The Last Remnant had the potential to be a great JRPG only if the gameplay system wasn't so random.
Cons: Too much randomness in gameplay • Lack of control on your party members in and out of battle • Some important gameplay mechanics are never explained in the game • Missable Content
The Last Remnant is a turn-based RPG developed by Square Enix which was released in November 2008; it was being developed by many key figures that had previously worked on SE's SaGa franchise (A series of games well known for their somewhat frustrating difficulty) and was initially codenamed "Saga Frontier 3". Square Enix decided to make this game a debut on their the brand new international business plan: Instead of making games exclusively with a Japanese audience in mind and then investing on off-shore branches localizing the game for the western audience, they would make the games with both Japanese and Western audiences in mind, implementing features in ways that would appeal to both, and release it simultaneously worldwide.
And so it happened, the game was released on Xbox 360, a platform which was more popular in the west than in Japan. American actors were used for the motion capture and the lip sync. SE even went as far as to create characters that would each appeal to a certain audience: "Rush Sykes", the protagonist to the Japanese and his arch enemy "The Conqueror", to the Westerns.
SE soon realized that their plan had backfired; the game received poor reviews and sales in US and Europe, despite all they had done to appeal to them. Some believed the story to be pointless, some hated the occasional graphical anomalies, while others didn't quite enjoy the gameplay. This led Square Enix to fix some of the game's faults, make some tweaks and release it on PC the next year. The PC port received better reviews, and for good reasons: Many of the game's faults were gone, specially the graphical errors.
The game has sold 580,000 copies since, and is now available on steam. It is one of the few Japanese Role Playing Games that have been released on the PC.
The premise is about the titular "Remnants", ancient magical items that have been around as long as man can remember. A remnant can be any magical item, ranging from a simple treasure chest, to a gigantic insect that extracts water from deep underground for people living in a desert. This means that remnants have become part of people's daily lives, not unlike how electricity has become part of ours. The population of TLR's world is divided into 4 main groups, the Mitra, who look like normal humans, the Qsiti, Frog look-alikes that are half the size of a normal human, the Yama, fish-like people that are noticeably larger than a normal human, and the Sovani, Cat-people who live a long time and have 4 arms instead of just two. There are also the Jhana, savage creatures that can use some simple items and weapons but are too primitive to live along with the civilized population, and the Imps, monsters that have somewhat higher intelligence than the rest, and can use some basic item techniques.
The protagonist, Rush Sykes, is a boy who is looking for his lost sister. At the beginning of the game he meets "Lord David Nassau", young ruler of a small city, and his four generals, who decide to lend him a hand on his quest and later join his party permanently. Later into the game they will meet the previously mentioned conqueror, with unclear motives for his unfriendly actions. The ending, without spoiling too much, is one of those I-should-have-guessed-it-sooner ones, and will make all the pieces of the puzzle suddenly fit together. At the same time it could be a bit cheesy, so I wouldn't call it one of the best endings, but it wasn't bad either.
The graphics are rendered using Unreal Engine 3, a choice SE made to cut down on the costs. This has had some negative effects on the 360, but on PC I didn't notice any. As a matter of fact, it's a gift considering it allows some tweaking to be done that wouldn't be possible otherwise. The game also lets you save anywhere in the game except in mid-battle, and I think that's something that comes with the engine. The graphics themselves are exactly what you would expect from a 7th gen JRPG title, the characters are all done great and behave very human like, even when they're infinitely repeating a simple talk animation. The world looks great as well. Each time you visit a new city, you will be awed by the city architecture, the people going about their daily lives, and the remnants that coexist with them in harmony.
Likewise, most "dungeons" look fantastic as well. These include a gigantic desert, grassland roadways, a series of caves in an active volcano, abandoned castles and cities, and much more. I stopped playing the game several times only to gaze at the surroundings, wondering what it would be like to actually live in such a magical place. While these areas are often linear, they have a sense of scale, making you want to travel all the viewable landscape.
