakaguchi had gotten to implement his original ideas, which included a narrative that focused on a strong love story. Instead, Mistwalker had to follow a set of guidelines imposed by Nintendo. Nintendo’s own influence didn’t necessarily undermine the “Love Story” idea, but it did shape the final product.
An in-depth Iwata Asks interview shed light into the development of the Last Story (and Xenoblade Chronicles). In Iwata’s interview, Sakaguchi was very candid about working with Nintendo. But, since the interview was set up as part of the promotional material for the game, I must assume that if he had any complaints about the ‘partnership’ with Iwata’s company, such complaints would be – wisely – kept under wraps.
I was asked to make a game along romanticist lines. For me, going along with this theme didn’t pose a problem, as I had always intended to include that all-important drama that takes place between a man and a woman. Actually, as the project progressed, the way I conceived of this theme changed until it became a game that was more about companionship than anything else. -Hironobu Sakaguchi
Where Things got Muddy
For some reason (lack of faith in the genre?), Nintendo decided that The Last Story would be a Japan only title. This had to be disappointing to Sakaguchi, and Mistwalker. The Last Story was not a low budget JRPG, it was an RPG crafted with the same grand ambitions of a Final Fantasy entry, but Nintendo had no interest in investing the resources needed for a Western release.
Nintendo would eventually budge on this stance, and localize the game for Europe, as they felt that the game could sell well in that region. America, however, was destined to never get a version of The Last Story.
But then, ‘Operation Rainfall’ happened.
A Fan Movement that Made a Difference
Operation Rainfall was a fan movement that originated on the internet. The movement focused on three Japanese Wii titles: The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Pandora’s Tower. Basically, these fans generated demand for these titles to be brought overseas.
Initially, Nintendo acknowledged the movement, but stated that it had no plans to bring the games over. The Last Story’s case was particularly bleak, as Nintendo offered the following the excuse: ‘We are working on Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and on games for the New 3DS. Bringing The Last Story to the US would require too much effort.’ While the wording is not exact, that was the answer that Nintendo gave for not bringing the title over.
Operation Rainfall drove the pre-orders of Xenoblade Chronicles on Amazon through the roof, and Nintendo was forced to release the title. After that, the movement focused on The Last Story. Nintendo gambled on Xenoblade, but The Last Story was picked up by Xseed games instead.
Xseed games would eventually release the game in North America utilizing Nintendo’s European localization for the title, and The Last Story would go on to become the highest rated (80 Metacritic) Sakaguchi console RPG post Final Fantasy.
The Last Story Needs a Switch Remaster, but will it get one?
It is tragical that we have yet to see this game remastered on the Nintendo Switch. The Portable/Console hybrid is home to many J-RPGs. Most which are of dubious quality to say the least (Kemco RPGs anyone?). The machine is also the home of many remasters from the 360/PS3/Wii era, and even titles from older generations (Grandia HD Collection).
So, what is holding The Last Story back? One word, Nintendo. Even when there was a huge fan outcry ( and demand) for the game nearly a decade ago, Nintendo refused to bring the title over. Instead, the company has since chosen to focus on Xenoblade as one of its premier JRPG franchises.
If it makes dollars, it makes sense for Nintendo, and The Last Story while not a flop, only sold 680,000 copies globally on the Wii. By contrast, Xenoblade Chronicles sold 960,000 units. If Nintendo was going to bet on a ‘hardcore’ JRPG franchise, it was going to be Xenoblade.
Marketing budgets and such have an influence on sales, Xseed could never match Nintendo’s marketing machine on the US and that might have contributed to The Last Story’s lesser sales. However, Nintendo never showed long term interest in the property, or in Mistwalker itself. That last statement complicates the “remaster” prospects for the game.
The other remaining hurdle is the actual publishing rights for the game in the US, whether they belong to Xseed (or their parent company) still, or if the rights are back under Nintendo’s umbrella as these things usually a have an expiration date and it has been nearly 9 years since the game launched on the Wii in America.
At the end of the day, if Nintendo wants to remaster The Last Story, the game will be remastered. But the guess here is that – unfortunately – the game is likely to suffer the same fate as Skies of Arcadia in never getting its deserved remastered treatment.
There is much more demand for Skies of Arcadia at this point, and Sega is unlikely to devote any resources towards a remaster, even though the DC’s Grandia II received one recently. The current state of the market just doesn’t favor a Nintendo effort on The Last Story’s behalf.
Playing the game today would require a working Wii or WiiU. A copy of the game which sells for $100+ on Amazon used, and for $200 in factory sealed condition. So, playing the game could turn out to be a pricey endevour.
We salute Sakaguchi, and The Last Story on its 10th anniversary and we cross our fingers hoping that Nintendo at some point finds it worth the effort (money) to port the game to the Switch.
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