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The Last Remnant (Xbox 360) artwork

The Last Remnant (Xbox 360) review

"Some battles will be a bit more difficult than they could be and you'll catch vague references to towns you've never heard of, but odds are significant that you won't really feel that you're missing a thing. It's easy to assume that the names are being dropped in an effort to artificially add color to the environments. Complete a few side quests, though, and you'll find out how wrong such assumptions were."

Most of a year after playing through The Last Remnant in its entirety, I've decided to go ahead and review it because I continually see people saying that the game is rubbish, that it offers nothing new, that it's a complete mess... I see them saying a lot of things that simply aren't true, and they go on to justify those comments by saying things like "And you can believe me because I played through half of it before I gave up in disgust" or "And you know I'm right because I've beaten the game." Normally, they'd have a point, but in this case they're wrong.

I'm not saying that their opinion is wrong, mind you. I know that they didn't enjoy the game. They have every right to say that. What I'm really saying is that factually, they are wrong. Though they may genuinely believe otherwise, those angry critics have literally played through little more than a quarter of the game. The quarter of the game that is thoroughly unmemorable without enhancement from the other three quarters. The quarter of the game for which many of the casual reviews that I've read seem to fit.

I blame the developers at Square-Enix, not the frustrated gamers. The Last Remnant may be a great game, but the developers really dropped the ball when it came time to make that quality content accessible. A lot of people play through long RPGs because they like the story that unfolds over the course of the game. Surely the developers realize that. Yet in developing an epic for a Western audience, they forgot their assignment. Characters have no apparent depth and their stated motivations aren't generally credible. Dialog is so cheesy that you'd swear it belongs on macaroni. People die and it's difficult to even care because you hardly even knew them. Depending on how much you're paying attention, you may not even be sure who it is that just bought the dirt farm.

Those few people who don't play through RPGs for an epic plot (and I'll happily admit to being one of them) are often seeking the thrill of combat. Here, The Last Remnant was promoted as something remarkable. Gamers were promised sweeping battlefields that would play host to epic brawls featuring entire squads of soldiers. The game delivers, too. Unfortunately, combat is sufficiently complex that if you don't understand it--and you probably won't, since you're never fully compelled to in the course of finishing the 'main' game--you'll screw around for awhile and probably settle on a limited set of strategies that uses around an eighth of your available options. For a number of reasons that you likely won't understand or appreciate, this will carry you through most or even all of the game's required content. You'll reach the closing credits in one piece, convinced that your options in combat were mostly random and fully believing that the game never really offered anything more than the same two or three useful moves.

The unremarkable plot and bewildering combat serve as two strikes against the game, and you'd better believe that there's a third. That third strike is an obvious lack of polish. The developers at Square-Enix chose to utilize the Unreal engine when crafting The Last Remnant. The result is a very gray and brown world with barely any vegetation. Medieval trappings aside, it seems like something that you'd expect from a post-apocalyptic shooter. You might expect this lack of beauty to translate to brief load times, but the opposite is actually the case unless you install the game to your hard drive. Even an install leaves you with load times, as well as other nuisances that are generally considered the mark of a bad game. For example, you'll sometimes explore a new location for several seconds before textures finish loading on-screen. Battle is also bad unless you make some modifications on the "Options" screen. There are times when it feels like things are moving more slowly than a train with no wheels.

I said that I like The Last Remnant, though, and I do. In spite of all of the above issues, I feel that the game is one of the finest RPGs that Japan has produced in a long time. It may have made some odd design choices, it may lack a compelling plot and it definitely could have used some more time in the coding process to work out a few annoying quirks, but I'm not ready to dismiss it as a disaster the way so many others have done. Why? Because I've played through the three quarters of the game that its detractors generally have not.

Side quests tend to bore me, but this game provides you with a slew of them. You can skip all but two or three of them and reach the end of the game just fine. Some battles will be a bit more difficult than they could be and you'll catch vague references to towns you've never heard of, but odds are significant that you won't really feel that you're missing a thing. It's easy to assume that the names are being dropped in an effort to artificially add color to the environments. Complete a few side quests, though, and you'll find out how wrong such assumptions were. Several more towns appear on the map, each with several related dungeons to explore. New characters come into play, each with quests that tie into the main story and provide surprising depth to the central characters. Guilds open their doors and provide new assignments, plus you may stumble across entrances to a massive labyrinth that lies beneath the earth's surface. Powerful monsters emerge, new weapons and battle techniques become available and the game suddenly springs to life. I've played a lot of RPGs in my time, but never one that provided so many compelling reasons to explore every nook and cranny. For people who like to feel like they're truly exploring a fantastic world, The Last Remnant is without peer.

Combat gradually improves, as well. You gain new formations that allow you to reorganize your troops in meaningful new ways. You recruit powerful new generals and mercenaries to lead your troops into battle and as you make use of their strengths, you unlock crushing new moves that allow you to tackle devious monsters you otherwise wouldn't even have known exist. Menu options start to make sense as you come to appreciate and then rely upon the intricacies of unit placement, healing and special attacks.

After improving, combat also changes. Enemies that challenged you in the past are now trampled under your military might, while powerful bosses that you effortlessly vanquished in the past learn new devastating moves that can obliterate your entire army in a single round unless you plan every attack carefully. Even the final boss produces different attack patterns that tie into your stats, equipment and general strength. If you've explored every last dungeon and secret underground labyrinth, you'll be an uber warrior facing a fiend who attacks with the strength of a god.

Most people haven't experienced The Last Remnant in that fashion. The astonishing depth and the incredible adventures are waiting to be explored, but most RPG adventurers never will embark on those compelling adventures because there are no in-game clues to make them realize just how much of the experience they've missed. They rush through the game or they give up before reaching the closing credits because they don't think that things will ever get better. They're right when they say that they didn't enjoy the game, but they're wrong when they say that it had nothing good to offer them.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 23, 2009)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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CoarseDragon posted November 23, 2009:

After reading your review I truly believe you are one of the few people who truly understand the depth of the game. The combat system comes alive once you learn you can do Fatal Eclipse, or Blackout with ease and then the game really shows it's true colors. I really enjoyed reading you take on the game probably because I really understood the game and it seemed to me you did as well.
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honestgamer posted November 24, 2009:

Thanks for the feedback. Usually when gamers fail to see the qualities in a game that's as good as The Last Remnant, those gamers are to blame. In this case, though, it's easy to see why so many people honestly have no clue what the game has to offer. My goal in writing the review was to bring those little-known strengths to light, but I couldn't give Square-Enix a free pass given how badly it dropped the ball and created the problem in the first place.
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CoarseDragon posted November 24, 2009:

Yeah, I agree with you on that one. The game was complex enough that some gamers would give up but it was also that complexity that gave those who stuck with the game such enjoyment.

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