The Last Remnant - Staff Review  

Wherein Japan acknowledges computers.
by Victor Balbian

Click here for game information
40-60 Hours
+ Complex and addictive battle system
+ Tons of sidequests and extra things to do
+ Polished and interesting character and world design
- Very high learning curve
- Difficulty seems accidental and scales awkwardly
- Little to no instruction on the mechanics
Click here for scoring definitions 

   The world of JRPGs on the PC is a barren, desolate place. Nearly every entry into the genre seems to be riddled with bugs, awkward controls, and a generally underwhelming presentation that makes one wonder why anyone would even bother. Leave it to Square Enix to attempt to radically alter our preconceptions. The Last Remnant aims to prove that Japanese RPGs can not only be viable on the PC, but quite entertaining. To a certain extent it succeeds, but perhaps the most refreshing aspect of this Xbox 360 port is that the flaws that do exist have little to do with it being a port.

   Itís difficult to argue the stigma PC gamers have towards Japanese console ports. Perhaps it stems from inexperience with the platform, but past efforts in any genre have proven to be everything from strictly functional to downright terrible. Luckily, it seems that Square Enix has been listening to our pleas, and from a technical standpoint, The Last Remnant is quite competent. Loading times have been greatly reduced from its console counterpart, higher resolution textures and effects display much more smoothly, in-game lag during battles is not only gone, but the PC version also offers a turbo mode that can be turned on and off to greatly speed up battles at will. In fact, the only glaring issue seems to be the texture popping that is inherent to the Unreal Engine. For a few seconds after a scene loads, every model in the game will be down to bare bones texturing before all the high resolution textures pop into place. While minimal, this does detract from the otherwise beautiful environment and models that the game has to offer.

   The control scheme is fairly straight forward. The camera can be controlled by the arrow keys or the mouse, while movement functions with the traditional WASD. In-battle quick time events are controlled with the arrows keys while confirming actions, opening chests, speaking with NPCs and the like are achieved with either the Enter key or the Left Mouse button. However, the camera has a tendency to pop back into place when using the mouse to control it, which can be hugely disorienting. Interacting with NPCs and items also requires one to face them, which can get awkward, particularly when there are several options within range. Details like this make it feel as though it is a controller scheme applied to work well with a keyboard and mouse setup, rather than a keyboard and mouse interface created to work with the game. While functional and a relatively minor annoyance, it highlights the relative infancy of both Japanese development and of entries in this genre on the platform.

What SE game would be complete without a mechanic gopher obsessed with tunneling for treasure? What SE game would be complete without a mechanic gopher obsessed with tunneling for treasure?

   The Last Remnant tells the story of Rush Sykes, a young and fairly inexperienced teenager who, after witnessing his sister being kidnapped, embarks on a quest to save her. Along the way, he gets entangled in a massive power struggle between kingdoms. While hardly groundbreaking, Square Enix does a good job of introducing interesting twists and turns along the way. While the vast number of playable characters available invariably results in a number of uninspired and forgettable characters, the main cast is interesting and well developed. While the wise magician, the narcissistic Prince and the loveable brute have been tried many times before, the game manages to infuse life and personality into each of them. Both Japanese and English voice acting and subtitles are available in the game, and the English voice acting ranges from passable to fantastic. Luckily, the latter seems to be the case with all the major players in the story.

   The battle system is perhaps the main draw of The Last Remnant, and it doesnít disappoint. However, the lack of explanation and documentation on it create an artificially high learning curve that requires a trial-and-error approach to truly understand how the system functions. The player takes control of unions, which are functionally individual entities that follow general commands. Depending on the characters forming each union, their current ability and hit points, position in the battlefield, and who they are currently engaged in combat with, each round presents different options. These include normal attacks, combat skills, magic skills, healing and a combination of all 4. Certain characters also have incredibly powerful special commands that become available as the battle progresses and require a large amount of Ability Points. While the availability of unlocked combat and magic skills for each individual member of a union at any given round seems haphazard and largely based on luck, carefully crafting unions for specific roles greatly increases the probability of the union functioning in a more predictable manner. Keeping track of both individual and group status throughout the battle requires quite a bit of strategy, particularly in the latter half of the game when battles start to become massive encounters. After assigning all available commands and starting combat, each member of each union will proceed to attack, with each getting the chance for a critical hit which causes additional damage along with causing status effects and boosting other members of the union, allowing them to attack in quick succession. The game offers the option to play quick time events to determine if a critical attack hits, or to randomize it and have it function automatically.

Some of the more powerful remnants are quite impressive. Some of the more powerful remnants are quite impressive.

   As unions win battles, they become stronger and gain access to more powerful abilities. The effectiveness of any union is directly related to the cumulative scores and abilities of each member that forms part of the group. After each battle, units will gain different stats and unlock better abilities depending on the strength of the enemy being fought and what abilities each individual unit used in battle. All enemies appear on the world map, and by slowing down time and quickly running past several enemies, Rush can link them together into a massive battle. However, because the overall level of the unions is based on the number of enemies killed, and stat gains are based on the number of battles fought, it is quite easy to severely gimp your stats in comparison to your level if you link enemies too often. Because a majority of the enemies scale with the playerís characters, this can become almost game breaking in the latter half of the game as the difficulty begins to ramp up at a fairly rapid pace. While the game explicitly tells you it is a good idea to link enemies in order to gain better drops, it fails to mention this fact, further highlighting how many unknown factors exist with absolutely no tutorial to teach you anything more than the bare basics.

   Although it is riddled with annoyances and oversights throughout, The Last Remnant is an addictive game. Battles require much more strategy than the usual rock-paper-scissors approach that is so closely tied to turn-based JRPGs. The story and characters, while not consistent, are polished and provide an interesting backdrop to an excellent battle system. The learning curve, high difficulty and heavy reliance on luck that persist throughout the game require quite a bit of patience in order to get the most out of the experience. For those able to muscle through, however, the addictive battle system and 50+ hours of available story show that there is quite a bit to love here. For those on the fence, an English Demo is readily available to help you decide if itís worth the $40.00 price of admission.

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