SHINJUKU, Japan--The Last Remnant is an upcoming game from Square Enix that the company is viewing as a new pillar of its role-playing game business for the new generation of consoles. This is a wholly original game that the publisher believes will be the start of a new franchise targeted at Japanese and US audiences. Though The Last Remnant is still a ways off from release, it was shown at a recent press conference held by the Japanese studio. While still in an early stage of development, the game showed a promising mix of Square's familiar bag of tricks and some interesting new ideas.
The game follows a young man named Rush Sykes who gets sucked into some pretty spectacular circumstances. Though the game's story wasn't discussed in depth, we got the sense, from the opening cinema, that Rush might just be a reluctant hero. The game's opening scene was shown, and in a departure from most of Square's games, it featured a real-time cinematic using the game's graphics engine. Though the intro sequence was also a work in progress, it was close to matching the production values of the epic prerendered scenes Square's games are known for. The sharp, Unreal Engine-powered visuals were highlighted by slick, cinematic camera angles and an ambitious sense of scale. The intro opened with Rush walking through a lush forest looking for someone. His attention was drawn to the highly detailed foliage, providing a glamour moment to showcase the game's lighting, bump-mapping, and particle effects. Upon hearing a commotion off in the distance, he raced to the edge of the forest and wound up on a cliff overlooking a vast battleground with two opposing armies preparing to square off. The camera swooped in, offering dramatic views of the assembled forces, which included humans as well as humanoid lizards and animal men. Large beasts carrying soldiers and assorted heavy artillery also appeared among the ground troops. As the forces began to clash, a soldier--who looked a bit like Vhaan from Final Fantasy XII, thanks to his perfectly-styled, dirty-blonde locks--started to throw down by using a crazy eye patch and an enormous cannon-like weapon. This is also around the same time young Rush apparently saw his special lady in the middle of the mess, and waded down into the chaos. The trailer faded to white, leaving what happens next a mystery. We reckon this point in the story would be a great place to throw players in to a rolling tutorial as all hell breaks loose, but we'll see.
Following the intro scene, producer Nobuyuki Ueda offered some context and a tour of the game's world, courtesy of a series of gameplay segments. The game's work-in-progress world map was a massive 2D representation of the continent with labeled points you can select to drop in. The points represented proper cities as well as smaller towns and assorted points of interest, but the adventure will span a massive world. The true cause of the conflict that Rush sees at the beginning of the game is a struggle for control of ancient items called remnants. The relics are apparently objects of power that are scattered throughout the world. Unlike other role-playing games in which similar items are tiny and hard to find, the relics in The Last Remnant are anything but subtle. One of the first stops on Ueda's tour of the game was a major city called Athlum, whose centerpiece was a Remnant shaped like a massive sword stuck right in the center of town. The towering blade, apparently known as the Valerai Heart, was visible from all parts of town and looked pretty imposing. Rush was shown running through a town square teeming with inhabitants of varying species--though most were human, there were a variety of lizard folk as well, in small and large sizes. The segment in Athlum showed off different parts of the town, again navigated from a 2D map with selectable points. Rush was shown interacting with some of the townsfolk, including one of the smaller lizard folk, identified in a text box as a "friendly qsiti."
The next bit of the world shown was a point on the world map named Siebenur, a dungeon-like cave interior chock-full of monsters. You'll trigger combat by walking right into your enemies. Ueda noted that the game won't have random encounters. The cave interior was a dimly lit area with monsters, mossy foliage, and running water that kicked up as Rush ran through it. There appeared to be a few routes off the main path that led to other areas within the cave.
The next stop was the city of Nagapur, another metropolis sprawling around another remnant. Unlike in Athlun, Nagapur's remnant took the form of a massive skeletal dragon. As with the tour of Athlun, Ueda showed off different areas of Nagapur, all with people milling about, showing the massive dragon from different angles. The look at Nagapur included another look at a separate part of the map that was tied to the dragon city, the aqueducts. The area was just that, a sewer filled with grimy water and surly monsters eager to cause trouble.
The last two areas shown, Vale of the Gods and Yamarn Plain, showcased areas that appear tailor-made to be dramatic set pieces. Vale of the Gods is a canyon bounded by massive cliffs that showcased more of the game's sexy water effects. Monsters were visible in the area, and so was a totem-like object, which Ueda identified as a treasure chest that contained useful items. Yamarn Plain was actually the area shown in the intro sequence and was designed to be a battlefield. The area was less populated than it was in the cinematic sequence, but there were still a healthy number of enemies milling around the area.
The plain locale served as the perfect segue for Ueda to introduce another member of the team: Hiroshi Takai, director of the game's battle system. Takai noted that the key to Last Remnant's battle system is that it lets players control large groups of combatants with a simple control scheme. The feature is important because of the dynamic nature of the battles. Once you engage an enemy, both your forces and the enemies' can grow larger, due to reinforcements being summoned during the course of a battle. We saw an example of the way this system works while watching footage of the game.
In battle, Rush engaged a group of enemies with a force of his own. The fight began traditionally with a menu that seemed to initiate the actual skirmish. Once the forces began fighting, the camera zipped around the battlefield, zooming in on some fighters and flashing button prompts. Apparently, if you enter the correct button inputs in time, a descriptive text will flash onscreen to call out whether you succeeded or failed. During the battle, various fighters could be heard talking to each other. There seems to be a number of different factors that come into play during battle, and one of the more important aspects seems to be positioning. Another interesting aspect to the text alerts was that they seemed to indicate when some groups were working well together. For example, a group of small qsisti lizard men cast a deadly, explosive fire spell that took out some enemies in one fiery blow that popped up a note about their being in sync.
As the fight progressed, enemy forces called in reinforcements, which affected a bar at the top of the screen that appeared to be tracking the status of allies and enemies on the battlefield--possibly morale. When the enemy reinforcements, which included a massive flying beast, arrived, the bar favored the enemy faction. However, it evened out once Rush called his own special buddy, a giant clockwork Cyclops summoned from a crystal.
We also noticed that as the battle raged, the game's soundtrack changed dynamically. Takai noted that the soundtrack would change to reflect how you were doing in battle. As far as what kind of music played, the theme was big on rock music and screeching guitars. While the battlefield can grow larger as both sides summon help, it's apparently also possible for wandering enemies to be attracted by the fighting and join in. Takai stated that although there are some familiar aspects to the game's combat, the team hopes to make it a new experience. Based on what we saw in the demo, the game's combat certainly looks like it will certainly be a change of pace from what we're used to in Square Enix's RPGs.
Based on what was shown off so far, The Last Remnant seems like a unique new entry into Square Enix's robust library of RPGs. The game's visuals are already looking great and the gameplay looks like it has an intriguing mix of familiar and new elements. The game is slated to ship simultaneously in the US and Japan for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 sometime in the future. Look for more in the coming months.