The Last Remnant Review - PC RPG by Square-Enix
My main motivation for writing a review of the PC version of The Last Remnant is to share that while the game contains it's flaws, it's still a worthy title. I hope many of you out there who enjoy JRPGs will go out and by the game to support Square releasing future titles for Windows.
Graphics - 8
Music - 7
Controls - 9
Story - 7
World & Character Design - 7
Interface - 8
Battle System - 8
Replay Value - 5
Difficulty - Moderately Hard
Overall Score - 7.8/10
While the graphics for TLR don't require the latest hardware available, they are pleasant enough and probably will still push the limits of many systems out there. Fortunately, like most PC games, players can adjust settings to their preference. Considering the game was released first on the XBox 360 and later the PS3, TLR doesn't feel "next gen" enough and falls in line more with FFXII.
The cut scene graphics don't take much of a step up from the gameplay models, which adds an extra touch of consistency. Though the effect ends up being better than what Xenosaga implemented, the cinematics still feel too much of a take back from say the FF series, or something Blizzard Entertainment would produce. However, it's understandable given that this is one of Square-Enix's standalone titles and probably did not have the same kind of budget or creative team.
The one disappointing aspect is the pixel shading load times when switching scenes. The shading lags sometimes when trying to fill in all the textures for the new load. While a flaw, it's hardly annoying, but also makes the game feel less polished.
The music is what one would expect from a major JRPG title. Serene orchestrated pieces playing during outdoor dungeons, more rock styles during battles. The composition always seems to fit the scene and area and never leaves a bad after taste. At the same time, it does not provide enough of a kick either, and doesn't produce any memorable melodies. Other than the battle music, I would be surprised if anyone would recognize any of the pieces outside the game after not playing it for a couple of weeks.
Some strong, catchy, recurring beats for the main characters or dramatic scenes could have really pumped up this title. Something that leaves a tingle down your neck. But, unfortunately, the music is just good enough.
I played the game both using the keyboard and mouse, and then later with an XBox 360 Controller of Windows. The keyboard controls movement and some basic commands, working much like playing an MMO - WoW and WAR come to mind. The mouse controlled the camera angle and ability to select menu options using the scroll wheel. Despite reading complaints about this setup online, I found it very natural and easy to use. Besides, the setup is completely customizable.
I did play most of TLR using the XBox Controller. I liked being able to sit back and play the game as if it were on a console and using the controller, with the left analog stick controlling movement, right camera, seemed just as natural.
I give props to Square-Enix for being able to make such a great transitional controller setup. I just wish though they could have given the correct button displays when using the keyboard and mouse... the game still shows the controller commands.
Even Square-Enix describes the TLR story as "solid," which should already hint at less than spectacular. It's totally linear, totally predictable, and totally characteristic of a Japanese Role-Playing Game.
Rush, the young main character, is in search of his sister. He knows nothing about formality or being proper. Early on he discovers he has a unique ability and is joined by a band of elite warriors, though underdogs in their own right. What turns into a simple search and rescue develops later into a plot to destroy mankind and your heroes must stop a mysterious and powerful foe.
But I must say the dialogue is good, and while there are no twists and turns, it's not convoluted, ridiculous, or hard to get into. It's safe, very safe.
Rush is the only true character which you have full control over. Even stating that, you can only equip a weapon, shield, and two accessories. The other characters you cannot directly equip or influence the progression of their abilities, though they do ask for items, suggestions, and equipment randomly from time to time.
The other main characters include Lord David, and Rush's sister Irina. There are several other characters with lesser storylines, mainly Lord David's band of generals composed of the major races in the game. By completing quests you learn about other heroes throughout the world who later can join your party. You can also hire many other people to fight for you throughout the game.
I was neither impressed or disappointed at the end.
One great feature however is that you can choose to keep the voice-acting in English or Japanese. You get the ability to play between both versions of the game! If you watch anime, you know how bad Japanese shows can be with English dubs. Well, you can listen to LTR in Japanese with English subs and have the interface still be in English too! It was a great experience being able to play the game this way :)
World and Character Design
This is probably one of my biggest complaints about the game. While what has been created in TLR looks good, Square-Enix could have done better.
I'm tired of games overly focused on desert and cave settings. Most of the dungeon areas in TLR are rocky, sandy, hilly, and just plain boring. There are a few jungle, forest, and swamp type areas, but nothing that screams lushness or beauty. The developers were given a chance to create a whole other world and they bog it down with unimaginative, semi-realistic looking environments. It reminds me of why I didn't like Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within (among many reason). The whole landscape was just a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Square had the opportunity then to show off their new CG technology, and they wasted it on a nuclear desert.
