Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: November 20, 2008
As a Square Enix offering, it's no surprise that The Last Remnant is an RPG that tries to stand side by side with the biggest and best RPGs on the market. Unfortunately, while The Last Remnant is ripe with potential and several amazing elements, Square Enix made too many bad design decisions with it, and much of the title is too unpolished to offer up an enjoyable experience.
It really is a shame that The Last Remnant isn't able to come together because it has some truly fantastic elements, the first of which is the world in which the game is set. The world was clearly created with a ridiculous amount of care: Cities are richly detailed, the history of the world is well-established, and the interactions between the species and the kingdoms are generally very interesting.
However, that interest will quickly fade because the characters are unlikable and uninteresting; in many cases, your characters will be faceless stand-ins with zero character development. By the time I was done with the game, I only knew the names of the "leader" units in my party, and I found it impossible to care about the other characters in my group. The worst offender is the main character in The Last Remnant. Rush is unsympathetic, far from intelligent, not very interesting, and follows the RPG hero stereotypes to a fault. He single-mindedly cares only about the safety of his sister, Irina, and as a result, he somehow gets dragged into world events. The interactions between Emma and her daughter Emmy, supporting characters in the title, are significantly more interesting than the main story of Rush and his sister. Thankfully, the game's antagonist is a delightfully interesting character who is brought more into focus as you progress; you definitely get the sense that this foe is strong enough to single-handedly take over the world.
With a rich world and an interesting antagonist, there's some real potential for an interesting story to unfold in The Last Remnant. Unfortunately, the story takes far too long to develop into anything remotely interesting. To RPG story writers: If the story isn't there, gamers won't be interested enough to invest their time in your 60-hour-long title. The Last Remnant is a two-disc game, but the entire first disc consists of story development, even though there's nothing interesting or redeeming about it. It picks up on the second disc, but RPGs need to avoid having the gamer wade through a lengthy first half on just the glimmer of hope that things will pick up in the latter portion. This was also a major problem with Blue Dragon, although Mistwalker later redeemed itself with Lost Odyssey.
Compounding the bad story is some truly awful writing. While the voice acting is commendable considering what the voice actors had to work with, they were forced to say some really cringe-inducing lines. From awkward slang to just poorly written dialogue, not much can be said for the script. Combining the awful writing with a mediocre story that takes far too long to get started truly makes it difficult for any gamer to find the motivation to keep going.
The final blow to The Last Remnant's ability to retain anyone for the full length of the game is the graphics. Pull up any screenshot of The Last Remnant, and you'll see a very nice-looking RPG. Everything has a nice art style to it, and most things have a healthy level of detail to them. Unfortunately, once you see things in motion, it quickly becomes apparent that The Last Remnant is completely and utterly broken from a technical standpoint.
Square Enix decided to use the Unreal 3 engine in the development of The Last Remnant, and it seems that Square wasn't able to fully figure it out. It's pretty common for a game running on the Unreal 3 engine to have some issues with pop-in, but The Last Remnant has the worst pop-in issues that I've seen thus far. Textures will often take so long to load during battle that by the time you see the fully loaded texture, the camera immediately shifts elsewhere. Cut scenes also suffer from this; things can often take up to 10 seconds to fully load, making the start of many cut scenes extremely awkward to watch as everything slowly comes into focus.
The pop-in isn't even the worst of the issues with the graphics; The Last Remnant cannot hold a steady frame rate to save its life. Running around the game world is fine, but battles suffer from extreme slowdown. Sometimes things go smoothly in battle, but more often than not, battles turn into a slide show. This can be extremely frustrating since a common battle can often last up to five minutes and the frame rate issue wreaks havoc on the Quick Time Event mini-game that frequently crops up in skirmishes.
