Also available on: Xbox 360
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release date: March 20, 2009
It’s hip to be Square when it comes to role-playing games…Square Enix, that is. The company has consistently delivered superlative RPGs for three decades now, and although this genre is not for everyone, few can deny it its place in the annals of gaming history.
When Square took a break from developing perpetual Final Fantasy sequels to release The Last Remnant on the Xbox 360 last year, the usual high standards we’ve come to expect from the studio were nowhere to be found. Many of the essential ingredients were there - a vast, fantastical world, colossal battles and an epic storyline - but the experience was soured by bugs, glitches and lengthy loading times.
With its PC port, Square Enix seized the opportunity to salvage what they could from the wreckage, amending most of the problems that marred its 360 predecessor. The result is undoubtedly a superior game, but it will take more than a little fine-tuning to elevate this one beyond the level of bog standard.
For starters, both plot and protagonist are generic and barely involving. Vanilla hero Rush Sykes embarks on a quest to rescue his kidnapped sister and ends up entangled in a political struggle based around magical artifacts known as remnants. Tension heightens, crises escalate, rival factions clash and soon we have all-out war. It’s your basic naïve youth embarking on a life-changing journey, discovering hitherto unknown magical roots and meeting a cast of wacky characters along the way. Nothing you haven’t encountered a tens of times before.
It doesn’t play much differently to other RPGs either. There is a vast world to explore with dungeons to plunder, towns to visit and abilities to master. No surprises there, but the battle system is where the familiarity ends.
Combat involves directing groups, rather than individuals on the battlefield. The player must recruit soldiers and elect leaders, grouping them together into collective units known as unions. Each individual you recruit brings their own unique attributes to the mix, with the aim being to assemble a group greater than the sum of its parts.
Unions share health stats, equipment and arts (the equivalent of jobs in the Final Fantasy games). They are directed during battle using the tried and tested turn-based mechanic, but The Last Remnant adds a few twists to this formula. For example, each union has its own morale metre, which will be reduced to nothing should their leader perish, and when this happens you'll really find yourself up a well-known creek.
Having multiple unions at your command also has a heavy bearing on strategy. The key to overcoming certain foes may be sending in a weak union as fodder, while ambushing them from the rear with a more powerful one. Several hours must be invested before the intricacies of this innovative battle system can really be appreciated. The more unions at your command, the more complex the game becomes, with unit formations and special abilities to consider.
Outside of combat, The Last Remnant’s levelling up mechanic will also hold a few surprises, and not all of them welcome. Loot plundered from battles can be invested in stronger weapons and armour but only Rush can utilise these. These spoils, however, can be transferred to your units and invested automatically. The arts system is an alternative take on character customisation. This essentially replaces the job mechanic from other Square titles, with everything from swordplay to mystic abilities available to hone. There are additional skills and techniques to learn within each art, which adds another layer to the gameplay, and the option to choose to focus on different arts each time you play brings a degree of replay value.
Unlike almost every other RPG you will play, this one does not include a traditional overworld, instead opting for a clickable map that instantly transports you to your destination. This feature is certain to polarise role-players, many of whom enjoy the option to free-roam and level up. Allowing players to arrive on the doorstep of a dungeon at the click of a button may seem convenient but it compromises the epic feel of the journey. Furthermore, there are no surprise attacks in this game, every battle you find yourself embroiled in can be clearly seen beforehand. The removal of this RPG staple is also likely to prove a bone of contention amongst the diehards.
Like its Xbox 360 iteration, the PC version of The Last Remnant is a visual tour de force. Although there have been no noticeable graphical tweaks, the removal of the model and scenery pop-up synonymous with the Unreal 3 engine makes it easier to appreciate the rich landscapes, aesthetic city designs and detailed characters.
Square may have made a number of improvements to this PC port, but more time could have been invested in optimising controls for the platform. The game is simply unplayable with a keyboard and mouse, so an Xbox 360 pad or something resembling one is highly recommended.
Although vastly superior to the Xbox 360 iteration, The Last Remnant on PC is still little more than an average role-playing game with an intriguing battle system. This doesn’t by any means make it a lost cause. It will be interesting to see some of these combat-related ideas explored further in future RPGs. Who knows, unions and morale meters could be the future of the genre.
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