TLR also wastes it's potential. Steroetypical merchant looking cities in deserts mixed with castles and the usual stylization from games like FFXI and FFXII. They could have made the world feel so much more mystical, unique, other-wordly - they could have created environments that looked like they were infused with life and imagination. They didn't even try to push the bar.
The characters and monsters too look like they came right out of the FF cookbook. There's only really a handful of monster designs, many of which don't look like real creatures, and the new ones just come in different colors. You get sick of fighting crabs, hornets, and lizards after awhile.
The different races might be more interesting if you were given more background about them, but you don't really get a good sense of any of the cultures, so they just feel like definitely rendered more-of-the-same.
TLR is easy to navigate and explore. Kudos to Square-Enix for speeding up travel. You don't need to explore towns and cities, you can go directly to each district, the map tells you what's located in each district, and it always list's the whereabouts of all shops, guilds, etc. Once you travel to an area, you can go there again directly from the World Map. Everything is setup more like a game board. The dungeons are also not too large and you can save anywhere at anytime if you're not in battle.
At the same time, the game board feel makes the world itself seem small. But that might have been intentional.
The battle and party menus are also descriptive and effectively utilize the different buttons on the XBox 360 controller to quickly change settings, browse through characters (and at one point you'll have up to 50), abilities, items, and everything else.
I never felt as though the designers could have improved in this area given all the factors involved.
The Battle System
LTR's battle system is by far the most unique aspect of the game. You encounter most monsters voluntarily (yes, you can avoid them), and you can even link many monsters together to fight them all at once for extra rewards. Each visual monster while roaming represents 1+ actual groups of monsters once you enter the tunr-based battle screen.
LTR attempts to present war type battles instead of a small group of people fighting another small group. It gives the game more of a sense of being on an epc scale.
Your party is comprised of battle unions, with 1-5 characters in each union and eventually being able to create 5 unions total. The unions act as a single unit, dependent on the stats and abilities of the members selected. Which characters you place in your union will determine if the union can heal, use magic abilities, use special combined tactics, what the overall HP and AP will be, etc etc etc.
You cannot directly call forth spells and abilities, you randomly get a chance of a combination of skills based on where the union is during the battle and who you choose for them to fight. For each enemy union, your union will be give 5 different combinations to choose from. If elements change during battle, sometimes the union will use different abilities than you select. For example, if you wanted union A to heal union B, but union B died first, union A might rez them instead. Or say union A destroyed an enemy union before all the union members used their abilities, well then the extra union members might cast a buff or heal instead of using their attack.
The strength of your unions greatly reflects who you place in the union and which formation you choose for them to be in. As you progress through the game, you will be forced to try different configurations, which teaches you the best wasy to establish unions effectively. In this respect, many of the player input happens even before battles commence.
The only drawback to the battle system is the time it takes to complete a fight. Though there's an added turbo mode in the PC version, which I highly recommend enabling, it feels as though there should be a turbo mode x10. Later in the game, watching 18 characters each perform a separate move or spell, and then possibly watching 30 other monsters perform their moves, even if it is a single fast hit, can drag on and make the fighting feel pretty tedious.
But it is exciting to watch for the most part!
At the end of the game, you can start a new game at a higher difficulty. It states that you get the same configuration as before, but in the beginning you appear to start at square one, so I cannot verify this. I do not plan to play the game again because it took ages to beat the first time and with all the quests leading back to the same dungeons, I have zero motivation to go through it again.
Like most JRPGs and RPGs in general, you do not need to attain all the best gear and abilities to finish off the final boss. I did not feel compelled to go back and strengthen my party after I finished the game at level 73, even though I know there was plenty to still buy and perhaps a few more quests to complete, not to mention the lists of additional guild tasks.
It's just too much fighting, not enough story, and not good of enough of a story to want to relive it again.
Despite LTR not being much of a stretch in terms of graphics, story, and gameplay, the battles are actually quite hard. I've played plenty of JRPGs before, but I found myself dying relatively often and needing to relearn what I already thought was a good setup for my unions, or how to engage enemies.
Even when I fought all the monsters in the main storyline, I still needed to go back and complete side quests and level up before I could move forward. There will be plenty of times where the game appears to be getting quite easy and then suddenly you run into a dungeon filled with difficult mobs and a boss you can't take down.
I found this element interesting and I'm glad the developers at least made the title challenging.
I do recommend playing The Last Remnant for the PC, actually especially on the PC, because the XBox 360 version is filled with glitches. It's nothing revolutionary in it's genre or for Square-Enix, but for us gamers who usually stick to the Windows platform when it comes to our entertainment fixes, it's refreshing to play a type of game usually only found on consoles.
If you haven't played a JRPG in a long time, pick this one up, you won't be disappointed. It does keep driving you to finish it! And who knows, maybe if enough people support TLR on PC, Square-Enix might even release FFXIII for Windows.
We need more titles like this at our desks!
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