The real fatal flaw of this game is not the slowdown during battle…it’s that the game takes fucking forever to play.
Don’t let anyone tell you that a game that’s fun can’t be bad; or, vice versa, don’t believe that a game that’s bad can’t be fun. I suppose it all depends on your perspective. So, what’s the relevance of bringing that up, you ask? Recently, I reviewed a game called My World, My way, which was a game that was bad on all accounts, but still an enjoyable game to play overall. The Last Remnant is, in some ways, the antithesis of this. The game was very well-made, and even pretty fun, but it’s hard to say that it was honestly a good game.
“What are you talking about?” Well, The Last Remnant does a lot of things right, but seems to get a lot of things wrong, too. For example, The overall aesethetic quality of The Last Remnant is excellent: The character designs are beautiful, and the environments are very immersive. It’s a fantasy world that I found very easy to get excited about. On the other hand, the graphics have a lot of texture popping, and a lot of things just look really fuzzy. To top it off - and this is the hot topic of every review on this game - there is a pretty huge amount of slowdown during battle sequences. It’s true that installing the game to your hard drive helps immensely; but, the problem will be far from solved, so don’t believe that this is a magical cure for the problem.
The story is pretty simple: You are Rush Sykes. You’ve wandered away from your home because some crazy demon kidnapped your sister, Irina. You foolishly wandered onto a battlefield and wound up in a sticky situation with a lady named Emma Honeywell, a knight of the kindgom of Athlum. Well, anyways, you two get out of that sticky situation, meet the king of Athlum, David, and tell him all about Irina. Strangely enough, he agrees to help (although he tells you why much later in the game). Thus, Rush, David, and his four generals help you rescue Irina while you lend them your help for their own international affairs and politics.
The game’s develops heavily from here, but let’s not get caught up in the minute details. What really matters is that, while The Last Remnant’s story isn’t ‘bad’ per se, it’s so terribly written that it’s hard to care about anything that happens. The biggest problem is that there is no pacing; instead of having the plot unfold at a steady rate as you progress through the game, TLR will instead cough up tons of plot points all at once, making it very, very confusing. To add insult to injury, there was one time where, after one of these huge revelations, one of the characters made a remark like “Of course! it’s all so simple!” Is it really, now? Cos I’m still pretty fucking confused. The story was so hard to grasp that a lot of plot developments at the end came as a total surprise, and I’m not entirely sure they were supposed to be, based on how they were delivered. Sure, the characters themselves are really cool - in particular, Rush and David are two of the coolest characters in any RPG I’ve played in a while, mostly because of their more realistic interactions and the ways in which they aberrate from the stereotypes that characters like them usually have. Still, a poorly-explained, poorly-paced plot with two very huge Deus Ex Machinas makes it hard to say this story was much else but a disaster.
Combat in The Last Remnant is very intense. Rather than controlling individual characters, players will use many characters to form a ‘Union’, which is a group of characters that acts as one. Up to five characters can be placed in a Union, and up to five Unions can be made. However, there are restrictions to this during the beginning of the game, and, even by the end of the game, you can only control up to eighteen characters at a time - pretty lame, when the back of the box gloats about controlling twenty-five characters at once. Also important in the formation of Unions are Leader units. Leaders are usually main characters, but you can also recruit Leaders at towns for a nominal fee. Leaders are much stronger than normal units, and at least one Leader must be present in a Union (although it’s possible to have multiple Leaders). There is also a limit to how many Leaders can be used in battle, and, by the end of the game, you can only have six in battle at a time.
Anyways, when in battle, Unions initiate ‘Deadlocks’ with enemy groups, meaning that those two groups are engaged in battle with each other. If you attack a Deadlocked enemy union, you can initiate a ‘Flank Attack’, ‘Rear Assault’, or ‘Massive Strike’, which means that you will do extra damage when you attack them and won’t get counterattacked. There are a bunch of other buzz words to know, like ‘Interference’, ‘Intercepted’, ‘Botch’, ‘Terminated’, ‘Raidlock’, ‘Reinforced’, etc. but these are all overcomplicating things. For the most part, you just need to know that you Deadlock enemies, and you can Flank Attack enemies in Deadlock (they can also Flank Attack your Unions). You can break Deadlock to go attack another enemy Union, or heal your allies, but if that Union gets attacked, they’ll take extra damage.
