The Last Remnant - The War Is On!

December 12, 2008

An original Square-Enix project developed by veterans of Final Fantasy and the Saga series, The Last Remnant is a combat-focused, distinctly Japanese RPG that has a lot to live up to. We've seen a number of Final Fantasies, but is this semi-experimental role-player destined to be the last?

The Last Remnant's drama involves a standard-issue teenage hero with hidden powers, political power plays, a variety of coexisting fantasy races including four-armed cat people, and ancient artifacts known as remnants, which possess great magical power. The nobles control the remnants by default, while a powerful individual known as the conqueror wants to take them by force. It's a totally workable setup for a large-scale war.

Rush allies with a likeable noble with a fancy name and learns that his sister also has a mysterious power. The early story isn't very fluid, but things do become more interesting over time and a few characters manage to distinguish themselves over the course of the game. The story isn't the most original, but the world is certainly unique, and the game's other elements do a good job supporting the story and world.

There are a number off features that set The Last Remnant apart from other RPGs. You command a small army rather than a group of individuals, and characters don't gain levels--instead having their health replenished after each battle. Rather than giving commands to individual units, you'll give orders to unions--groups of up to five characters that can take different formations for different effects on the battlefield.

You determine what characters to place in your unions, grabbing leaders from guilds and recruiting generic soldiers to fill in the gaps. Formations are a further way to influence the outcome of battles, and it's a rewarding way to tweak the effectiveness of your unions in different situations. Depending on their overall performance, individuals may learn new skills during battle or see their stats rise during the victory screen.

The Last Remnant's combat is denser than similar games, with more characters involved there are more chances to enjoy critical hits, dodges, and counterattacks. It makes for intense and compelling battles, but while quick camera cuts keep the pace from slacking, you'll still have to trade a little bit of extra time to appreciate the result.

Areas have a large, open feel similar to the MMO-influenced Final Fantasy XII, while also giving you local and world maps that let you travel quickly to relevant locations. Simple tasks called guild quests don't have to be formally accepted, you simply claim your reward when you've met the requirements. More traditional quests will often warp you to the relevant location, and send you back when you're done, making them easy to focus on and complete.

Outfitting your army is also streamlined. Party members request materials they need to customize their gear after successful battles. The game also offers some non-linear exploration, letting you discover towns and other areas that aren't vital to the main story, but may offer their own unique weapons, side quests, and characters to recruit. The optional exploration can give knowledge of plot twists before they come up in the main story, and They do a lot to help flesh out the game's world.

Completing the main quest in The Last Remnant takes some fortitude. It's a large game spread across two discs, so if you're looking for a lot of time per dollar, you could do a lot worse.

If turn-based combat is your thing, Remnant's interesting battle system has a lot to offer. With a war going on and incredibly hostile wildlife, combat makes up the majority of the gameplay experience. While you're able to avoid enemies by running past them or group multiple enemies together using the right trigger for a greater challenge and greater rewards. The sheer volume of combat is substantial, and while it's not unusual for a JRPG, it's delivered in larger chunks than players might be used to.

General orders include normal physical attacks, magic attacks, and support options. There's definitely a learning curve, but despite the many numbers involved, you're basically looking at the familiar attack, heal, and clear status effects pattern. Special attacks take action points, which rebuild with every turn, so you can come out swinging with one powerful attack right away or ration your points until your squad can unleash a deadly coordinated assault.

Some attacks occur more quickly than others, which observant players can use to their advantage. Unique super-attacks occur randomly or pop up in specific battles, which can do heavy damage and give your side a distinct and needed advantage. It's no stroll through the park. Finally, timed button-presses can make combat a bit more active, but this feature doesn't add a lot to gameplay. The option to turn it off is there for a reason.

When you're moving through a hostile area, there's a time-shift action to slow time, allowing you to tag multiple enemies to bring into battle. Outside frays, you're also able to harvest components for item customization using the mascot-like creature, Mr. Diggs. He's a little bit silly, but the little guy can level up his skills and hook you up with rare components to help you forge epic gear.

Combat is definitely the focus, but you'll still need to travel to a variety of locations and poke around towns for information. The game does provide clear goals. If you don't know what you're supposed to do in the story, you can always head to your castle headquarters for a quick mini-briefing.

The Last Remnant has a lot of depth, a nicely balanced risk/reward system, and presents a mean challenge. It's not a good starter RPG, but genre fans will feel rewarded.

Last Remnant is a beautiful game with a curse. Gorgeous environments, detailed character designs, battle animations that make you feel the impact of every hit, and detailed enemy design all suffer from inconsistent engine performance and glitchy textures. Things get choppy regularly, and it's an issue you'll have to figure out if you can deal with it. At least the stutters don't adversely affect the turn-based gameplay. Textures pop in and out constantly, and after a load it can take a couple seconds before the details emerge. It's distracting. There's no doubt about it.

Voice performances range in quality, but are fitting and competent for the most part. The main character unfortunately isn't among the best, but we've definitely heard worse. Music composition is excellent and varied, with several variations on the battle theme and appropriate background music for different locations.

The Last Remnant is a hard game to judge. A person's enjoyment of it will be directly related to how much they can tolerate persistent graphical issues. If you can get past it, there's a lot to enjoy in the smart design decisions and its unique battle system.