Review: The Last Remnant (Microsoft Xbox 360)

The Last Remnant
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Role Playing
Release Date: 11/20/08


Along with the release of Infinite Undiscovery a few months back, The Last Remnant marks the second current-gen offering, as well as the second launch of a new game series, by our friends at Square Enix this year. Incorporating influences and formulas from large-scale strategy games with the tried and true mechanics of more traditional turn based role playing games, The Last Remnant, at an initial glance, appears to be an interesting and visually epic experience by all accounts, as most of Square Enix’s RPG offerings usually do. After the majority deemed Infinite Undiscovery to be a mediocre experience at best, however, a lot of high hopes have been riding on this title to pull through as something special that doesn’t bear the Final Fantasy name by good old Square Enix. Let’s see how it turned out.

Story:

Like most JRPGs, The Last Remnant takes place in a world of fantasy not our own. You assume the role of the young protagonist Rush Sykes, a smart tongued, relatively down to earth guy, who cares greatly for his younger sister Irina. Behind the scenes of The Last Remnant’s picturesque world, there is a power struggle brewing. Remnants, magical artifacts which come in sizes as small as a ring box and as large as a building and are products of great power and unknown origin, are being sought out by a man only known as “The Conqueror”, who has the unique ability to command all existing Remnants. Conflicts between citizens who embrace the Remnants’ power and those who oppose it catch fire, and it’s not long after you start your adventure in Square Enix’s elaborate new fantasy world that young Rush finds himself neck deep in ancient prophecies, mysterious powers, and giant, full scale battles.

The Last Remnant certainly is an interesting take on your traditional JRPG. Much of the plot development is of a smart, political nature, and the story unfolds itself with great pacing and flow. The story has a wonderful way of weaving its initial mysteries together piece by piece that really compliments the existence of the Remnants, and the purposes of individual characters involved with them. The story begins by detailing the Sykes family and Rush’s parents’ involvement with the organization known as “The Academy”, a collective of scientist types who are dedicated to studying and understanding the strange remnants that exist in the world. Later, Irina, Rush’s sister, is captured by The Conqueror’s henchman, which leads young Rush into the service of the David, the Marquis of Athlum, and he as well as his four respected generals are fleshed out well over the course of the next several game chapters.

In later scenarios, which are perhaps the most interesting scenarios to be told in regards to The Last Remnant’s exposition, are when the story weaves itself around the powerful warlord “The Conqueror”, who is written and executed quite effectively as a villainous character. With the exception of the somewhat loathsome “skater dude” personality attached to the main character, Rush Sykes, most of the characters, especially The Conqueror, are effectively written and portrayed in the story with their own personalities. Some of the concepts and dialog pieces are a bit clichéd here and there, but The Last Remnant succeeds mostly in enveloping the player in a rich, epic, and considerably unique fantasy setting. This is easily among the game’s best features.

Story: CLASSIC

Graphics:

It’s in this department that The Last Remnant really let me down, and for reasons that I usually am able to forgive and overlook provided other aspects of visual presentation are in place. It’s an unfortunate reality that The Last Remnant is plagued by some pretty severe technical issues in regards to its graphics. The game’s visuals are running on the Unreal 3 engine, which is obviously an extremely capable toolset for current generation graphics (Mass Effect, BioShock), but something, somewhere went wrong with The Last Remnant… terribly wrong. This being Square Enix’s first game to utilize the western made visual engine, it’s possible that things went a little haywire while adapting to the engine itself. It’s also not unreasonable to suspect that The Last Remnant was rushed to retail before such issues could be properly addressed and remedied. It’s also possible that both theories are contributing factors to the end results. Regardless, technical deficiencies wage war on the overall visual polish and presentation of the game, and even against its gameplay to certain extents, to such an extent that the technical war is nearly as epic as some of the actual battles in the game.

We can effectively start with the abhorrent load times that pop up upon entering any new area or random encounter (so, constantly). This becomes even more frustrating every time the game takes close to a minute to initially load a saved game from the main menu. Though some are worse than others, and I can almost guarantee you’ve experienced worse load times, you’ll be twiddling your thumbs more often than one would believe you should with The Last Remnant. With all this loading, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to expect the game to be ready to go once it does finally spool all that data, but such is not the case, as various degrees of texture detail will pop onto objects as the game compiles them before your very eyes. This is especially ridiculous looking during the countless cutscenes within the game, all which are rendered in-game, which showcases the texture pop-in even more.