Complicated enough? I haven’t even started explaining how each union attacks! Instead of choosing individual commands for each Union, you’ll choose things like “Attack with Combat Arts!”, “Attack with Mystic Arts!” (Mystic Arts, by the way, is just Magic), “Heal yourself with Item Arts!”, “Stay on your toes.”, and other such things. Each Union shares HP and AP - Ability Points - which are used in Combat Arts and Mystic Arts. So, when you choose something like “Attack with Combat Arts!”, maybe only one character will actually use a Combat Art, while the other characters will just use normal attacks. This will change based how much AP your Union has accumulated, and also by way of the Morale Bar - a bar at the top of the screen during battle which basically shows how well you’re doing. If morale is high, your Unions have a better chance of doing all-out attacks with Combat Arts, or using special attacks with your Leaders.
The last important note about combat (yes, there’s more) is the Critical Trigger system. When attacking enemy Unions, you may have to press one of the front panel buttons or the RT button at specific times to deal critical hits. When you do this, your allies’ turns get pushed up in the turn order, which is extra cool. If you’re wondering whether or not the slowdown during battle hampers your ability to do this, it doesn’t - there is a huge window of error for pressing the button too early or too late. I think I missed a Critical Trigger like twice throughout the game because of slowdown, when the more likely reason that you’ll miss if that sometimes it’s hard to see exactly when to press the button due to the spell animations in the background.
So, as you can see, there’s an awful lot to combat. It may seem like cruel and unusual punishment at first, but the game is incredibly fun once you get the hang of it, and very strategic to boot. There are problems, though. For one, there’s little control over what options you have during battle. I’ll admit that 99% of the time, the options you want or need are always there; but, that 1% of the time when you need to heal/revive a Union, or to stay back, you won’t have the option. Still, I never wound up losing a battle because of this, so it’s more of an annoyance. The bigger problem with combat is that it just takes a LONG time. Normal battles will take at least two to three minutes, and some of them even longer. To get through a dungeon if you want to fight all the enemies (by the way, there are no random battles in this game), you’ll need at least an hour. Boss battles take 30-45 minutes - one of them took even ninety minutes!
The last problem is that there’s an awfully large need for grinding in this game. If you don’t grind, bosses will lay you flat. Thankfully, The Last Remnant necessitates this by offering a ton of sidequests. At any given time, there are numerous sidequests to be undertaken at any town you go to, and new ones will pop up almost every time you progress the storyline forward. However, personally hated all the needless sidequests. It might be mitigated somewhat by the fact that combat is so fun, but it’s annoying enough that I needed at least an hour or two set aside to make any progress in this game, and the time spent on the game in a day may have you doing nothing more than two sidequests. There were some sidequests that involved other main characters, and THOSE were fun…but still, I have to wonder, “Why didn’t they just make characters level up faster or not ramp the difficulty up so much?”
Finally, a brief note about the music: It’s great. Tsuyoshi Sekito has not written an original score for any game released in the U.S since Brave Fencer Musashi, and that’s a shame. Sekito has a way of writing music that is just plain cool. New composer Yasuhiro Yamanaka provides a few ambient dungeon pieces to round out the score.
In the end, if you’re wondering if The Last Remnant is fun, well, it is. The texture popping and slowdown bother some people to the point where they can’t even play the game, but other people aren’t bothered by it at all. The story is poorly executed, but the focus of the game was obviously combat, so it’s a little hard to fault it on that. The combat necessitates that players have a ton of time before sitting down to play, but when you get the time, it’s an excellent experience. However, I should point out that this doesn’t excuse the awful graphical issues, it doesn’t excuse the crappily-done story, and it doesn’t excuse the fact that you have to become a social recluse if you want to get through the game in a timely manner. I enjoyed The Last Remnant thoroughly, but I’m willing to bet that you’ll probably hate it. Besides, with the PC version on the horizon, it’s pretty stupid to recommend this game to anyone except people who can’t run the PC version…like me.