Squeenix-level polish on an ambitious-but-unfortunately-not-so-well-executed-paradigm-change RPG.
Right off the bat:
+ No, it ISN'T a Final Fantasy related title. God knows why, but I was under that (unfortunate) impression for quite a long while, which was why I avoided it for so long. I just go sick of all the milking they do with that franchise.
+ The story isn't bad. Granted, you won't find fulfilling philosophical discussions in it, but I hate people who nitpick about that kind of crap. Those pretentious twits shoud stfu and gtfo, we're talking about video games, not high literature. As it is, what story The Last Remnant has is interesting enough, and the characters aren't too bad either. Bonus point of PC version, you can toggle the original japanese VAs and use english subtitles.
- The big letdown? All this "strategy" and "tactics" i kept hearing bandied about when it comes to combat. Screw that - ALL that is different, is that combat DOES appear to take place in a 2D area, but movement is NOT controlled. The "battle positions" in the area only mean things like "if you aim at that unit at the back, the units beside it might have a chance to flank you, if they happen to go for you and not a different unit." THAT'S IT.
You DO NOT get to manually move around a "battle map" and cleverly plan ambushes and rear attacks and suchlike, as in ACTUAL tactical RPGs like FFT or even the simple Disgaea games. NO. The commands you give to your units are just the same traditional ones you give in the time honoured tradition of RPGs: attack this unit, or attack that unit. OCCASIONALLY you get to issue other commands, such as Defend (yes, it's not always available), or Heal (this isn't always there either). It depends heavily on the composition of each battle unit ("union") and the Action Points available to it (derived from the AP rate of each member of said union).
Overall... that's actually not so bad: it's just like a regular RPG fighting system then, with a few large kinks. Think about it that way and it becomes easier. You can't actually control positioning so forget about flanking and rear attacks and stuff that only happens when one side has way more unions than the other. Yes, you got that right, NUMERICAL ADVANTAGE is the largest deciding factor whether you manage to do something differently. And it all boils down to simply more damage: e.g. if you "flank" a target, it means you've already got one of your unions to engage it head on, so it's a 2-vs-1 situation. The 2nd union of yours automatically flanks it, and all flanking does is give you some extra damage. THAT'S IT.
So... like I said above, it's just like a regular RPG fighting system, albeit with some fudging factors. Most of the time enemies will outnumber you, so get used to being the one on the receiving end of such strategic maneuvers like "flanking". Bah, it's all just extra damage anyway.
The other big "gotcha" of this game is that it uses an enemy-levels-up-with-you system, a la FF8. Individual characters don't actually have levels, your entire party (yes, ALL of you) is simply shoehorned into one single "Battle Rank" number which serves as the indicator of your toughness. Grinding too much will raise enemy Battle Ranks faster, to the point where it actually becomes too hard: as in FF8, the way most people beat the game is by tiptoeing around, only fighting when absolutely necessary. But in FF8, you didn't have to run, you could always CARD your enemies so that you still defeat them but not gain exp. Here in TLR you have to actually RUN. And given the narrow confines of the area maps - sigh, more linear tunnel-style maps? get on with the program already - this will be hard to keep up consistently. You'll often be dragged into fights whether you want to or not.
The screwed up thing is, you NEED enemy drops as they constitute the major source of items required for upgrading equipment. So you're in a horrible catch-22 position. You can either tear through the game, avoid fighting, and just try to appreciate the story (wtf...), or... well, there's actually no alternative. If you even break down and grind a bit, your BR will rise and you'll notice monsters get horrifically stronger. See, the main problem with higher BR isn't just that monsters get stronger - if you all got equally stronger that wouldn't be a problem. Oh no, they got to discourage you... so monsters' rise in BR is dramatically higher than your own. Monsters that were pushovers a few ranks down will become deadly threats at high BRs.
So how does a tired, only-got-2-hours-after-work-for-this-crap, working adult actually get to sit down and just enjoy a nice and easy game? You cheat like hell, of course. Fortunately for you - if you purchased the PC version that is - there are many things you can address to put the game back in it's place: i.e. just entertain you, not make a mockery of your efforts. Using a simple memory hacking tool, such as ArtMoney or Cheat Engine, you can find out the following values:
(i) inventory amounts -- this makes "collecting" rare drops easy, after all why grind mindlessly for the 10 you need, when you can simply grind for 3-4, and then do the usual search-sell-filter routine to hack it to 99?
(ii) digging counter -- it's absurd that you can only dig X amount of times in a dungeon, and simply exit then reenter to refill it. Wtf? Might as well find it in memory and then blam, nail that sucker so it's always at maximum. Btw you can't simply increase this value to like say 99 and then forget it, because the game occasionally checks it and reduces it to normal. Shrug.
(iii) battle chain value -- this is the counter for the current total of kills you've inflicted. It gets zeroed whenever you leave an area, or you get ambushed (i.e. monster initiates combat instead of you). You want this maxed because: the higher the BC, the more chances and the higher bonuses you get after each battle. Just max this to 9999 and watch the bonuses pile in.
(iv) finally, Battle Rank, your arch-nemesis. It'll take a while screwing around and letting it rise a few times before you manage to narrow it down to the correct memory address, but it's worth it. You do NOT need to screw with this too often, thankfully, as it takes time for BR to get back up. Plus some things are actually triggered at specific BRs (ugh), I don't recall exactly what, but stuff like NPC skill progression. What I did was simply go wild early in the game until my BR was like 40, and then kick it back all the way down to 1. Fights immediately got noticeably easier. Ha, suck on that.
That's about it. Once you can get around the arbitrary "screw you"-type of restrictions that Squeenix put into the game (what the HELL is it these days, with companies screwing around with their customer base?) you can finally settle back and enjoy the game as just another interesting and well-polished Squeenix RPG.