The Last Remnant also suffers from some atrocious frame rate issues, to the degree that gameplay is hindered by this, but even worse, the at times brilliant flow of the battles is completely shot down at the hand of these issues. The gameplay involves a kind of timed button press functionality that allows your characters to deliver more and receive less damage as well as dodge and block. Depending on the temperamental frame rate, achieving accurate timing for such prompts can quite literally be impossible. Quite a few times, when the prompt would appear, the game would grind to an almost standstill. When the frame rate would pick up, the opportunity to execute the timed button prompt would often be over.

As I mentioned earlier, one of those most frustrating effects of the technical issues to be had with the game is the diminished effect of the quite epic and exciting turn based battles by way of the jittery frame rate. This is not only limited to the multiple grand scale battles you’ll be involved in, but this also mars even simple battles featuring as little as a few characters and enemies. The game is almost guaranteed to freeze for several seconds when a character or enemy executes a special attack or skill, and given the nature of the squad based system the game’s turn based battles work upon, this is a lot of freezing, and a great disconnect from the visual display the motion of the grand and glorious battles could achieve.

To make the myriad of technical problems even more depressing in The Last Remnant, the art design is quite exceptional, which makes the technical flaws that ruin this all the more horrid. The character designs are interesting, especially the anthropomorphic Sovannis race that appear as humanoid cat people with four arms. Some of the enemy monsters stride into familiar territory, but overall the designers did a great job making the inhabitants of this fantasy world their own unique thing that doesn’t come off as corny or campy. The architecture and general representations of the various locations in the game are brought to life with excellent attention to detail as well, and once all those layers of textures pop into place, The Last Remnant has some gorgeous monuments and buildings to gawk over, when you’re not fighting the technical issues, which is more the pity.

Graphics: POOR

Sound:

The voice work in The Last Remnant is of considerable quality. Many of the character voiceovers effectively reflect their personalities, which unfortunately includes the at times obnoxious Rush Sykes. The soundtrack is very well composed, and explores several different music styles while usually always maintaining the appropriate tone to compliment the mood of the current situation and location. Some score pieces might be a little too epic for the locations in which they’re played, however, which comes off as a tad odd, but the score collectively features a good variety of music, and each piece does, in fact, sound different from one another. I can’t say it would be something you’d necessarily want to listen to outside of playing the game, but it’s a quality score that does its job.

Sound: GOOD

Gameplay:

Square, Enix, and to no surprise Square Enix, have always been known to make their RPG game experiences something all their own by incorporating unique gameplay elements into the usually traditionally structured formulas. The Last Remnant is no exception to this, as the experience, for all intents and purposes, mimics the standard JRPG we’ve come to know over the years at its core, but attempts to offer something unlike the genre has ever seen with its giant, full-scale battles which unfold in a particularly streamlined, yet substantially in depth fashion that is both unique and interesting to behold. The battles in The Last Remnant can contain quite a many dozens of characters and enemies. These individual units are controlled as unions, which share hit and skill points, and carry out orders as a collective. Statistically, this works in practice much like a conventional turn based RPG experience that has you issuing command to individual characters, but war strategies such as flanking and charges are incorporated, which make the experience more than it first seems.

As any given battle sways in favor of one side or the other, a morale meter at the top of the screen will reflect this. In successive turns, a wealth of commands may be available for you to issue to your unions, such as assisting an adjacent union or healing via items or skills. Though at times the game seems to randomly make certain battle commands available and others not, which can put a damper on your battle strategies, taking the battles on in The Last Remnant as you would a traditional turn based experience will usually garner successful results. What is different is the dramatic, full scale execution presented in the actual act of the battle. Later in the game, battles can wage on for a good number of turns, but victory, I found, is usually based on properly setting up your individual unions with the right recruits, which will make new strategies and skills available, and give you the edge on the battle field, no matter the force. Even with the unfortunate visual issues that diminish the awe-inspiring experience to be had with the battles, one cannot deny that what is done with the product in this regard is its best feature, and a clever one it certainly is. Seeing the individual members of your unions taking actions amidst the cluttered battlefield is very satisfying, and the general execution of combat is bold, in your face, and very exciting.

