Written December 2008 shortly after launch for play.tm
The Last Remnant seems to have come along as yet another example to the Japanese markets that yes the Xbox 360 is the console for them and to betray their PS3 loyalties in favour of a wealth of RPGs on the 360. It’s a good plan by Square Enix but quite flawed too. The problem being that some of their best talents such as Hironobu Sakaguchi have jumped ship to Mistwalker to make Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. Square Enix have tried to combat this with titles such as Infinite Undiscovery and now The Last Remnant. It’s not often you can have an RPG that can appeal to both the purist and the novice, but The Last Remnant just about manages to do it. However, much like the rest of the game, it’s all a bit of a double edged sword.
Japanese RPGs seem to be getting stuck in a bit of a rut when it comes to stories and admittedly The Last Remnant is no different. As usual you play a young man, Rush, who slowly gains more and more powers. Oh and of course, he’s a bit cocky, even calling his King, Dave rather than David. He gets caught up in all the action due to his sister Irina getting kidnapped by a strange being, all very typical really. But then again do JRPG fans really care? No, of course not, they’re just happy to have a new epic to sink their teeth into!
The game instantly throws you into action from the word go and despite the many in game tutorials, it is a little intimidating at first. I’ve played a huge amount of RPGs over the years but the battle screens did take me aback slightly as initially they look extremely confusing and convoluted. Luckily, this is actually very far from the truth. Instead it’s fairly simple to get into. The turn based fighting revolves around choosing from some pre-selected commands. Rather than choosing the exact command, you’re given choices such as ‘Attack all out’, ‘Charge’ and ‘Attack using mystic arts’ (magic). This is where the double edged sword comes into things. It’s great for those intimidated by regular turn based systems and it is much more relaxed than other systems, but the hardcore RPG player may feel a bit restricted and like they’re not really in control. This is further compounded by the fact you can only upgrade the equipment of the main character, Rush. All other characters are referred to as units, or unions. They are swapped out regularly depending on what the quest requires, and whether you hire them in guilds which are located in the surrounding cities. It does detract a little from the story as most RPGs rely on you becoming attached to characters, but it also works in a strange sort of way. The combat itself feels very strategy orientated with the need for formations and various stages in the battle causing deadlocks which affect the battle. It is a little odd to get used to but works just about. At first I felt like I was just sitting watching the battles commence and occasionally pressing a button. However the inclusion of trigger chances, similar to Final Fantasy 8’s gunblade attacks; help make you feel more part of the action. The main downside to combat is sometimes it takes absolutely forever to finish a battle! One boss battle with a Dragon, not hugely far into the game, took over an hour for me to defeat. Other battles can take even longer, sometimes with three boss battles in a row and no chance of saving in between. Epic battles are great sometimes, but not really to this extent. The difficulty of said battles also goes up hugely very quickly, however far from it being a negative point, I actually find it refreshing. Some recent RPGs have been far too simple to complete and it makes a change to have a real challenge.
Besides the main storyline, there are also guild quests. These quests are more a matter of completing certain objectives such as slaying a certain amount of one type of monster, or a member of your party having a lot of strength, they make for some trivial distraction but at least you gain items from it. There are also other quests, often from NPCs with red speech bubbles hovering over their heads. The quests seemed initially really exciting, adding another dimension to the game. However, many of them seem to consist of talking to a person, getting teleported to a new location and then talking to a different person or if you’re lucky, fighting another monster. A lot of the time though, I still enjoyed it. It just could have been more imaginative. It is extremely nice to be able to save almost anywhere in the game and the fact that you almost always have a map available to traverse the dungeons you may be in. Another plus point for the novice RPG gamer!
Presentation wise, The Last Remnant is lacking in places. The loading screens are ridiculous; they just come about far too often. Installing the game to the hard drive did speed things up a bit but it was still rather irritating in places. Using the Unreal Engine (the game engine of choice at the moment I feel), the game looks amazing and in places truly epic. However it also suffers hugely from slowdown in places with some battles looking like it’s really pushing the 360 to its limits. I can’t help but think it could have done with some more optimisation before release as surely during testing, it was noticed as a problem. The voice acting however, is pretty faultless, certainly in comparison to other recent JRPGs. It makes a change to not be immediately irritated by the characters’ voices, although some lines are a tad dubious such as ‘let’s kick some a’ at the start of many battles. As is seemingly usual for a JRPG, the game starts out very slowly and persistence is needed. But it’s worthwhile in the end.
The Last Remnant is a funny old game. Every time it scores a plus point, it then does something that lets it down a bit. However, despite its many faults, I really enjoyed it. It manages to break from the norm slightly yet also have that traditional feeling to it. Unfortunately, once the big guns of Final Fantasy 13 and Star Ocean arrive, it will probably fall into the background, much like Enchanted Arms did when Blue Dragon arrived. However for now, it is an enjoyable stopgap for anyone who enjoys JRPGs. Just don’t expect too much from it. It likes to give with one hand and take away from the other.