The Last RemnantdislikePEGI16 Developer Square Enix Publisher Square Enix Genre RPG Platform Xbox 360 Release Out Now Square Enix, unrivalled master of the JRPG genre, has always had a nack for innovation. They've drove home the basis of menu-based RPG games, Action RPG games and everything in-between. Sadly, their record for making 'good' games is a bit hit and miss. The Last Remnant tries to take command-based RPG games and large-scale tactical RPG games, merging the two in the process into a stream-lined RPG. The idea behind it is interesting, but does it work?

You're too ugly to not receive the business end of my sword
The game starts off with a teenage lad; Rush Sykes running through a forest in pursuit of some villains who have kidnapped his sister Irina. After not too long does he accidentally stumble into a war zone between two armies, after helping out (purely by mistake) a soldier in 'good guy' army, Rush is welcomed back to Athlum where the ruling Marquee; Lord David is very much interesting in aiding Rush in his quest to recover his sister. Sadly, sinister forces are at work which have left the entire world's political structure corrupted and pans the flames for a cross-continent war against "The Conqueror", a powerful War Lord. The 'world's structure' is a bunch of towns and villages which scatter the continent, some which hold mystical artefacts called "Remnants", which can be used by whomever is 'bound' to a remnant but at the cost of life-force of it's owner.

I could write whole pages on the game's story, which is very much a good thing. The game has had a lot of thought thrown into the game's story that it's quite hard to swallow all of it. The game seems to move at a pace which the story struggles to really shine through with. And often you wont be bothered to speak to absolutely everyone in the game to get the back story to all the places you visit either. Just know that the story is sound, believable and has characters which you will like and loath. Of course, there are parts of the game's story which lets the game down, mostly just a key character or two in the game, one of which seems to have a lack of depth and instead fall-back on a generic 'crazy-loony' villain mantle which just about no one could care for.

Gameplay is a mixed bag. At the start of the game you have absolutely no idea what you're doing, and even by the second disc in the game you're still struggling to really wonder exactly what the hell you're meant to be doing. When you start off in the game, you're assigned only 1 team to command, these teams are called 'Unions' and consist of one or more 'Leader' characters and you're then allowed so many soldiers to pad your team out with depending on your progression through the story. Not too far into the game, you're given the chance to mix-and-match your Unions, hire soldiers and recruit leaders. One would expect you could hire soldiers and leaders in the same place, but oh no, The Last Remnant just had to make your life that little bit more tedious. No, no, you have to recruit leaders from a Guild, where you can usually find one in any major town, however, to recruit soldiers, you have to go back to Athlum (the starting town in the game) and hire soldiers from some seemingly random soldier who stands in a market place. Recruitment of soldiers is free, but recruitment of leaders will cost you a one-off payment.

"I knew I should have auditioned for Final Fantasy XIII..."
After you've set up your Union(s) ready and to the best of your ability, and by that I mean, just get all the soldiers with the most HP and best defence possible and then make sure Rush (who's a permanent leader) has the best apparel on in true RPG style (since he's the only character you can customise). It's time to go into battles. This is where the game really shines and falls apart all at once in a strange kind of way. For one, getting into battles is pretty silly. Where as in most RPG games, you have to just touch enemies on the overworld to battle them, The Last Remnant makes you go near an enemy on the overworld and hit one of the triggers on the controller to make the battle commence. It seems to revolve around the same idea which was used in The World Ends With You in which you can group enemies together and battle all at once, by doing this, you get greater rewards for grouping enemies together. The same principles apply here and are somewhat welcomed, sadly, the way the grouping is handled is very poor. By hitting the trigger, you throw a ring out which any enemies caught inside the ring are dragged into battle. Trying to initiate battle with just one enemy can sometimes be a pain, especially since the game has a 'Time Shift' feature which allows the player to slow down time, group together enemies by approaching them then hitting the trigger button to drag all those selected enemies into battle regardless if they're inside the circle or not.

Once in battle, you'll have a fairly lengthy loading time off disc and a not much better loading time off Hard Disk, although installing to the hard disk is very much recommended as playing off disc will lead to textures being 'muddy' then eventually forming into a high quality texture several seconds later... Sometimes never. And that's on the overworld, in battles, you name it, it happens there too. But in battles, not only is this a problem but the frame rate of the game will hardly ever be anywhere around 'smooth'. Frame rate problems cause the game to judder, constant pausing of whatever's on screen. Usually, not a problem for RPG games, but wait for it, it gets oh so much better.

But first, the basic battle system explained: So you have your already made Unions and you're now facing off against at least one enemy Union. You're then given a bunch of commands, most of which will do more or less exactly the same or a slight variation of what one and another attacks do, and these commands are ordered to everyone in that Union, not just single units. Your control over what your units can do is very much limited to many factors, for one, commands are limited to those the game prompts you with. Lot of the time they're all just variations of 'attack'. Once a Union has engaged with another Union they're 'locked' together, a Deadlock means both sides have no advantage from one another, a Raidlock means the side engaging the lock has the upperhand and so forth. If one Union has already finished off their enemy Union but another friendly Union is still battling, you can back them up. However, the game doesn't allow you to immediately heal. You must have at least one Union member who can use item arts, and since the game allows for individual units to be 'blacked out', which means they cannot do anything, that combined with the fact that units only seem to learn new arts like the use of healing items at random when looking at town maps or the world map, you have yourself a recipe for disaster. You'll spend most of the start of the game stuck with not really knowing who does what and wondering why there's isn't always just a big "Heal" button as a mandatory order.

