The Last Remnant
16th Dec 2008 | 10:39
The problem is that once you've raised the bar so very high for yourself, in a genre where you're widely regarded as King of Kings, any little slip up feels like a slap in the face for your fans. The irony for The Last Remnant is that it was supposed to be the JRPG which was to bridge the gap between East and West - an RPG that could be enjoyed equally by both Japanese and Westerners.
The truth couldn't be more different. Remnant is far from Square's best. Environments and towns lack detail and, crucially, any feeling of vibrancy and life. There's something very sterile, almost low-rent about the world's atmosphere. Where Final Fantasy XII took steps forward, The Last Remnant takes a running jump backward, with dungeon design that's woefully bland and characters that lack any sign of charm and boast some horribly awkward animation for even the most basic of movements.
Characters walk as though some of their most important muscles have been paralysed, and in one case, Rush, the game's lead, delivers hilariously misjudged pelvic thrusts in a cut-scene that had tears streaming down our faces. It's fair to say that the opening hour - usually something Square manages to nail perfectly - is more than a little lacking in quality and spectacle. It's really a crying shame, because underneath the game's immediate flaws lies a very solid, very challenging strategy role-playing game.
For everything that Last Remnant does hopelessly wrong, there's plenty more that it does right. For starters it has completely, impressively stream-lined many of the aspects you'd find in traditional RPGs. You don't really level up for one - or rather you do, but you don't notice it. No tediously watching your EXP count rise to numerical targets for example; instead, you just get the odd reminder from time to time that your units are getting stronger.
Laborious journeys have been pretty much completely cut out of the game too thanks to map menus which take you immediately to where you want to go and, thanks to the sheer amount of characters you'll be recruiting to your cause, the game looks after their development too - equipping them and improving their weapons automatically. The only say you have in their overall development is what to focus on in their training (combat or magic) and, by selecting key skills during combat itself, those skills and techniques level up of their own accord.
Oddly, despite concealing the barrage of stats usually associated with RPG's, the whole carrot and stick mentality that drives you on is much, much stronger. With so many areas characters can develop, every battle usually ends with something or other being improved, whether it's an HP boost, increased strength or some new ability under your belt.
Ah yes, the battles. With overworld exploration cut to a minimum, and meaningful character interaction stripped down to short dialogue skits and lengthier cut-scenes, the bulk of the action takes place on the battlefield - a place where the game will live or die in the eyes of anyone who's invested in it. It's an... unusual system, putting an emphasis on tinkering with formations, selecting your team's leaders and grunts and stabbing buttons for the occasional tiresome QTE to maximise hit damage. The learning curve is a little steep - requiring plenty of trial and error and humiliating defeats, but once you've 'got it' it's hugely rewarding.
Will many people have the patience for it? Doubtful. The amount of grinding required to survive is high, and the hours you need to put in before the battles start to show their true tactical colours will be a little too much for most people to bear. If you've got the stomach for it, jump right in - there's every chance you'll love it. But don't say we didn't warn you...