Instead of the typical grinding of experience points to achieve a higher overall level that many RPG’s force upon you, The Last Remnant takes an approach similar to that seen in the second Final Fantasy, which instead features your characters getting better via the commands and skills they use in battle. Upgrading your weapon is done by collecting an assortment of needed items to forge at the workshop. These items can be obtained by beating monsters and enemies, or by utilized “Mr. Diggs”, a mining contraption that will allow you to use its ability a certain number of times at dig points in any given dungeon. The amount of items necessary to upgrade becomes a bit outlandish towards later portions of the game, and one can very well see the player doing some long grinding sessions just to get the required components. Between storyline segments, you can also partake in a series of random quests from citizens in the tavern, or attempt to thin out the laundry list of in-game achievements (which are different from the actual Xbox gamer point achievements) at the guild desk. Doing so will grant you access to some incredibly tough battles that offer great rewards for your victory. Though these elements are a bit lazy and mundane in the way they’re implemented, they work well enough as a way in which to collect gold, components, and levels for your characters.

Gameplay: GREAT

Replayability:

Once you make your way through The Last Remnant’s sixty plus hours of story driven gameplay, which spans two discs, there is little to return for save to finish up whatever quests or guild tasks you might have left uncompleted, or to upgrade you characters’ weapons. A, for the most part, traditional RPG with little to no replay value isn’t an unheard of thing, and it’s hard to put strikes against Square Enix for not giving one much reason to return to the product after it’s been completed, but a multi-player skirmish mode would have been a nice touch.

Replayability: MEDIOCRE

Balance:

Usually,The Last Remnant flows at a great pace, with little to no mandatory grinding required to strengthen your characters for any particular scenario. During some of the longer multi-segmented battles that arise later in the game, failure during any of the battle’s several tiers will see you kicked back to the start of the circuit, however. This can be frustrating, even considering the entertaining nature of the product’s battle system, as losing halfway through one of these monster sized faceoffs could have you repeating an hour or more of progress. A simple auto save would have been appreciated, and I believe should have been incorporated into the game, if only to alleviate such frustration.

Balance: MEDIOCRE

Originality:

Though much of its groundwork is of a tried and true standard JRPG nature, The Last Remnant effectively engulfs you in a fascinating story that comes off aesthetically familiar on one hand, and strangely mysterious and unique on another. The strong political undertone of the game’s plot is delivered to a degree rarely seen in most RPG’s, especially in those that come from our friends in Japan (Final Fantasy Tactics notwithstanding), and the characters and locations have a distinctive flavoring that works very well with presented mystery. The battle system is by far the game’s most creative draw, as nothing quite like it has been done before, and especially not in the way it actually works as a gameplay mechanic.

Originality: GREAT

Addictiveness:

Your desire to see The Last Remnant through to its end will probably be influenced by how much you can appreciate the lush setting, especially alternative storyline, and the unique mechanics the game presents in its battle system, while ignoring its technical flaws. Eventually, you’ll become more tolerant of the popping textures and horrendous framerate issues during combat if the game can keep you interested long enough into it, but suffice it to say that this is a hard aspect of the product to ignore, and really hurts an otherwise outstanding RPG effort.

Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE

Appeal Factor:

Square Enix is quite literally the Elvis of the current console JRPG genre. When a Square Enix RPG drops, you’ll usually know about it, and it will usually sell. Such is certainly the case with The Last Remnant to an extent, though obviously not as much as a product that has Final Fantasy in its title. Contending with the likes of critically acclaimed RPG’s such as Fallout 3 and Fable 2 isn’t going to help The Last Remnant’s numbers any either, and I personally only saw a handful of advertisements for the game both online and in recent game magazines. I believe The Last Remnant will makes its money even so, if not to the desired degree, as Square Enix plus RPG equals people interested… to some degree.

Appeal Factor: GOOD

Miscellaneous:

Again, I write this and shed a tear for The Last Remnant’s broken visuals. This game could have been something to remember, and the birth of another new Square Enix franchise this year that I believe most players would have been happy with. I still think it’s a good game, and would be willing to give a sequel or another entry into the series an optimistic go, but I wish the time was taken to either fully master the Unreal engine, or do something to fix the absolutely unforgivable technical blowouts to be had in this current product’s visual department.

Miscellaneous: POOR

The Scores:
Story: CLASSIC
Graphics: POOR
Sound: GOOD
Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: GREAT
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal Factor: GOOD
Miscellaneous: POOR

FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary:

The Last Remnant is interesting and exciting in both its concept and gameplay, though its an unfortunate fact that the terrible graphic issues that plague the product throughout render it as little more than a wasted and rushed endeavor after the fact. It is very possible to play through and enjoy The Last Remnant even amidst these blemishes, but you can never totally ignore that they are there, and as you progress further into the game, the story gets more interesting, the battles more epic and elaborate, and your tears will fall even more… in the end, this is recommended only to those with the tolerance to see it through to the end, flaws and all.

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