For longtime fans of Square (back when they were actually Squaresoft), the fracturing of Square's major focus on the Final Fantasy series was a frightning thing. Sure, Square had always made other types of games, but when it came to RPGs, it seemed that they poured their energy and time into creating a final product that gamers knew they could rely on.
The Last Remnant is the most recent in this stream of titles, following the wholly underwhelming Infinite Undiscovery -- although since Square was only responsible for the distribution of that title, they can't really shoulder the brunt of the blame. The Last Remnant is all theirs, however, and with what looked to be a complex battle system and beautiful character design shown in the trailers, RPG fans were certainly hoping for something they could lose themselves in.
Did The Last Remnant achieve that goal? Hit the jump to find out.
The Last Remnant (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PlayStation 3 , PC [TBA])
People make fun of the pretty boys of Square-Enix's games, but someone must be enjoying it -- the games sell like hotcakes every time. The Last Remnant features the usual suspects -- a lead character named Rush with spiky hair and an air of simple innocence, a suspiciously young king named David (that's pronounced Day-VEED, by the way) who finds a threat against his kingdom he must face, and a pissed off hardass female named Emma who obviously has some baggage. Oh wait, I forgot about the young girl who's been kidnapped!
Sound familiar? It should if you're an RPG enthusiast, although there's nothing wrong with that -- some of the most classic scenerios have produced unforgettable games, so I'm not judging. At least, not yet.
The story takes place in a fictional world populated by many different races, which will immediately remind MMO fans of Final Fantasy XI. While this sets the stage for many a war in other games, these races seem to live peacefully together, which may seem unrealistic to some gamers. Personally, I wasn't bothered by it. I especially liked the character design for the Qsitis and the Sovannis, one a small reptile-like creature and the other a feline with multiple arms.
The story is centered around "remnants", which are huge artifacts that possess magic powers. It seems that certain people can bind themselves to these remnants and use their powers, but if they are not used the remnants eventually become dangerous. Ah, it's good to know the vague rules of this universe get started early -- that's Square for you!
Of course, as with any RPG, a great deal of your time will be spent moving around the world map and engaging in battles. This is where the experience of playing The Last Remnant will begin to taste bittersweet. For instance, the world map is traveled by selecting points and your party will automatically appear there, eliminating the need to endlessly wander across terrain in order to achieve a goal. This same system is used in towns as well, moving you quickly from important point to point across the area. I love how this saves a player essential seconds, it certainly helps to defeat that boredom that one can sometimes feel when an errand in-game takes too long.
Another feature of the game that may appeal to the craft-savvy allows you to collect items (dropped in battle or purchased from stores) that you can combine to make unique weapons, armor and accessories. This can be a great addition to a game and add a lot of depth, but I never particularly got into it in this game. I think that people that enjoy making their own items and hunting for rare components will certainly get a lot out of this facet of the gameplay.
In sharp contrast to those clever additions, the game offers a battle system that, while obviously meant to be complex and deep, comes off feeling a bit heavy handed and needlessly complex. Rather than watching each of your characters take damage individually, the game has your party attack as a "unit", which you are eventually given control of to change members and formations as you wish. When engaging in battle, you will enter what's called "deadlock" -- in other words, face to face battle. Can't you just call it "battle"? I found myself cringing everytime the word deadlock flashed across the screen -- it just seemed to be unnecessary.
To start a battle, you have to press the RT button in order to cast a ring out which will capture the creature you wish to battle (this all happens in real time, by the way -- there are no random battles). They also have to be in a certain status to be able to engage in the battle with you, something that could have been made a lot easier just by running into the creature to start the battle. I would enjoy it if it added something to the gameplay, but it seemed more of a pain in the ass than anything -- once again, simply not necessary in any way.
Your unit also has access to what's called Combat Arts, Mystic Arts, and Item Arts, which are -- you'll never guess -- regular attacks, magic use and item use. Ok, I understand that they were trying to be creative, but you know, I'm one of those people that gets annoyed by having to choose between sage and celadon -- just give me green, for fuck's sake. On top of this, everything is vague and undefined. Sure, your character just executed a special move, but you have no idea how to make him or her do it again -- only that it sometimes happens when you choose a certain art. I found this lack of control frustrating.
The worst thing about all this is that after all this effort to make a more sophisticated battle system, I found it boring. Sure, not all of you will, because each person has a different threshold to grinding in an RPG and how much of it you can stand. The one thing I did really enjoy about the battles is the addition of Trigger Chance, which allows you to press a button at a certain moment to execute extra damage during a move. It does allow you to remain interested in the battles, but if it wasnt for that I think I would have been sick of them a lot sooner.
And speaking of the battles, they show off one of the issues that hurts The Last Remnant the most, which is that it suffers from lag. Installing the game onto your 360's hard drive will help quite a bit, but before I did that I was watching glitches and lag in every fight, and there's no more surefire way to get a person frustrated with a game. Also consider that this is Square's first use of the Unreal Engine, and its really disappointing, although it does make me wonder if these issues will be different for the PS3 and PC release (both which are scheduled for next year).
Unfortunately texture pop-in is an issue too. I saw this in most cutscenes -- the first few seconds of each it is noticable that the backgrounds are changing before your eyes, and sometimes battles will take up to three seconds to load before they begin. As I mentioned before, you can eliminate most of these issues by installing to the hard drive, but it brings up the point that releasing a game with these issues is unfair to the consumer, even if there is a way to remedy it. If my hard drive was already full, for instance, I shouldn't have to install this game to be able to enjoy it.
I've been calling out a lot of the bad points, but I feel it's worth it to point out that The Last Remnant has a lot of good ones too. The voice acting is fairly solid, the soundtrack is beautiful, and the cities and locales you encounter gorgeous and enchanting. There are also small things that have thoughtful amounts of detail: for instance, you can mine items from digging points throughout the world with the help of "Mr. Diggs", a strange creature who befriends you early in the game. His time on screen is funny and the items are useful, and I like the touch of humor he brings to the game.
The thing that could have made me take a deep breath and push past the flaws is the same thing I'm always looking for in an RPG: story, but more importantly, the ability to connect to my characters. After twenty hours of play, I liked my characters, but I wanted to know more that I felt should have been revealed to me by that point in order to hook my interest. What is the backstory behind Emma's character, for instance? Why is Rush's sister gone -- and what does she have to do with the mysterious remnants? Even a small bit of information to elicit some emotion from me could have made me care about these characters enough to want to find out the rest of theit story, but those things never unfold in the way I hoped for them to. Ultimately, that's the biggest disappointment for me.
If you're still on the fence about The Last Remnant, I'd say that the enjoyment of this game hinges on the type of gamer who plays it. If you aren't pissed off about having to install it to your hard drive to avoid graphical issues and you like a strategic element to your battles, you may really enjoy the game. The truth of the matter is though, my standards for the genre are high, and I feel that if Square had spent a little more time clarifying the muddy parts and fixing the technical issues, this could have been a terrific game.