The final issue is that there are far too many load times that take far too long. We've seen the Unreal 3 engine do huge environments, and we've seen it do that with a reasonable amount of loading. While there are some impressively sized environments in The Last Remnant, many of them are extremely small, and yet load times are frequent and lengthy. Cities are split into extremely small sections that have lengthy loads between each of them. Even the city map screen, which is a simple art piece that shows you the city, has a lengthy load time. Going into battle? Wait for the game to load. Leaving a battle? Wait for the game to load. Cut scene? Wait for the game to load. Changing the room in which a cut scene takes place? Wait for the game to load. Just about everything in this title is accompanied by a lengthy load time. Installing the game to the Xbox 360's hard drive cuts the load times in half, but each disc takes up over 6GB of space on the hard drive, and with 13GB as the average amount of storage space on an X360, that's a really hefty space requirement.
If you can manage to look past the extreme graphical issues, the bland story and the uninteresting cast of characters, there's a ton of gaming to be done in The Last Remnant. The title features a bunch of side-quests that actually take the center stage; the first disc alone has over 40 side-quests, ranging from fetch quests to chains of quests, which result in new characters who have their own stories and further flesh out the game world. On top of that, there are dozens of guild tasks that can be completed and turned in for rewards, such as certain skills or the ability to kill rare monsters.
While doing all of these side-quests and going through the main story, you'll be doing a lot of fighting, and The Last Remnant has a fairly unique battle system to back it up. Once you have a full party, you will be commanding 25 characters at once, although it takes quite a while before the game will allow you to use all 25 characters. In battles, you'll be facing anything from single enemies to armies that significantly outnumber you.
Control of these characters is streamlined quite nicely, and it usually gets the job done. Outside of battle, you can organize your units into Unions, which act as a single entity on the battlefield. When handing out commands in battle, you will be dealing with things at the Union level, which dramatically streamlines the experience. Once you've created a Union, you can alter its formation, which dictates its statistics and how it appears on the battlefield. Appearance is useful here, as many enemies deal in area-of-effect attacks. Each Union must contain at least one leader, which is your power unit and often has special skills that normal soldiers could only dream of having. A leader unit can be any of the main characters, characters you get via side-quests, or even faceless mercenaries you hire at the local guild. To flesh out the rest of your team, you can recruit soldiers for free. Soldiers aren't as good as leaders and have zero personality, but they fill their roles well enough. You'll be taking a lot of these regular soldiers into every battle, since The Last Remnant limits how many leaders you can use at any given time.
Once you're in battle, things are turn-based, with Unions attacking other Unions. There's a fair amount of strategy involved in orchestrating these large-scale battles. For better or for worse, when it comes time to assign a command to a Union, you're limited to five options that the game decides are "good ideas" for the next turn. This streamlines the experience and gets battles rolling in a hurry, but sometimes, the options that you need won't pop up. I've wanted to pull back a unit and heal them on several occasions or force my team to hang back instead of moving next to a boss who likes to do area-of-effect attacks, but the game didn't provide me with these options, so I was forced to attack the enemy instead.
Once you get going in the game, battles can get very large in a hurry, and it can be several minutes before you can input commands again. To make sure you're not just sitting there watching the action (although Square Enix did a very nice job with the camera work in the battles), there's a Quick Time Event mini-game that pops up during the battle. When successful, it can result in your characters linking together several attacks, taking their turns earlier than they would have otherwise, or even countering an enemy attack.
Outside of battle, you have full reign over the gear that Rush takes into battle. He can use a variety of weapons and accessories, and he can use components that are collected in battle or mined from any of the hundreds of mining spots scattered about the dungeons. You can upgrade many of the weapons, and with certain items, it even becomes possible to build your own gear from scratch.
The Last Remnant is absolutely full of potential. There's a fantastic world accompanied by an incredible soundtrack, a great battle system in place and a ton of content to keep you going. However, the game is technically sub-par, and the story takes far too long to get anywhere remotely interesting. Despite solid gameplay, there are many technical issues, and the story fails to draw in the player. There's a solid game lying underneath the lackluster veneer, but finding it requires sifting through a lot more rubble than any gamer should have to.
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