The Last Remnant
“The future will be shaped by the remnants of the past”, I am informed as I scour over the back of the box for my latest JRPG to review for Thunderbolt towers. After so many flops in the shapes of Enchanted Arms, Infinite Undiscovery and Lost Odyssey, could we finally have an Xbox 360 JRPG that can reclaim the role playing crown from the west’s Oblivion? From the very second I read this bold and mildly arrogant statement, my first insight into the world of The Last Remnant was one of great confusion; a forte which remained an unwanted consistency throughout the experience.
“From the very second I read this bold and mildly arrogant statement, my first insight into the world of The Last Remnant was one of great confusion”
Taking a side-step from the countless worlds of Final Fantasy, Square Enix’s latest JRPG is the type of game which constantly feels one too many steps ahead of the player. It assumes that you already know what a Remnant is, how to use the new complex battle system, what each new item does and that you will actually care about what has happened to the lead character’s kidnapped sister. If The Last Remnant was a person, it would be the loud mouth local at the pub who always wants you to tell him a joke or a story.
It’s a shame, as if the game held your hand in the opening stages a little more (à la Persona 4), playing might not have felt like such a daunting task initially. The world which slowly opens up to you is varied and colourful, but in a current gen style; think Final Fantasy XII crossed with Grand Theft Auto IV, unifying a blend of fantasy environments with a realistic tint. Although the voice acting and character animations are a little dodgy at times, our cast do at least have a little personality. Just don’t expect the exuberance of Cloud or Tidus to come from the docile Rush Skyes. He doesn’t have blonde spiked hair, either.
Playing as the typical Square RPG front man, you are on an unexpectedly long quest to find your kidnapped sister, and daughter of famous Remnant researchers. Cue an unrelated battle later and you find yourself with the support of the king of a nearby city, both of which our gullible young ‘hero’ curiously has never heard of before after life on an Alcatraz style island. In an oh-so-coincidental twist of fate, Rush finds his and the kingdom’s duty to the Remnants run parallel to his own personal quest to save his sister, and is reminiscent of Tidus’ quest in Final Fantasy X to destroy Sin (for the greater good) and return home (personal drive). The quality of the story however pales in comparison, and lacks the true sense of purpose that the likes of Persona 4 can give to the player.
The battle system is described by the director as being “Turn-based, command-based system using symbol encounters.” What this really translates to is initially a huge amount of confusion and you will likely find yourself for the first five hours or so simply selecting ‘attack’ and hoping for the best. As the game progresses, battles get larger in size to the scale and so you’re forced to adapt to the new system. Although it tries to add a little more ‘game’ to the gameplay, what it really provides is a confusing and repetitive mess. It’s an interesting concept but it’s so poorly explained that you become frustrated with the system long before understanding what is happening. In its favour, there is more purpose to it than FFXII’s half baked system. Until Square have devised a new battle system with more depth and a sense of control, FFXIII would do well to stick to classic turn-based game play.
It’s disappointing that playing the game doesn’t equal quite how good the game looks, as it takes full advantage of the Xbox 360’s power to bring the world to life like no other. The character models and environments are incredibly detailed, and the fantasy middle ages theme of the game utilises the high definition age like no RPG has truly seized upon this generation yet. Although the Unreal Engine may be seen by many as a cop-out clause for lazy developers, when it can produce this quality then who honestly cares?
“…it’s an experience which almost tries to be something other than what it should be, in the name of evolution.”
The Last Remnant is an incredibly hard game to judge. On one hand it is a swamp of second-rate ideas blended together and then given a pretty face, but on the other hand it’s an experience which almost tries to be something other than what it should be, in the name of evolution. Over three years have passed since this generation kick started, and still we don’t have a JRPG to grab us by the balls and not let go until we’ve discovered every nook and cranny of its world. The Last Remnant could have been it, but by being too preoccupied with its flawed battle system and gameplay mechanics, it fails to capitalise on a genuinely absorbing world. Even the save system is unclear and flawed; despite being able to save from any single location in the game at any time, the lack of in-game prompts (such as FFX’s save spheres) means you can often go hours without remembering to save until the ‘Game Over’ screen which can initially result in an incredible amount of frustration, as you watch the screen fade to black, only to realise you haven’t saved the game in two hours.
And that symbolises the entire experience, really. It seems strange that to get my RPG fix in 2009, four years after this generation hit the scene, I have to dust off my PS2 to give me the type of experience that so many of us have been longing for in current-gen glory. Roll on, Final Fantasy XIII…?