Celebrating almost 10 years since its initial release back on Steam and the Xbox 360, The Last Remnant has received the remastered treatment, but has this decade-old game stood the test of time?
Regardless of how much this feels like a PS3 title, it ironically never came to Sony’s last gen console. For those that missed it the first time around, this is clearly the version you will want to experience. While it’s convoluted story does what it can to keep things moving forward, it’s the unique turn-based strategy elements that truly make this game one RPG fans should give a chance. With regards to it’s remastered state, the graphical enhancements and quality of life changes make clear that this title received some serious tender love and care.
The Last Remnant initially follows Rush Sykes as he searches for his sister Irena in the midst of a war-torn country. However, the story quickly transitions from one about a brother searching for his sister to a more politically centered tale. While Rush isn’t the most memorable character, the world he lives in is a rather memorable, fantastical realm filled with political turmoil caused by people with the ability to use Remnants. While they’re not clearly explained, Remnants are powers that only specific people have the power to wield, and because of this “natural selection”, the majority of the populous feels threatened by them. The view regarding people who can use Remnants is comparable to the strife mutants face in the X-Men comics and films.
That’s pretty much the base the rest of the story stems from, though it is never clearly conveys the specific whys or hows. Underpopulated, linear areas mindlessly guide Rush from point A to point B as he collects story elements along the way. Eventually you assemble a group of heros that you’re meant to save the world with. Sadly, because of the pacing, and ambiguity of the story, you’re not really given anything that makes you care about them. The Last Remnant has so much potential that ends up being snuffed out by poor execution of the material, especially when it comes to the Remnants, which is what the entirety of the game revolves around. That being said, the soundtrack does what it can to help carry you through some of the story’s rougher sections. Melancholic melodies help deliver gravitas during the game’s more serious moments, while jazzy, electric beats help the action ramp up when shit hits the fan.
Enemies aren’t random encounters but are treated more like Final Fantasy 12 monsters. Everything roams around the map, and how you approach each encounter could let you start the fight with a clear advantage or disadvantage. The combat is what really makes this game stand out though.
In an interesting blend of RPG elements, The Last Remnant takes turn based combat and throws a twist into it. Instead of commanding single characters, you’re given control over an entire army, basically. Every fight feels like a larger scale battle. You command groups of allies, referred to as ‘Unions’. These Unions can be customized to specialize in a particular set of actions, or can have a broader scope of traits that ultimately mean the difference between a win and defeat.
During combat your unions can flank enemy groups, or they can be flanked by the very same groups. Your unions must work together to take out the threat before becoming overwhelmed. That balance is conveyed through a morale bar at the top of the combat screen. The better your Unions perform, the more blue you’ll see in the bar, conversely, the worse they do, the more red you’ll see.
This isn’t just a marker to let you know how you’re doing though. The morale bar dictates how your unions actually perform as well. The higher the bar, the stronger they become, the lower the bar, the less their attacks hit for and harder it is to defend incoming attacks. Having that morale hang in the balance of every fight adds to the severity of your situation, and ultimately makes the gravity of your combat decisions carry significantly more weight behind them.
Along your journey you’ll find allies that can be recruited to your cause. Once they’re on board, you can assign them to a specific union in hopes of bolstering their ranks. The freedom to build whatever unions I wanted becomes more appealing as the game goes on. While you can’t control the individuals, you can absolutely build some truly powerful unions that make you a force to be reckoned with. While most of my unions initially started as basic, general groups, I ended up having ones that focused on attack, healing, or magic. Though you’re looking at more than one character in a union, these unions end up filling in those “team member” niches.
Unions can be customized further through gear and positions. While you build these unions, the game tells you how your choices affect the overall stats of that group. That being said, this is pretty much all the game does in regards to telling you how things work. A lack of instruction throughout the game will leave certain players feeling intimidated or confused for sure. That being said, I found that trail by fire was a great way of enjoying what the Last Remnant had to offer.
By playing with different Union combinations you eventually learn on your own what works and what doesn’t. The lack of hand-holding was refreshing honestly, and made those harder victories feel more worthwhile.
Each union has a set number of AP (action points) that they can use for the entirety of the battle. Managing this additional resources keeps you focusing on the long game, while simultaneously trying to manage your units in a turn by turn basis. The problem here comes from not actually being able to control which action options pop up. While you can guide a union towards being more magic or attack focused, the abilities they perform is up to the game, which I found to be a really frustrating element of combat. That being said, skills can be disabled, which forces the game to give you better odds of having commands pop up that you actually want to use. Again though, this isn’t really explained very well, so players that don’t go searching for it, might not ever realize this is even an option.
Regardless, combat is fun to watch. Even when you’re selecting actions, your unions are constantly moving and fighting with enemy factions, which makes things feel more logical than your group just standing there staring at the bad guys. Regardless of whether you’re fighting a final boss, or the weakest monsters in the realm, the game makes you feel like you’re in a war zone, which was always an exhilarating feeling.
Another oddity is the lack of a progression system. Your characters don’t truly “level up” in this game. As a work around, your ‘Battle Rank’ increases as you participate in more fights. Unions learn new abilities through using the ones they know more frequently as well. So, there is still progression, just not in the general sense long time RPG fans have grown accustomed to. On top of that, enemies can sometimes be chained together for an increased challenge and much better loot.
While the majority of your time will be working through the story and fighting hordes of monsters, there are still other, minor RPG things you can take part in. The occasional side quest will pop up in towns. There are dungeons to raid, items to collect, allies to recruit, and armor to upgrade. To clarify, Rush is the only one you can truly customize, making him the most flexible unit you’ll have to worry about.
The Last Remnant remains a cult classic to this day, and the remaster is easily the best version to play. While it stumbles in it’s execution of some general RPG elements, it’s combat is unique, intricate, and extremely fun. Those that have played the original might want to check it out to see how great it looks running on current hardware, but they won’t find anything different outside of the graphical enhancements and quality of life changes. While the story remains just as convoluted as most other RPGs of it’s day, the world The Last Remnant takes place in is one that should be experienced by all fans of the genre.