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Review:
The Last Remnant

Format: Xbox360 (reviewed) / PC
Genre: RPG
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix

Out now (Xbox360)
20/03/09 (PC)

Greg Giddens raises an army...

Square Enix has adorned gamers' shelves with quality titles for years now, setting a new standard in RPG storytelling. So, now that we're presented with a new release from the legendary Final Fantasy creators, surely we're in for a treat? On the other hand, perhaps it's more of a trick...

Welcome to the world of The Last Remnant, a world where several different races live in relative peace and where ancient artefacts, known as remnants, hold great power and provide the owner with great influence. These remnants are the backbone of society and of the entire story, and are the core driving force of each region's army and political influence. 

The Last Remnant starts with you taking control of the protagonist, Rush Sykes, running after his sister Irina, who has been kidnapped. Rush soon teams up with David Nassau, the young marquis who rules over the region of Athlum; he, in turn, introduces you to his four generals. There's Emma Honeywell, a middle-aged female warrior and stand-in mother figure to David; Torgal, a cat with four arms who is a formidable warrior; Blocter, a large... umm, well, thing, again another skilled warrior; and finally Pagus, a frog with magic powers. Okay, so maybe my explanation of the characters is a little vague, but I would love to see a picture of what your mind conjured up based on those descriptions. It's thanks to this strong leading cast that The Last Remnant grows on you, and if you can look past the obvious and glaring faults, then you can quite happily stick it through to its conclusion.

Once the introductions are over with, the story starts to get going, and before you know it you find yourself involved in an intriguing political struggle between the different regions in the world, all the while searching for your sister.

"...generates its fair share of questions..."

The pacing is quite slow, but it feels natural. Considering the political atmosphere of the game, it seems relevant to the situation. The story is far from Square Enix's best - unusually for the developer, the opening is rather uninspiring, but if you allow yourself to become immersed then a funny thing will happen: you might just have fun. Half the enjoyment comes from discovering the plot for yourself, so I won't ruin it for any of you, but suffice it to say the story introduces you to the game world quite well, easing you in without overwhelming you. In true Square Enix style, the game generates its fair share of questions, but unlike previous titles from our Japanese friends, the answers, in many cases, can be guessed, and more than a few are left unanswered entirely. It's all interesting enough to pull you in, but struggles to be captivating enough to keep you there. There's nothing about the plot that we haven't seen before, so much so that you can see a lot of it coming. Instead, the game shows its uniqueness through its combat.

It's a nice twist on the traditional turn-based system, and pushes the boundaries of role-playing combat, but it's not so unfamiliar as to intimidate its core audience. Instead of controlling individual characters in battle, you control several groups of characters called unions. Each union can be made up of five units; you decide who leads the union and the formation the union adopts. Each formation has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on how they are used and what they are used against, adding a strategic element to each battle. There's also a morale bar at the top of the screen and, depending on how high your morale is, your attack power and defence will rise or fall.

These additions to a primarily turn-based system add a tactical side that's seldom seen in the genre, but it's not without its faults. With such a level of strategy and choice comes a steep learning curve, one that may put off many gamers. Also, although there are a great deal of possible battle options, these options will only reveal themselves if certain conditions are met. For example, you will not be able to tell a union to attack with an area-effect spell, unless a unit within the union has learnt the required spells and the union is far enough away to cast it, and even then you need enough action points to pull it off, as well as high enough morale - and you need to be fortunate enough for the option to appear at all. As a result, even when you know what you're supposed to be doing in combat, it can still fall apart. There's no denying that luck plays a big part in whether you succeed or fail in battle.

"...you need to grind like crazy..."

The battle options are also very generalised, and the micro-management aspects which appeal so much to RPG fans have been eliminated in an attempt to appeal to both eastern and western players. But, instead, it feels like a way to artificially blur the genre lines only to entice other gaming demographics. The only character who you have any meaningful control over is the protagonist, but even then it's only his equipment. Other characters will ask you to acquire components so they can create new weapons or upgrade current ones and, on occasion, they will ask which form of combat they should concentrate on, but that's about it. It's a shame to leave out the micro-management elements because, although doing so does make the game more accessible to non-RPG players, it also takes away a lot of the gameplay elements that make the genre so rewarding.

The Last Remnant boasts that there are no character levels, and therefore no levelling-up, but that's not entirely accurate. Although there aren't any levels per se, your character still evolves over time, becoming more powerful and acquiring different skills. Random encounters are not present; instead, enemies can be seen roaming the play area and can be engaged or ignored at will. But don't think you can avoid battling these foes because, trust me, you still need to grind like crazy to become powerful enough to take on some of the bosses. 

Technically, it's a mixed bag. Texture loading is slow unless you install it to your hard-drive, which upgrades it to sluggish. The frame rate when in battle is often slow too, as is the loading when moving from one location to another or entering battles. These slow-downs do hinder your enjoyment of the game, but it would be unfair to write off The Last Remnant solely on those few problems, especially seeing as the visuals are, on the whole, very good. 

You know what I realised as I was writing this review? The more I wrote about it, the more I disliked the game. Maybe I'm just talking myself out of liking it, though, as the truth of the matter is I enjoyed it enough to comfortably see it through to completion. Saying that, I still would only recommend it to hardcore JRPG fans. What The Last Remnant doesn't do is appeal to a new audience. Its attempt to streamline the experience so as to entice other gamers simply doesn't work; in fact, it ends up compromising the enjoyment of its core audience. It's a valiant effort form Square Enix, and it's always a treat to see developers risking new ideas - but, in this case, the result is a resounding "Meh."

65%
Risky and clever, but frequently annoying.

About our scores...

Contents
Issue 4

Podcast

Editor's Note

The Special Report
A silly video! Hooray!

The Evolution of Horror
A look back at the genre's history

16-Bit Boy
Do our minds corrupt the most innocent games?

Is it 'Game Over' for survival horror?
Where's the genre heading?

The Angry Gamer
Are games programmed to cheat?

Listen to your Elders!
Lessons from the FPS grandfathers

Interview:
Vince D. Weller
What makes a good RPG?

Interview: Dan Pinchbeck
How far can we push FPS boundaries?

First Impressions: Resident Evil 5
Rekindling the spirit?

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