The same can be said about the combat aesthetics. The characters are all designed to be distinguishable in combat, so you're not going to have an army of generic soldiers. Each party member will stand out, and many of them have some voiced lines for battle. The weapons they carry are all modeled pretty nice as well. I specially enjoyed the design of Otachi, a long sword that is available from early on. A plethora of weapons are available, and all of them stand out in battle just as much as the characters that carry them. Another touch is the combat animation. Each weapon type, and the way it's handled, has its own set of techniques. When a character lands an impressive blow using one of these techniques, not only does it drain your foe's HP considerably, but also a well done attack animation will be presented that is consistent with the damage that was dealt.
With all that said, I can't really say that the presentation does not have any faults. For instance, Rush's standard run animation which is used in both cities and dungeons is a bit weird to say the least. The same is true for most JRPGs, but with all the realism this game offers, the unnatural walk animation feels out of place. This made me want to walk most of the time in towns by moving the analog stick slightly upward, since the walk animation is a lot more natural than its running counterpart. Another problem is the city and world map. While most games have these for quick transitions, The Last Remnant forces you to use them. Meaning that if you want to travel from one part of the town to the next, you HAVE to go through the city map, choose the next location, and enter, even when the next location is only a few steps away and you can see it from the previous location. This is rather annoying especially given the fact that Unreal Engine 3 can render large maps without any drawbacks. Another gripe I had with the game was the buildings. The shops cannot be entered in the last remnant. You simply buy what you want in the towns, where locals have set up small shops. The pubs and the guilds are the only buildings that can be entered, and they're not much different from town to town. The guilds look exactly the same for all the towns, the only difference being the few people wandering inside. There are only two different pub models, and while the decoration varies slightly from town to town, one has to wonder the reason they've build the same pubs in all cities, keeping in mind that their towns are so much different both geographically and architecturally. These few minor gripes are no big deal, but can easily break the immersion.
The audio, while not as fantastic as the visuals, is pretty good in its own right. The soundtrack consists of music that range from the epic opening to the guild background which does its job pretty well. Each town has its own background music that adds up to it's unique feel. The voice acting likewise does its job fairly well. While it's not the best voice acting you've ever heard, it's probably not the worst either. You can also switch the audio to Japanese if you fancy original voice acting.
You will get a taste of battle mechanics before you go into any town (where you meet David), but it's fairly brief. After watching some cut-scenes and going through some mandatory missions you will be left in the city, free to do what you want, and that's when you first get a real taste of TLR's battle mechanics. Bottom-line: the battle mechanics is frustrating and clunky. Although the game promises you an army of party members, you will only start with 3. With rush being one of them that leaves only two other party members, which I hired at the guild, a choice I later regretted. The people you can hire fall into two groups: The generic soldiers and unique leaders. The unique leaders have some back story in their info screen (which makes them distinguishable from generic leaders), can learn some new techniques, and some have their own side-quests to tackle after they're hired.
After hiring your first batch of party members, the game's most frustrating "feature" comes into play: You have no control over your party members. And this is apparent before you even enter any battle, in the menu: It's not possible to choose you party's gear. They are equipped with a weapon before you hire them, and they use some items to upgrade their weapons. They might ask for the weapons in Rush's inventory from time to time, but it's unclear when they do that. The game never tells you where to find these items or how to hand them out to them. They get some of them after you finish a battle (the game explains this), but for some other items, they "clone them from Rush's inventory", something I found out after spending about an hour on the internet looking for clues. The weapons come in different sizes: small, medium, large, and huge. The Qsiti only use small weapons, the Mitra and Sovani can choose between medium and large, while the Yama use large and huge weapons. This coupled with the lack of control can result in a situation where you have a Yama specific weapon 10 times stronger than any of those your party members have, and you can't equip it since none of your party members wants it for some reason. You can buy Yama or Qsiti specific weapons in the shops, but there's no telling whether any of your party members would ask for them. Furthermore, the items that party members use to upgrade their weapons might be impossible to find, unless you're looking for them in the wiki (http://lastremnant.wikia.com/) or some other guide and have lots of patience, since even knowing where to find them doesn't quite help you in acquiring them: Much of it depends on pure luck. This feature was supposedly built so your party members can manage their own gear without you needing to micromanage an army of party members. While this could be actually helpful as an alternative, having it forced on you is simply sadistic, especially since the system doesn't work at all and fails to give your party best available weapons the majority of the time. This is especially true at the beginning of the game, where your party is weak and you desperately need them to have a better gear. And what if someone enjoys micromanaging their party's gear? After all, someone who's not into this kind of thing wouldn't be interested in a game where having around 20 party members is one of its main features. It's a gameplay mechanics paradox, and that's not a good thing.
