The Last Remnant is Square Enix’s latest attempt at a hopeful new franchise to join the ranks of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and to a certain extent, Star Ocean. It’s a great attempt, but it could have been even better had they used an engine they knew more about. Still, this is absolutely a unique game that any hardcore RPG fan can appreciate; assuming technical problems don’t bother them too much.
The Last Remnant opens with the main character, Rush Sykes, looking for his sister Irina, who has been captured by a mysterious hooded man and his horde of weird-looking creatures. Rush happens to stumble upon a massive battle while looking for his sister. Looking upon the battle, he notices a female figure that looks similar to his sister, so he runs out in the thick of things to see if it is indeed her, but it isn’t her. At that time, Rush meets the marquis of Athlum, David Nassau and his powerful army. David agrees to help Rush find his sister after figuring out whom Rush is: the son of two famous scientists who study and observe the remnants and their powers.
That’s not the only thing going on with the story though. The remnants, ancient and mysterious artifacts with magical powers strong enough to destroy entire armies, are the main reasons behind many of the characters decisions throughout the game. Some people believe they inspire good will, others believe them to be similar to weapons of mass destruction. These feelings toward the remnants have forced many wars throughout the eight different kingdoms and it looks to be happening again. Then there’s the Conqueror, a man who can apparently control any remnant, no matter what size or shape. Since some larger remnants have been known to kill their wielders (including the Gae Bulg, a huge gun that David uses in battle that killed his father) this poses a serious threat to humanity, especially considering he is bent on world domination. There are also political overtones throughout the whole game, similar to Final Fantasy XII. The Last Remnant sets itself apart from Final Fantasy XII with a unique world and varying races much like the viera and bangaa were in Ivalice. It still feels like FFXII at times, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
In terms of gameplay, The Last Remnant actually feels a little more like a strategy RPG than it does a traditional turn-based RPG. How you manage your units and where you choose to send them in battle can be a critical choice between victory and termination. The battle system also opens up new things fairly often within the first disc, so there’s not a whole lot of time to figure stuff out before something new is thrown into the mix. The good news is that once everything is put into play, The Last Remnant offers up some of the most strategic and satisfying battles I’ve experienced in recent memory.
Battles in The Last Remnant are between unions, groups of “units” that serve as one entity in battle (they share HP and ability points). Once you give commands to the union, the units act. Each union has a leader, and when that leader is defeated in battle the union is “botched” and can no longer act as long as the leader is down. Commands for each union are different and depend on their condition in the battle as well as their position on the battlefield. The morale gauge at the top of the screen keeps track of your army’s (you guessed it) morale. The higher their morale, unions inflict more damage as well as gaining access to more powerful battle commands.
In battle, you first select an enemy union, then a command for the union to act out (commands are different for each opposing union you select). You can also press the X button to see what each individual unit will do if that specific command is picked. Some commands take AP, while the simpler ones do not. Some AP recovers each turn and choosing when to use AP is a critical thing to learn early on. If your union is too far from the opposing union to act, the union will have to move closer. Once opposing unions meet each other they enter a “deadlock”, which means they are in melee range and battle to the death. There are instances, however, where unions will be able to break the deadlock. If this happens, the union that broke the deadlock is susceptible to a flank attack where they don’t get to attack back and take more damage than normal, or a special battle command. Other types of deadlocks besides a flank attack include rear assault, which occurs when any union is flank-attacked more than once in a turn and is then deadlocked by any further unions, or massive strike, occurring when a union is flank-attacked twice and rear assaulted, any further deadlocks resulting in a massive strike for extra damage.
Battle commands range from basic attacks to combat/mystic arts, healing via items, and special battle commands specific to characters (David has one called “Gae Bolg” that deals massive damage to every union on the battlefield). Combat arts are based on the weapon that the unit is wielding and change when they switch weapons. They learn more arts the longer the weapon is wielded. Each wield style has different arts for the units to learn. Item arts are used with the proper ingredients. As with the combat arts, the more you use them, the more arts they produce. When a unit attacks there may also be a “trigger chance,” where a quick-time event pops up for the player to press, similar to games like God of War and Resident Evil. A successful trigger chance makes that attack unblockable and can even allow the next ally unit go to the top of the turn list.
Battles are triggered in The Last Remnant by pressing the right trigger while exploring, pulling monsters into battle. Pressing this button sends a ring to surround Rush and anything within the ring will enter battle. You can also run into the enemy, but this causes the enemy to start with an advantage in battle. There’s also “timeshift” which slows enemy movement until the gauge runs out. When Rush is near an enemy during timeshift the enemy will turn red and can be pulled into battle from any distance, allowing the player to pull in multiple units. Like Blue Dragon, the more enemies you can defeat in battle, the bigger the rewards. When there are no enemies within range of the ring, any enemies that are close will get enraged and chase down Rush. Since the ring can only be used every few seconds, this can cause you to come into contact with an enemy and get a disadvantage in battle.
