The Last Remnant (Xbox 360) review
"Strategic RPGs have only come so far in advancing the traditional turn-based gameplay we have seen implemented in past video games. With The Last Remnant, Square-Enix tries to do something different, offering larger scale battles that focus on group support rather than individual fighters. But will this attempt at innovation help the company establish a new franchise, or have their efforts come to naught?"
Strategic RPGs have only come so far in advancing the traditional turn-based gameplay we have seen implemented in past video games. With The Last Remnant, Square-Enix tries to do something different, offering larger scale battles that focus on group support rather than individual fighters. But will this attempt at innovation help the company establish a new franchise, or have their efforts come to naught?
The battle system is without doubt the most unique aspect of The Last Remnant, as it offers fast and strategic improvements within the turn-based genre. At first glance, the play mechanics can appear complicated, particularly because of irregular battle commands that you don’t usually see in most RPGs. Any confusion quickly diminishes, however, since the process of controlling your characters becomes significantly more comprehensible after only a couple battles. The game's main focus is on the battles, which allow massive numbers of participants – almost like an RTS title. Unions of five can be formed, though your options aren't as open as you might expect since you're limited to only a few main characters or leaders in a battle at one given time. This is more in line with standard Japanese RPGs that typically permit around four of your best and most desired characters to participate in battle, but you’d think that the large roster here would prevent you from having to recruit generic soldiers.
In battle, a fake real-time appearance keeps things active. Between commands, your characters are never standing still, even though they don't appear to be doing anything to determine the outcome of the battle. Don't let go of the controller, either; there are a number of random quick-time events that can occur when you least expect them. These allow characters to perform counters and critical blows. While this is a nice touch, some of the quick-time events pop up way too fast, or they are damaged by frame rate issues. The gameplay is without a doubt the most unique trait of The Last Remnant, since everything transitions so smoothly while still keeping play strategic. Hopefully, future video games will take away some of what it does well, such as the fast and team-based gameplay.
Even with gameplay innovations, an RPG is nothing without its storyline. The Last Remnant has a rather intriguing one with an interesting setting. The world is well built, offering peeks into many of the races that inhabit the land, and even resembles our own world conflicts with themes of peace, war, love and death set throughout. The plot has many twists and avoids many of traditional JRPG clichés, but the execution is a disappointment. While the cinematics help distribute an easily digestible story, most of the events are questionable if you stop to actually consider them. Why is the king helping a stubborn boy like Rush so freely without much thought? Most of the characters lack any obvious motivation and will happily abandon issues such as the territorial conflicts (seen at the beginning of the game) to instead focus their efforts on an adventure to save Rush's sister.
Looking past the main storyline, there is a lot of other stuff to do in the world. The storyline feels almost optional, as you can easily find yourself absorbed by one of the hundreds of quests that fill the world. Getting through one can take a couple minutes or a couple hours, depending on how you wish to proceed through an area. The only problem with these diversions are the generally dull stories that they establish, ranging from someone looking for their lost item to a mission spent helping someone to save their friend from dangerous fiends. Still, these offer other rewards. They allow the world to open up to new locations ever so slightly, and you are able to gain gold and rare items in the process. Besides getting quests from random strangers, you can also take on guild tasks such as defeating a rare monster or collecting a desirable item. These are generally less rewarding experiences in the immediate sense, but a lot more challenging. They can be completed over time, rather than immediately.
The Last Remnant holds up reasonably well until you consider its visuals. The graphics definitely shine brightly in the Unreal engine, but that is only when the textures are fully loaded and the frame rate is at a steady pace. Lost Odyssey was the first Japanese RPG to use the Unreal engine, and it fared pretty well; there were little to no pop-in issues and the frame rate only took dips occasionally. In contrast, and in spite of featuring quite a few load screens, The Last Remnant contains horrific texture pop-ins that occur every time you enter a location or battle. The game also is meant to thrive on epic battles with as many as thirty enemies at once, yet even facing three at a time can cause the frame rate to drop like a rock. Fortunately, these two problems don't hinder the experience enough to diminish the intriguing storyline and intense battles.
When you look past the serious technical issues and the sometimes questionable story, The Last Remnant is an above average game that offers a deep and unique gameplay experience with absolutely gripping music scores and intense battle sequences. The world is massive with many towns and dungeons to explore, plus you can always take a break from the main storyline to poke around in other people’s business. The experience is also a lengthy one containing a gritty and fairly realistic world filled with themes such as territorial war and sibling compassion. Some of the issues definitely should have been reworked, but the game manages to create a unique and enjoyable experience in spite of them.
Freelance review by Adam Beck (November 30, 2008)
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