I wish I could tell you that that's all there is to it considering the lack of control, but unfortunately the developers of the last remnant felt that the high number of active party members can make it confusing for (perhaps western) players to manage them in turn based combat, thus created a system to "fix" the problem: You're party is divided into "unions", groups of approximately 5 party members, and instead of issuing orders to each party member, you issue one order for each union. The game then decides what each party member in the said union should do to achieve that goal. The catch is: the system doesn't work. For instance, there's no set of orders that are always available. You would think "attack" and "defend" are two commands that would always be there, but there are times that the game decides that your union should do nothing but attacking. You expect healing commands to be issuable anywhere? Not necessarily, the game might decide that a union that is horrifyingly low on health doesn't need healing. Most of the time it fails to give your party members the order to deal the maximum amount of damage possible when you want to attack. There are some commands such as "attack from afar" that let's you attack an enemy without receiving any damage that could be used strategically, only if this command didn't pop up completely at random. This makes it completely impossible to devise any sort of strategy. In the end, each battle boils down to simply choosing the command that uses the most amount of action points and praying the game doesn't make overly stupid decisions for your party members: There's nothing more frustrating than losing a boss battle you've been fighting for an hour, simply because the game made a stupid decision for your party.
There should be more to the battle mechanics than that, but the rest of the features are completely pointless for the same reasons. Each battle takes place on a plane, where unions are scattered around based on their positions in the dungeon when the battle sequence was initiated. The unions then have to travel the plane to get to their enemies, which can cause situations such as interception or flank attack. There's also a morale bar, which affects the battle in many ways. There are special moves (that are more special than your regular special) and summons. None of these add any depth to the game whatsoever, since they all happen so randomly. The amount of strategic planning possible is practically zero. Furthermore, each union can be assigned a "formation". Each formation has its own strong points and weaknesses: Some are better at magic and some better at combat, some suited for attacking while others for defending. However, I stopped assigning formations to my unions after I unlocked a formation called "Counter-Offensive" fairly early on in the game, which gave me the most stats for all my unions. Despite unlocking a large number of other formations later, this one was the one I used for the rest of the game, since none of the new ones gave me better stats: Another intriguing but ultimately pointless feature. The game uses quick time events, here called "critical trigger", to liven up the turn based gameplay a bit. These pop up from time to time allowing your party member to perform some extra damage. Fortunately the game let's you turn it off if you're not interested. I had it turned off the entire game since I couldn't land a single hit even though I had no problems chaining a lot of them on the Xbox360 and even receiving an achievement for it. When the feature is turned off, the extra damage occurs randomly, just like everything else in the game.
Next failure is the "Item System". In your regular RPG, each item performs a certain task: A healing potion heals you, while a weapon part is used to upgrade weapons. Not here. There is an item system in place that works similarly to most other systems of the game: Elaborately complex yet completely pointless. The monsters you fight often drop "spoils", this could be a bird fin, a worm husk, or just some generic bone. You can also "harvest" from some of the locations, which can yield you items such as stones, metals, minerals, and special herbs. Some items can be bought from shops. You use these items to either upgrade your weapons, or use them in an item mixing technique in battle. Ideally, this would be a complex and entertaining system where you would experiment with your findings to make new weapons and techniques. The way it is implemented is exactly the opposite: Each weapon upgrade needs a specific set of items, so you can't experiment by mixing different weapons and items. You would think that if a weapon can be upgraded with a stone, it can become even more powerful with gold, or a special rare gem that you found somewhere. That's not the case. If the blacksmith needs stone, then you can upgrade your weapon using a stone and nothing else. Likewise, if you can combine two different herbs to heal some of your party members, those two herbs are the only ones you can use for healing. You can't mix different herbs to receive varied heal effects. It's either a mix of these two items, or nothing. And that's not even the worst part, as it is impossible to find some of the items that the blacksmiths need to upgrade your weapons: There's no hint at where to find them if you don't already have them and even their names doesn't help. You expect an "Avian Fiend Meat" to be dropped by any flying monster. That's not the case. Only a special kind of enemy drops this, and only in a specific location, and in random times. You can't possibly memorize all the items and where you found them, so either you use a detailed guide or the wiki, or you can forget about using the upgrade system altogether. Fortunately, the items required for item mixing techniques can all be bought at shops, so you're not going to have any problems healing your party if you have enough cash. In the end, each item has an overly specific way to obtain, and usually has a single use (convert this weapon to that) or no use at all. The whole system is just plain pointless and also a pain in the butt.
