The Last Remnant – Staff Review

A remnant is something that is left over, like scraps of food after dinner or relics from a civilization lost in history. The Last Remnant is about the latter, but it contains a little of the former — that is, warmed-over notions that we’ve seen before. There are some standard-issue RPG tropes along with concepts taken from SRPGs, Final Fantasy VIII and XII, and Dynasty Warriors, but there’s enough fresh material to make the game somewhat appealing. However, the quirks of the game’s highly complex battle system mire the game down until it just might become worthy of one word…


Let’s begin with the setting of The Last Remnant. The world has enormous fortresses and ramparts, ruggedly beautiful terrain, cities teeming with racial diversity, and of course Remnants — mysterious objects of a long-forgotten age that have both blessed and cursed successive generations. Some are huge, stretching above cities, while others are small enough to fit in your hand. Individuals can bind themselves to Remnants and tap into their power as vehicles, weapons, or even treasure containers.

Big. Bold. Detailed.
“Big. Bold. Detailed.”

The visual style is vaguely reminiscent of FFXII; it’s very big, bold, and detailed. There are different races of beings living in harmony, though there are minimal cultural differences to give them true flavor and distinction. Supposedly, everyone relies on the Remnants for support and enrichment, but you never see how specifically, aside from weapon Remnants leveling entire armies and townspeople blathering about how shiny their city’s Remnant is. If you want the world and characters to be fleshed out, you have to go hunting for it in sidequests; The Last Remnant doesn’t make an effort to weave these elements into the main storyline. In fact, thumbing through the game manual may be more enlightening than querying random NPCs.

Characters are decent and somewhat likable. It’s hard to not like a four-armed axe-wielding catman or a frog-like mage who speaks with unusual inflections. The story has its horrible cliches — the main character is searching for his kidnapped sister — but it does evolve into a decent plot with some twists and a few spots of political intrigue, though it’s mostly a wild goose chase with odd pacing. The ending is underwhelming and very predictable, particularly since part of it is all but given away in the middle of the first disc. The game manages to handle it with taste and dignity…at least until the very last minute where a couple of tacked-on lines poorly attempt to give the story a Hollywood ending.

The music is a nice blend of traditional music and driving rock/synth with shades of the Black Mages. Tsuyoshi Sekito’s work doesn’t come off as pretentious and pseudo-epic, nor does it sound like it belongs in a Mountain Dew commercial (Too Human, I’m looking at you). The voice acting is not as good as that of other Square Enix titles. Johnny Yong Bosch isn’t at the top of his game here as the standard-issue enthusiastic sword-swinging RPG hero. The rest of the cast is tolerable but not credible as actors. However, the voice actor for Pagus is pretty good; the odd vocal inflections (a racial-cultural trait of all Qsiti) were charming, quirky, and fitting for his character.

The game’s most noticeable flaw is the lag. During combat, the game drags in the 360, even freezing for 1-2 seconds every now and then. Loading screens linger for several seconds, animations are sometimes a bit jerky, and character motions are not fluid. Installing the game to the 360’s hard drive largely eliminates this problem. Loading screens are very brief and animations are significantly smoother, but there are still occasional slowdowns. If you have a hard drive that can accommodate the install (about 6 gigs per disc, and you do not have to install both discs at the same time), then lag is almost a non-issue. If you don’t, the game is nearly unbearable.

It's a sword. What do you think I want to do with it?
“It’s a sword. What do you think I want to do with it?”

What’s unusual about The Last Remnant is that it cuts out a majority of the standard micromanagement present in most RPGs, which can be good or bad. Party members will hone their skills according to minimal advice from the player, and they will request battle spoils and upgrade their equipment on their own. The game also nearly eliminates level-grinding by having enemies scale up with your level, a la FFVIII. Battles are still important for learning new skills, increasing stats, and upgrading equipment. If you prefer to cut through the fine-tuning and menu-shuffling, then this is a relief. But if tinkering with stats, equipment, and skills is half your enjoyment in an RPG, well, you might derive some satisfaction from setting up party formations and creating Rush’s equipment.

The battle system is also unusual. It’s semi-tactical and very complex, and with that complexity comes inherent flaws. Players arrange sets of party members into groups, then in combat, instead of giving each party member an individual command, players choose sets of commands from a list. It’s not entirely clear how the game chooses which commands are available, but the distance to the enemy group and the ally union’s current HP and AP are definite factors. For all I could tell, moon phase, television sound volume, and number of live chickens sacrificed by the player could determine available commands.

Most of the time, the system gives you just what you need: commands for serious healing, healing or support magic with some offensive backup, going all-out with magic and physical attacks on an enemy union to finish it off, and so forth. The rest of the time, you won’t get what you want or need. You won’t always get the option to heal yourself when you’re 1/3 down on HP or even in the red, and it’s possible to get an option to heal another union but not the one you’re choosing commands for even though that union is low on HP.

Don't see what you need? Too bad.
“Don’t see what you need? Too bad.”

Furthermore, not only does the game tell you which limited options you can use, it also thinks it can play better than you can. There are certain times when a union will execute a different set of commands than you selected. If a union is suddenly attacked by an enemy union while on the way to, say, revive another union, they will automatically change to offensive tactics instead of reviving. If the union’s original target is destroyed, they may switch commands and blow that special move you’ve been saving. Automatically changing tactics can be good — deciding to heal instead of attack because of an unexpected painful blow from the enemy — or bad — electing to heal themselves for a negligible amount of HP instead of reviving a much-needed fallen union like you asked. These aren’t the only times that extraordinary luck comes into play. The odds are stacked against you in most of the boss battles, and often a lucky parry can make a difference between a total loss and a narrow victory. There are also some difficult large-scale marathon battles that can take 30-45 minutes to complete, and some of them are followed by extremely difficult boss fights where you have a slim chance of survival. Oh, and you don’t get a chance to save in between. As mentioned before, you can’t level grind to gain the advantage, so you have to rely heavily on good fortune. One misstep or stroke of bad luck will show just how sadistic this game can be.

At first glance, The Last Remnant feels extremely cheap and difficult in a bad way, but once you learn the intricacies of the battle system — that a sudden side attack can cancel a revive command and cause your union to fight back instead, for example — you can see that the game is prodding you to think strategically. There are some design flaws and the game does stack the odds against you way too much in some places, but grasping the complex, if sometimes flawed, mechanics can slightly lessen the punishment.

Therefore, the highly complex battle system is a clear indication that The Last Remnant is a game for hardcore battlers, not the average RPG player. The technical flaws will annoy most players, but for the masochistic niche, flaws simply become challenges. Usually, you battle your way through a story, but here the weak story is just a means of stringing together challenging battles.

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