The Last Remnant is the latest Square Enix developed RPG and the first they have developed in-house on the Xbox 360. It was highly anticipated and in a twist from normal operations it was developed using the Unreal 3 engine instead of an internally developed one. This game is a departure from traditional Square Enix fare and it turns out that change is not necessarily a good thing.
The Last Remnant follows the story of a young man, Rush Sykes, and his sister Irina. Irina and Rush are the children of noted Remnant researchers and they both have hidden potential that marks them for strife and glory. Remnants are artifacts that have enormous power; certain people can bind themselves to Remnants and harness their power.
The story begins with Irina being kidnapped and Rush is determined to save her. Stumbling upon the Marquis of the city Athlum and his followers, Rush becomes embroiled in their politics and campaigns as he attempts to rescue his sister. Being a Square Enix JRPG, much more then her life is at stake – the entire world is in jeopardy and Rush finds himself in the middle of the conflict.
The game follows three distinct modes of play to progress the game. There is a basic city exploration where you can enter between two to four zones and talk to townspeople, shop or enter pubs and guild halls for recruits and missions. There is the dungeon/area exploration you engage in when you leave the cities. There is no real overland travel, instead you are faced with a world map and you can click on a city or dungeon/area to explore. Finally there is combat that is encountered in the dungeons and areas.
The combat is where you will spend the vast majority of the game, as this is a battle heavy game. There are no random encounters as you can see all of the enemies, however they will generally always engage you when you are nearby so you are encouraged to attack first. The enemies will even engage you if they are severely underpowered in comparison. This leads to many frustrating battles that should not need to be fought.
Battles in The Last Remnant use an interesting if flawed system of grouping. When forming your parties you assign leaders and soldiers to groups called unions. There really is no explanation on how you should form the unions, and this leads to some very frustrating battles and a lot of micromanagement/stat tracking to build effective groups. The amount of leaders, soldiers and total unions is dictated by your progression in the game. At the start you can form one to two unions with a few units in each, but by the end you have a large amount available and can fill all the slots with experienced troops and leaders.
Once a battle is joined you have extremely limited control over what your unions do. Generally you can pick whom they will attack and an apparently arbitrary list of options. At times you can heal yourself as an option, other times you cannot. There are always various attack options such as using combat arts (special attacks) or Magic but you are never allowed to specify exactly what attacks your characters will choose.
That is truly the greatest flaw in the system. Square Enix obviously tried to make a faster paced battle system but by reducing the choices you hamstring your actions and make some battles unnecessarily frustrating. I cannot count the times that difficult battle would have been won if I had a choice as to what attacks/spells I would use.
There are also issues with how you revive fallen unions. Once I understood abilities (with no real tutorial or explanation of proper groups I had to guess and observe) I stacked every union with at least one character who could revive fallen unions. Even though they all could revive each other I was rarely presented with the option when necessary. This led to battles that were long, drawn out, boring and ultimately lost because I had no real choices.
The truly disappointing part of the battle system is the fact that you can see there is incredibly depth in how battles play out. You can flank, there are many varied attacks, certain magic and skills work better depending on the scenario and there are many more strategic elements. Without control on what you do and how you approach the enemy you leave all of that depth to chance and it severely takes away from the enjoyment that could have been had.
There are some neat touches tied into exploration and battle such as your troops occasionally asking direction on how to focus their skills or requesting parts to upgrade weapons. This was always enjoyable to read and decide as it truly felt like managing an army. Other side elements such as manufacturing/upgrading weapons are ultimately useless as the commerce system is broken and uneven.
As you play through the game you get components from the monsters you kill and occasionally you can capture monsters after you defeat them. This is the main way you make money as you can sell the captured creatures at the markets, occasionally you also get money drops from chests. The components can be used to make new items or upgrade existing ones; you can also buy items from markets. You never seem to have anywhere near enough components (or money) to buy the good things and it necessitates grinding in areas to build up a stash. But since battles are so repetitive and boring grinding is really painful.
Graphically The Last Remnant can look truly stunning at times, when it loads. This game was designed with the Unreal 3 engine and it falls prey to all the issues inherent to that engine. In fact it seems to fare worse then any other game using the engine has in the past as far as glitches and anomalies go. The load times without installing the game to the hard drive are obnoxiously long and frequent. Despite constant loads you are very often faced with horrible texture draw-in and very inconsistent frame rate.
The draw-in isn't even logical, at times there are many creatures on screen and all is well, other times there are two or three characters and it stutters and the textures never load before the next scene is shown. Square Enix commented that programming on the Xbox 360 was quite easy, I have to wonder if they let the ease lull them into laziness and substandard programming as the issues are inexcusable.
There are some bright spots in the game; by and large the character designs are really wonderful with some truly interesting designs and backgrounds. The voice acting is generally well done (aside from the main character) and the characters (again, aside from the main one) have interesting roles and personalities. Often the main character is limited as they need to be someone who can grow over the game, in this case Rush Sykes is always uninteresting and I really never cared about his need and motives.
The Last Remnant does have some very well done cinematics using the in-game engine. Generally this is what kept me playing the game. Whenever I would be ready to throw the controller and stop playing a great cut-scene would occur. The design and care put into these scenes brought me back into the experience and kept making me wish for more from the game.
The biggest issue in my mind with The Last Remnant is the fact that installing the game to the hard drive is essentially mandatory. The game, when installed, is frustrating in the fact that there are constant short loads and bad texture handling. When not installed the constant LONG loads are unforgivable and a complete deal breaker. This points to a development team unprepared with working on a third party engine effectively.
The Last Remnant had a great deal of potential but the broken game engine and strictly limited battle system took all of the potential and buried it in a sea of broken textures and frustrating game play. Those looking for a quality JRPG on the Xbox 360 should look to some of the Namco Bandai releases like Tales of Vesperia and Eternal Sonata instead.
The Last Remnant is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, and Violence.