Not the whole gameplay system is broken though: The dungeons are fortunately designed with some relative sense. You can save anywhere in the map, a true bliss. There are no random encounters, the monsters roam freely in the map, and you can engage them in battle at will. Each monster has a status which shows how they're feeling. If they're cowering, you can avoid them with ease. If they're aggressive, they might follow you if you're noticed and initiate a battle themselves, which causes a negative effect on your morale bar and gives the enemy an initial advantage. It is also possible to "chain" some enemies together and engage them in battle together. This will make the battle more difficult, but will also yield you more spoils and drops.
As for the quest structure, aside from the very few main quests, there are two kinds of other objectives you can tackle: Side quests, and guild quests. Side quests can be accepted by talking to the people in town, and accepting their requests if they have one. Given the fact that the main quests are not so abundant, these can be considered part of the game's main quests. Some introduce new characters, some provide back-stories to the main characters, some open up new locations and techniques, and some give you good rewards.
The guild quests instead are the kind of pointless side quests you find in most games. These are lined up in the guild menus, and you can take their reward whenever they're done, so no need to "initiate" a guild quest. Killing a specific monster or acquiring a specific item is what you're expected to do for these quests, but there's no indication at how you're supposed to carry them out. The game is kind enough to tell you where to find groups of monsters, but for specific items and "boss monsters", it is up to you to find them. Since the world is large and the appearance of these targets can be random, the side quests usually end up being done "accidentally": You kill a monster and later find out that killing him was a guild quest: Another random feature.
There are two other frustrating aspects to this game that I should mention: First is the "missable content": Some locations, weapons, and quests, might disappear later in the game if you fail to perform a string of action in a particular time. Some side quests become unavailable if you progress through the main quests. Some locations can only be found only if you talk to a certain civilian at a town. Some items can become unavailable later in the game since the monsters that drop them get replaced by others. This means if you care about getting the most out of your game, you have to follow a guide to avoid missing these.
The other frustrating aspect is the "BR". An acronym of "Battle Rank", it's a status that sits there in your menu and doesn't seem to be important. The game never tells you what it's for. This kind of meaningless stat would normally be ignored, but as it turns out, this is the most important stat in The Last Remnant. The BR is your entire party's global level. The party members don't have individual levels associated with them. Like any RPG, the higher the level is, the slower you progress through it. However since in this game the BR is a global stat, it won't matter when you hired a party member: If your BR is high, all your members will gain improvements at a snail pace, and if it's low all of them will improve rapidly. But you aren't allowed to have the maximum amount of party members (around 20) from the get-go. The number of allowed party members in battle grows as you progress through the main quest. This means if you grind early on the game, you will end up with a bunch of weak members that will stay weak forever. This could at some instances break your whole game, forcing you a complete restart from the beginning. This is the very most frustrating experience one can have in an RPG, so use this guide (http://lastremnant.wikia.com/wiki/Guide_to_a_Low_BR_game) if you want to avoid something like that happening to you.
As stated before, the PC version makes several tweaks and changes that slightly improve the gameplay. Also given the fact that the game is on PC, you can make several PC specific tweaks by editing the game files.
The most noticeable change from Xbox360 version is graphical improvements. The game suffered from long load times and texture pop-in on the Xbox 360, which have been addressed on the PC, since the game runs from your hard drive which is faster than a DVD-Rom. If you have a high end PC, you can also use this guide (http://lastremnant.wikia.com/wiki/PC_Tweaking#Decreasing_texture_pop-in) to make some tweaks to the game config located in your saves directory to improve your performance and get rid of the texture pop-in altogether. Another feature of the PC port is that it includes all of X360 version's DLCs by default, so you don't need to download them separately. There's also the addition of New Game +, which you can use to tackle the portions of game you missed on your first play-through more rapidly, since you start with lots of cash, which makes things much easier.