My Emma, you're looking rather blocky today.
The game also has big problems revolving user-feedback. Perhaps trying too hard to be clever, Square Enix concocted a new form of 'level'. In RPGs you generally have a base level which gives you a rough idea on a scale from 1 to 100 usually, how much of a bad-ass you are in game terms. Knowing that level 40 is usually enough to beat a standard Square Enix RPG gives you a rough idea of how under or over levelled you are. In The Last Remnant, however, you are given a "Battle Rank". A collective level based on your Unions and their stats. I somehow got it into my head that this Battle Rank worked somewhat like levels. However, I never quite understood how after I had ground (... 'grind'-ed) my Battle Ranks about 20 numerical places above the initial Battle Rank I was when I became an efficient killing machine in one area of the game, that I was somehow now getting my arse handed to me by the same creatures in the same location.

Coming back to frame rate issues. The game is really quite effected by the whole juddery nature of the game. The reason is simple; the game uses quick time events. Yes, not even Square Enix RPGs are free of these blighters. Occasionally, and by that I mean 'Randomly', you'll have a Critical Triggers, which the whole game slows down (...) and a button appears on screen you have to press in a timely fashion. I'll be perfectly honest with you, during critical attacks, I didn't really see a difference in attack power. All it did was push the next friendly player up the 'wait' list. The 'wait' list is the order in which units, both enemy and friendly will attack. When enemies attack, you also get critical triggers. These triggers will make units parry incoming attacks. Very useful. However, the whole frame dropping issue does make it a lot harder, a lot harder.

There's other things which fail the battle system as well. The game doesn't so much have a difficulty curve but a spike, which seems to fluctuate randomly. Some encounters can be easier than a single round of blind command giving, another can turn into a half an hour epic of a battle against enemies which you suspected to be push overs. All of the while, you can't help but think that perhaps they should have just stuck with the whole base-level idea. It's worked almost flawlessly for the last 20-odd years and there's reasons why they haven't changed it. Another gameplay mechanic which seems to be included just to annoy players is the "Morale" bar, which is effected by how well the enemies or allies are battling. Most of the time the thing seems to act erratically, with the enemies able to drag down on the moral bar by just looking at you funny, where as allies will have to pull of a fully choreographed Russian ballet with paraplegic monkeys to even budge the damn bar in their favour by a few pixels.

Fear the mighty Tiger-Gryphon-Lizard
Outside of battle you'll be exploring towns, mostly for story's sake but you can revisit towns you've been to and to a certain extent, explore the world around you, find new towns and new stomping grounds to find items, battle enemies and so forth. The game does this very well, it gives you enough so that if you don't feel like tackling the main quest or are bored of grinding in the same location, then you're catered for. One small problem about the scale of the game, however. It's easy to get lost. You're always able to find your way out of a location with ease, but trying to find where something like an item store or guild resides can sometimes be incredibly difficult. At one point I actually lost where someone was whom I had to speak to in order to progress through the main quest. After about 10 minutes of frantic searching I found it. I spent a while pondering if it was a positive; the game's scale is huge and ambitious or if it was a negative; ill-conceived town layouts. Perhaps a bit of both.

Apart from the game's main quest, you'll have side quests. Although, calling them quests is stretching it. They're missions, like "Find x" or "Defeat x enemies". It then drops you in a map you've already explored to do said quest. You can get some nice items out of the quests or have the ability to buy new leaders from guilds but ultimately they're a stab at the dark in attempting to prolong the game's length, which in itself is quite long.

The game's appearance is very good, would you believe. Despite the frame dropping, the game does present itself immaculately. Character designs are up to Square's usual standard. Characters are varied and while the game definitely plays off Western influences with some specie designs, you'll find all the hallmarks of Square Enix's art direction in almost everything in the game. It's visually pleasing appearance lasts from start to finish with intricately and what seems painstakingly created event sequences, topped off with a surprisingly solid voice track make the game stand out as a very pretty game. Like you expected anything different. Music in the game isn't much to write home about, but fits the mood of the game perfectly.

Overall then, The Last Remnant is a game with an interesting gameplay style, however has poor implementation where it really counted. An unclear battle system which gives you little control over units you're supposed to be leading followed by a difficulty curve of that trying to break orbit with a rocket powered by pepsi and mentoes. The game does have good ideas and a solid story. The game is fun and enjoyable at times, but also hair-pulling, shouting-at-TV irritating at other times. The game has it's ups and downs all the way through. The game offers little in terms of replay-ability, as you'll most likely exhaust all the missions and side-quests just attempting to get to grips with the battle system and it's complexities. However, I would whole heartedly recommend this game to anyone who loves RPGs and anyone who remotely enjoys strategy RPG games.