Once battles are over your units can gain stat increases and learn new arts. They don’t necessarily level up, but there is a battle rank that increases throughout the game that generally serves as the level of your army. The game never tells you how it determines what stats increase though and I could never figure it out. The instruction manual doesn’t explain it either. Loot is also gained after battle, which can be used to make better equipment or sold for a profit. Monsters can also be captured and sold for a profit, but catching a monster is random and not controlled. If you don’t want to keep a captured monster, you can split them and take all the components instead. Since you can only change Rush’s equipment, some components can be given to other units when they ask for them to increase the strength of their weapons. If you don’t want to give them the component, you can also decline and keep it for yourself.
Exploring in The Last Remnant is standard fare for a JRPG except for a few things. You can find treasure chests scattered throughout the dungeons (although they look drastically different than your standard treasure chests), but where it’s different is a little creature called “Mr. Diggs.” Mr. Diggs can harvest components at harvest points, simply green circles, throughout the game. Mr. Diggs can only harvest components so many times per dungeon, but levels up the more components you harvest, increasing the number of times he can harvest. He also gets various skills when leveling up that allows him to harvest more than once at a time and find rare components.
There is no overworld map in The Last Remnant. Instead it uses the point and click world map that is becoming increasingly popular in JRPGs. Once a dungeon or area is chosen, you can move around within it. Something different in The Last Remnant is that the development team also incorporated this for moving around town. Each town has a point and click map to separate different areas. It breaks down the monotonous searching to find the right store or something in each town since it has a description of what each area contains before you click on it.
In each town/city there are multiple facilities that do various things. These are: stores to buy equipment, components, and consumables, customization shops to build equipment using components as well as increasing existing equipment’s strength, guilds to hire leaders for your unions and completing guild tasks to reap rewards (guild tasks do not need to be accepted to be completed), and pubs to gain information and even sidequests (you jump straight into a sidequest when accepted, so you have to make sure you are ready). There is also the army recruitment officer that allows you to hire/dismiss units for/from your unions. There is also the castle, David’s home, where you can talk to him for a refresher on what it is you are supposed to be doing to continue the story.
The final thing that the player can do is go through the party menu. In the party menu you can equip Rush, look through his stats and arts, look through your items and components, and use the union board. The union board allows you to build your unions. The number of unions you can have increases as the story progresses, as well as the number of leaders and units you can have in each union. You also choose a formation to put the union in (you get more as the game progresses). Once a formation is selected, you put the leaders and units into one of the five available spots. The units/leaders in the front rows gain attack and defense, but sacrifice mystic attack and defense. The opposite happens when units/leaders are put into the back rows. Each union must have a leader. Building your unions is probably the most important aspect of battle preparation and switching things around for different battles will have to be done in order to succeed.
With all this said, The Last Remnant does have a pretty steep learning curve. The battle system is unique and very confusing at first, but once you know your way around it, I think it becomes very addictive and satisfying, like any good strategy RPG can. The Last Remnant is a unique JRPG experience, and mixes the new with the old in a great way as to not overwhelm the player, but not hold their hand either. It’s a very challenging game, especially the boss battles, where the placement of your units on the union board as well as the formation is absolutely crucial. This is a very strategic game, and one I enjoyed very much because of that.
The controls in The Last Remnant aren’t any different from any JRPG that have been released. When exploring you control the camera, and it works fine except for the few times where is gets stuck on walls in close corridors. The menus are all easy to navigate and figure out. It doesn’t do anything new, but it doesn’t need to.
The graphics in The Last Remnant are fantastic, but I can’t say the same for the engine running them. All of the reoccurring problems with the Unreal Engine are present in Square Enix’s first attempt at using it: texture pop in, framerate issues, and long loading times. Of course, these are alleviated somewhat if you are willing to install the game onto your HDD (which I recommend doing), but are still present even if you do. It’s a shame that such a renowned video game developer has let their biggest strength in the past become the biggest weakness for a new franchise. Not exactly the start they had in mind I’m sure. There is hope though because the PS3 and PC versions were held back and they can fix all these problems and give consumers the best version of the game possible, at least we hope. A patch would be nice for this version though.
The sound design fares far better than the graphics department, thankfully. The soundtrack to this game is absolutely fantastic in all aspects. The battle themes rank up there with Final Fantasy and so does the fanfare. The voice acting is decent, but nothing that is going to be noteworthy. Johnny Yong Bosch as Rush does a decent job, but not his best. The voice for David is one of the better ones, but Pagus is definitely a sore spot. The writing is up and down most of the game. It has its moments, but at others times it just comes off as bad. It’s definitely second tier in this aspect compared to your Final Fantasies and Dragon Quests.
As I stated earlier in this review, your enjoyment of The Last Remnant is going to come down to your toleration for a good game wrapped up in a graphical mess. If this game ran smoother, it would have been something special. Instead it’s just a solid, worthwhile trip that will be remembered more for its shortcomings than it will its triumphs, and what a shame that is.