By Louise Yang . December 16, 2008 . 12:45pm
The Last Remnant feels like a run-of-the-mill PS2 RPG dressed up with eye-popping Xbox 360 textures and graphics. Its load times are atrocious when playing the game off the disc; it takes a few seconds to load each battle as well as a few seconds to load the interior of buildings and different parts of town. Its story is a generic mix of fantasy and technology. Despite these flaws, The Last Remnant delivers on what it boasts of: a unique battle system that lets you command more characters (up to 25?) than ever before in previous RPGs.
Unions, small parties made up of a leader and a few soldiers, are the core of The Last Remnant’s battle mechanics. During battles, unions take turns attacking each other. Even though they’re made up of separate party members whom you can move and switch around, once a union is formed, its HP and SP becomes one. Knocking down the leader, or whittling the union’s HP down to 0 makes it ineffective for that fight. But don’t despair, unions regain full health after a fight has ended.
If the idea of commanding 25 people sounds like a lot of tedious micromanagement, don’t worry, it’s not. The game does a great job of giving players general commands they can order their unions to follow such as attack the boss, use a regular attack, attack with combat arts (physical skills), attack with mystic arts (magic skills), heal, heal and attack, or defend. When these commands are dished out, different members of the union will carry out the command to the best of their abilities. If you command a union to attack using mystic arts, only the members of the union who have mystic arts will use them while the rest will use a regular attack.
Issuing a single command for a group of members is a lot more manageable than having to command them separately. Most of the battles went like this: I fired off commands to each of my unions and then sat back and watched the gorgeous graphics on the screen carry out my actions. Attack animations are long and there is a lot of sitting back and watching in the game. Because I was not directly giving orders to each member of the party, I felt distanced from what was happening on screen. I felt like a general watching a monitor from a safe base. If you’re more of a hands-on type of person who always has to be pressing buttons, The Last Remnant may become boring.
Unions can be customized not only by who you choose to lead the union, but also which party members to include in the union. I had a pretty weak magic character that I wanted to level up, so I put him in the middle of a Union with a lot of strong melee characters. Union formation can also be customized. Different forms of unions get unlocked later in the game, but the basic idea is: keep your physical and melee characters on the outside and your magic casting characters on the inside. The option to customize the union formation is a nice addition, but I never came to a point where my formation was crucial to winning a fight.
The Last Remnant also features different dynamics between the union doing the attacking and the union being attacked. If a union is being attacked by another one, the two unions become locked together, which means they can’t attack other unions. This sets the attacked union up to be flanked by another union (since they can’t defend against another union). Flanking unions deal out additional damage. Likewise, a union flanked on both sides, and then attacked from the rear take on even more damage. Because of these dynamics, it’s typically a good idea to command your unions to attack the same union if it’s a strong one.
If The Last Remnant didn’t suffer from frame rate issues when there’s too much action on the screen, annoying loading times, and very noticeable texture pop-ups, I would have enjoyed the experience more. The battle system made every fight feel epic, but the delay between them made me wish the game were a tactical RPG instead. I just wanted to fight, not go through one long cut scene after another interspersed with loading screens.
The Last Remnant is a game with lofty goals plagued with less than stellar execution.
Images courtesy of Square Enix.