East meets West as Square Enix releases The Last Remnant, their first attempt at creating a role-playing experience with both Japanese and Western audiences in mind.
The game follows the adventure of Rush Sykes, a small-village boy who gets thrust into global intrigue after his sister is kidnapped by a sinister man in a flying golden machine. It features a unique union-based battle system that supports large-scale encounters, a cast of memorable characters, and an antagonist easily as powerful as Square Enix's more famous villains, if not quite as pretty. The whole thing is powered by Epic's Unreal Engine 3, marking the first time that Square has reached outside of their own toolbox to develop a title.
So how did their first stab at a globe-pleasing RPG pan out? Read on and find out.
Unique Battle System: The battle system in The Last Remnant is a mix of traditional turn-based RPG gameplay with some tactics thrown in. Instead of having a party of characters, the player has a party made up of unions of characters, with abilities determined by the characters making up said union. Rather than give each character commands during battle, you choose a tactic for each union, commanding them to attack, heal themselves, or cast spells as a group. Not only does the system lend itself to awesome, large-scale battles, it also allows for a great deal of union customisation, adjusting your troops to fit your particular play style.
Cinematic Flair: Battles in The Last Remnant occur are visually dynamic, with sweeping, dramatic camera angles making the fighting nearly as entertaining as the movie-quality CG cutscenes. In particular, cutscenes featuring the game's main villain, The Conqueror, will make you wish Square Enix had stuck with the original plan to make him playable. Completely bad ass.
Spectacular Sounds: Between the voice acting, which is extremely well done despite one very, very annoying character, and the rousing, adventurous music, composed by The Black Mages guitarist and Square veteran Tsuyoshi Sekito, The Last Remnant is truly a treat for the ears.
Amazing Sights: When the textures finally pop in, The Last Remnant is a visual feast, with highly detailed environments, compelling character design, and some truly unique monsters. All of these elements combine to make the world of The Last Remnant a consistent, believable place.
An Epic Adventure: People tend to want a lot of play time out of their RPGs, and The Last Remnant delivers in spades. Even skipping many of the side quests in the game I still managed to pack in over forty hours of gameplay from start to finish, with only a couple of hours devoted to replaying particularly difficult boss fights. With additional gameplay on the way courtesy of downloadable content, The Last Remnant should last you a good long time.
A Grand Yet Bland Storyline: It's not that the storyline in The Last Remnant is hard to follow - it's just a bit too bland and generic to make you want to follow it. It's your standard RPG storyline, complete with plot twists and devices so familiar that you can pretty much guess what's going to happen long before it does. There is one truly emotionally charged moment, but for some reason the developers decided to lessen its impact in a rather cheap fashion moments after it happened.
Unnecessarily Complicated: Certain elements of the game are far more complicated than they needed to be. The item creation system requires you to hunt for parts with no indication of where they are located, and monsters drop parts instead of treasure, leaving you with an inventory filled with junk you aren't sure you should sell. Instead of equipping characters other than the main one, they either request loot to strengthen themselves after battle or ask if they can borrow items you create. Rather than simply having healing items, characters learn item arts that require a combination of items to pull off. Basically the game takes some of the more enjoyable aspects of traditional RPGs and replaces them with tedium.
A Technical Mess: Square Enix decided to use the Unreal Engine 3 for The Last Remnant. This wasn't a good move. Instead of the high level of polish we've come to expect for the company's games, we get horrible texture pop-in and hideous frame rate drops in mid battle that really take away from the brilliant cinematic feel of combat. Character exclamations in battle tend to get out of sync with what's actually happening on screen as well. Loading the game to the hard disk helps the frame rate and sound sync issues but does nothing for the pop-in.
Long Load Times: When playing the game from the disc, load times between area transitions and battle transitions are very lengthy. What's worse is special attacks actually have a load time as well, so battles actually pause for 10-15 seconds while the animations for said attacks load. Another issue solved by loading the game to your hard drive, but a two-disk game that weighs in at 12GB won't fit on the 20GB hard disk my 360 came with. One solution is to load the first disc, then remove it and load the second once you make the transition, but we shouldn't have to do that.
Brutal Pacing: While I enjoy a nice, lengthy battle, I do not enjoy a 30 minute siege battle followed by a 30 minute boss battle followed by another 30 minute boss battle with no chance whatsoever to save in-between. With the level of challenge presented in The Last Remnant, a chance to pull off a quick save in-between epic fights would have been nice.
The biggest battle you'll undergo while playing The Last Battle is the struggle to overcome the game's problems and strange design decisions in order to get to the enjoyment underneath - and there is indeed plenty of enjoyment, if you know where to look. The game starts off a bit slow, but once the number of people you can have in your party starts to grow you'll start to discover tactics, strategies, and groupings that really make the game your own. You just have to suffer a bit to get there, and everyone's tolerance is different.
If you're willing to put up with its failings, The Last Remnant is a refreshing and challenging mix of role-playing and strategy that will keep you entertained (and cursing at your television) for weeks.
The Last Remnant was developed and published by Square Enix, released in Australia on Nov. 20 for the Xbox 360. Retails for $109.95. Played through entire story to completion, participating in several side quests along the way. Played through disk 1 on hard drive install, disk 2 in drive.
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