There are also some gameplay tweaks which turn it from X360's unplayable state to "barely playable": The game now features a Turbo Mode which makes the battles flow way faster when it's on. After playing a while on Turbo Mode I started to feel that the normal mode is practically on Slow Motion. This is pretty good for grinding and generally conserving time and going through the game faster. You can also switch the critical triggers on and off mid battle, which can help you if you usually use them but want to get rid of them when grinding, or when you're screwing up so much you'd rather turn it off mid battle.
Another tweak is that you are now able to "disable techniques". Yes, the battle decision system was so flawed that disabling techniques you've learned is a good thing: It prevents the game to make overly stupid decisions from time to time. The PC version also lets you hire as many of those previously mentioned unique leaders as you want, as opposed to the Xbox360 version which limited the number of leaders per union, forcing you to hire some generic soldiers as a part of your party. You can now also view the weapons you want to buy before taking them in battle (On Xbox360 version only the stats were visible)
This game being a console port, and a JRPG, it is highly advisable to use a controller to play the game. Any general dual analog design will do. Being a "Games for Windows" game, you can also plug in an X360 controller if you've got one and play without any further configuration required. I did have some problems configuring my dual shock controller though: The game's gamepad config menu splits the commands into different sections (in-game, menu, mid-battle), but some commands belong to more than one category while they're listed in only one. As an example, the party menu key is located in the in-game section, but it also works in the menu (as in world map and city map), if you don't override the key in menu section. So take extra care when configuring your controller. The game's got a surround sound option in case you have 5 speakers connected to your PC, but this game being a JRPG, the back speakers don't make any important sounds that would enhance your experience.
When I ran the game for the first time there were some annoying screen tearing, and there was no V-Sync option in the game's config menu, but I used the "Nvidia Control Panel" to create a profile for the game, and then forcing v-sync on. If you're using ATI you can go to "Catalyst Control Center" and turn "Wait for Vertical Refresh" to "Always On". I've also tried Nvidia's 3DVision: The game is ranked as fair, it doesn't render shadows correctly and some cut-scenes are out of focus. There's no way to turn the shadows off completely in the game's config menu, so other than setting in game settings appropriately, you also have to find "RushEngine.ini" file which is located at "My DocumentsMy GamesThe last remnantRushGameConfig", find the part that says "DynamicShadows=TRUE", and change it into "DynamicShadows=FALSE". (Don't forget to save) It's worth the trouble though: Watching all those mystical towns in 3D is really something else, and it takes you one step closer to truly "live" the game. However if you don't have these fancy 3D and high-end graphic cards, no need to worry: This is a turn-based game, so as long as it runs, the graphics won't affect the quality of gameplay.
And as a final note, I'd like to recommend this wiki (http://lastremnant.wikia.com/) if you ever decided to play this game. I have linked to it multiple times in this review before, but reminding you one more time won't hurt. Using the guides in this wiki can help you dramatically improve your experience with the game, to the point that not using some guides can break your game completely. I'll also recommend Xfire (http://www.xfire.com/download/) if you don't have steam. This program has a bunch of cool features (Taking screenshots and videos of your game, voice-chatting with your friends while playing, music player, etc.) but I'm recommending it specifically for this game because of it's in-game browser, which lets you browse the wiki without needing to constantly alt-tab in and out of the game. And trust me, you will constantly be using the wiki.
The story does its job, but its not the best one you've heard. The ending was somewhat satisfying.
The game world is beautiful. The soundtrack is nice. The voice acting could be better.
It's broken, and the PC updates don't fix it. Get yourself a guide or use the wiki unless you enjoy confusion and frustration.
Technical Performance: 8.5/10
Use PC specific tweaks to eliminate all visual anomalies. Use 3Dvision and surround sound to enhance your experience.
Even if you manage to finish all the side quests and the guild quests, give your party members the best weapons, and go through all the extra dungeons, there's still the new game plus.
OVERALL: 7.0/10 (Solid)