The Last Remnant review
Fights like a Scotsman for his land
Sometimes, all you need to do to unlock a game's full potential, is put it on a system that can allow for that.
The Last Remnant was originally released for the Xbox 360, and although it wasn't too bad, there were a lot of things stopping it from being a great game, like incessant lagging and oh so annoying limitations to armies. Here's a well deserved upgrade on the PC, which does away with those problems completely. With this said, there are still some issues, but they aren't backed up by stuff that made the 360 version look like a trainwreck, so if you have a reasonably good computer and temptation to give this game a shot, I'd say go for it! But let me get into why you should...
As Rush, the usual looking JRPG hero, runs through a forest looking for his kidnapped sister, he becomes roped into a war over Remnants, mystical artefacts with magical powers beyond magical powers. They're not only the center of society's power, but also of great curiosity, as there's a large academy devoted to the study of them, with Rush's parents being two of the researchers. The war that's taking place throughout the game was meant to be another political struggle between Remnant users, and Remnant haters (or religious nuts, as it seems), but then it takes a turn for the worst when a bulky warlord looking fellow known as the Conqueror appears. Why is he known as such? Because he can control Remnants. Yeah. We're screwed. But not to worry, because Rush and the supporting protagonists are going to rally up a bunch of people to rescue Irina, and stop the Conqueror.
There's more to the story, like hidden powers being unleashed and a lot of political stuff going on to give the story a lot of substance, which I enjoy when it comes to experiencing stories in general because it gives an added level of depth. There's a lot of detail put into the story without going overboard... okay, at times, The Last Remnant does go a bit overboard, but never to the point where you're about to explode. In short, it's a good story.
Like many JRPGs, The Last Remnant is split into two halves – the exploration half, and the battling half. Exploration is simple enough – head from one end to the next while running into or avoiding monsters. It's all fairly linear with maybe a few branching paths here and there, though at points, it offers one split path that has enemies at your level, and the other split path which has enemies three times stronger than anticipated. You could remedy this by saving at a split (because you can save anywhere – just open up the menu and hit save), and if you choose the wrong end, it's as easy as loading it up and heading the other way. Also helps when you think you're about to head into a boss battle, just in case you get your butt kicked. Yes, you might be at full health, but thanks to the battle system, that may not be enough...
One thing worth noting is that exploration won't take as long as it normally would. If you exit out one of the divisions of a town, you'll be taken to a map screen that will have important parts, like the shops or somewhere where the main story progresses, will be mapped. The same goes for the world map – you won't need to spend hours running across fields to get from one town to another... provided you've already been to that town in the first place. If you haven't, well, you'll need to go through the field adjacent to it. This is very good, though, because there are times where you'll need to head to another town, either to check out the people at that particular guild, or to advance the story, and it'd be pretty bad if you had already defeated a boss, and some enemies manage to get the jump on you, kill you and you'll need to do it all over again... hey, sometimes, we all forget to save! I mean, some might say that it's lazy and easy, but simple conveniences like saving anywhere, not needing to go through fields to get to towns we've already been to, and health being restored after a fight are very well deserved, since the battle system isn't exactly the easiest one to deal with, and no two fights are exactly the same.
So yeah, the battle system – it works like your typical turn based system where you select a command and go at it, but the commands themselves are a bit different. You'll be given a few choices that work best for whatever situation that particular unit is in. Ranging from regular attacks, to some units performing special attacks, to all units performing special attacks if you have a high amount of AP, and even having some units heal if you're low on health. There are a decent range of commands, though you'll only be given what the game thinks you'll need to use, so using your tactical brain, you'll need to choose whether to heal, or to risk it and attack, hoping the enemies die.
Units consist of 2-5 soldiers, depending on some circumstances. In the 360 version, it had to do with CP or something, and you were only allowed a certain number of leader units (or more powerful units), but here on the PC, it has more to do with funds, and to prevent things from being easier, enemies are a lot more resilient. Each squad is built upon the statistics of each unit, with an aggregate HP and AP count, and the best units are ones that are able to pull off a sort of well rounder while focusing on one stat – for instance, you probably could use a magic user, but have some physical attackers and big bodied units soak up some damage. As you progress, you'll be able to unlock more formations, and formations are important when making up a squad, because certain formations work better in different situations than others. There are a lot of factors to consider when making your squad – and believe me when I say that as you progress, you'll be forced to utilize it more and more to keep up – and going indepth with them here would just confuse you. It's better to experience it in the game.
Unfortunately, that's all the customization you'll be offered as far as ally units go, because in battle, they serve only two purposes – using up your items to heal, and dealing damage. You can't really build most of them up to something beyond what you see from them the first time they fight. The bigger units, like the main characters that fight alongside you, have slightly more options available, though that's because their arsenal of attacks seem to contain a bit more variety. Other than this, nada. They equip and power up their own weapons and armor as they get weapons and material from winning battles, while you can at least customize Rush's armory, though as far as strategy and statistics go, there's no way but strength and maybe a little magic. I suppose it's not a terrible thing, because you'd be too busy dealing with enemies, and battles aren't determined by armory alone; it requires a tactical brain. You know, maybe it's not such a bad thing that customization isn't exactly required.
The game has a different sort of system in place so that you don't spend too much time grinding against weak monsters, but rather, encourages you to grind against stronger monsters. This would be the Battle Rank system – if you fight nothing but weak enemies, only your Battle Rank will go up, whereas killing stronger monsters increases both the Battle Rank and your army's statistics. There are times where grinding alone isn't the solution...
Believe me when I say that grinding will help give you more of an edge in the storyline events, and what better place to do them, than on the sidequests? Visit a bar, and interract with some people – they might have a job for you, like getting some items or defeating a big, bad monster. Some sidequests might actually be really tough to beat without going through other sidequests, and some sidequests just slam you into the area with little to no room to escape, so just remember to save before accepting a sidequest.
The graphics are good. The landscapes are a beautiful mixture of solid colors, excellent texturing, and breathtaking compositions, managing to really look effective in the long run, and making exploration less bothersome, because you'll have some pretty landscapes to admire. The character models also look nice with appropriate texturing and correct proportions. Now, the 360 version had all of this as well, but that version lagged like hell and took forever to load the textures. Here, there's no lag, and maybe a little texture pop-in, but not nearly as bad as on the 360 version.
As for the soundtrack, it is fantastic beyond all belief. From the operatic instruments, to ambience, to the metal riffs, and even to some chanting, there's a lot going on with it to keep you from getting bored of it. No matter how many times I enter a battle, I never get sick of the song that plays, though that may be because there are actually two different battle tracks – one for the caves, and one for the fields, so it makes sense to not get bored of them. On top of that, each song always finds a way to suit the situation at hand, enhancing the atmosphere of either a battle, or a touching moment. I'd go as far as to say that this is the best soundtrack on an RPG in this generation, right next to Nier's soundtrack. As for the voice acting, well, it's not bad, but nails on a chalkboard tend to do a better job of conveying a message than the actors, though that may be because some of the writing feels awkward, and if I was a voice actor, I'd be weirded out by some of them, too. Translation issues, perhaps? But whatever the case, voice acting is... meh.
The Last Remnant is one of those games that takes a formula, and mixes it up for a refreshing experience that's often underestimated. Union based combat may seem like a strange concept, but give it a bit, and you'll find that it's an excellent battle system that gets better as you progress. Add on some excellent graphics and an awesome soundtrack, and you got yourself a pretty good game.
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