The Last Remnant is a hard pill to swallow -- it's plagued with glitches and slowdowns, bad dialogue, an equally bad protagonist, and developement decisions that boggle the mind. The combat can be a lot of fun when it works, but it's heavily-based on randomization so you can find yourself being punished for no fault of your own .
I honestly can't recommend it to anyone other than those of us with a masochistic streak that wanna give something new (though not terribly original) a chance.
Story :: Forgettable, unoriginal, rushed (no pun intended) ::
The story begins with our hero, Rush, hanging out in a forest, looking for his sister, when all of a sudden he comes to a cliff overlooking a war breaking out between humanoids and beasts. Thinking he sees his sister in the battle, he throws caution to the wind and makes his way through the chaos only to find out it's some stranger. Weird, unbelievable intro? Check.
From there on the plot centers around two things -- a) Rush needs to save his sister and b) Some dude is trying to control remnants (big mechanization thingies that people bind themselves to in order to protect cities)... or destroy them... or control them by destroying them. Your guess is as good as mine. Naturally, rescuing his sister is no easy task as she possess great powers that the shady bad guys want, and defeating the nearly omnipotent bad guy who wants to rule the world is just as difficult, if not more so. I'm fairly certain that we've all seen these two plots before many times, only executed much better.
One of the big flaws about the game is that it makes no attempt to make any of the things that happen believable, thus creating a rift between the player and the experience where I found myself just not caring about the story. Granted, this is an RPG so my willingness to suspend my disbelief is pretty high, but it practically refused to let me do so. Last Remnant keeps tossing situations where the characters make absurd decisions, ignore completely obvious facts, or don't spend anytime addressing important issues. As an example, at one point, our hero is able to summon some strange construct while fighting an enemy. He uses a special command to call on it, so it's obviously significant, but does the game address this after the fight is over? No. They just go on as if nothing happened (and forget the fact that the boss you fight then is just as crazy and out of place).
A second example -- one that reminded me of Xenogears -- is the first disc ends with a big climactic scene of chaos and prompts you to pop in the second disc. What's the first thing you hear? "Four months later." Wait... we just saw some major shit go down... and now you're giving me a monologue with nothing but a black background about how things are back to normal even though the situation was not resolved at all? What the hell? Rushed story much? At least Xenogears addressed what happened, even if it happened to do so in a 30-minute long wall of text.
The more I think about the story, the more it bothers me, as it had the potential to be good. Had they spent more time fleshing out parts that they glossed over or completely ignored, it had the potential to draw me in. Had the characters made decisions that made more sense, I would have been happy to throw cynicism aside and gone along with it, but every attempt I made to do so was shot down with the hero going "I'm gonna be a whining bitch, waa." or a bad guy showing up, saying "Haha here's more vague remarks that make no sense, but just to remind you, I'm a bad guy. Haha! *ninja-vanish*"
Graphics :: Plaaaagued with problems, but it's still a pretty game ::
It's sad that the most memorable thing about Last Remnant is the fact it has some of the most severe glitching this side of Odin Sphere that I have ever seen. Why is it that textures are constantly going in and out of focus? Why does nearly every command you give in combat cause it to start stalling and hiccuping as it loads the action? I ended up installing the game to my HDD to see if it would run any better, and truth be told, the improvement was noticeable. That said, it still glitched and hiccuped a lot.
I am willing to cut Last Remnant some slack in this department, as every RPG I've seen using the Unreal 3 engine (hell, every RPG on the 360, so far) has had it's fair share of hang ups and slowdowns. From Lost Odyssey to Star Ocean to Eternal Sonata, they've all hit snags -- usually when a lot of effects are going off at once. Considering that Last Remnant's combat involves upwards to 50 units on the screen at once, it came as no shock there would be slowdown. It's unfortunate, but bearable given the circumstances.
That said, there's no excuse for the poor texture rendering outside of combat. Why is it that when I zone into a small area all of the characters appear to look like characters from a PS1 RPG for a period of time before their textures load properly? It comes across as sloppy and unfinished.
Glitches aside, the characters generally look great (aside from the protagonist) and the locations are all up to par with Square Enix's eye for design. While you can't explore much of the cities, what you can visit looks terrific and well fleshed out. The dungeons are all unique as well; not just the same cave over and over.
Combat :: Ambitious but severely, severely flawed ::
Here's how combat works -- You control groups of characters (anywhere from two to five groups of anywhere between one and five guys), giving them targets and general commands to use, then watching them do their thing against the groups of baddies. Commands include attacking, using spells, traps, potions, or combat arts. All abilities aside from generic attacks take "AP" that builds at a static rate each turn, and this is where the first problem occurs.
You will generally have more AP at any given time than you know what to do with, as the computer seems to hate giving you the option to spend them, and the way it decides if/when to spend them seems entirely random. For example, if you are fighting three groups of mobs, targetting the first group might give you the option to "Attack with Combat Arts" using up 30 of your points (eg. two of your units will use combat arts), while targeting the next will give you the same command but it will use 50 of your points (eg. four of your units will use a combat art), and targetting the last group will use up only 9 (eg. only one unit will use a combat art). Why or how does it decide this? I haven't the faintest idea. It's not based on distance or on the enemies numbers, I've experimented with both. It seems completely random. You just have to hope you get to spend your AP so you can deal some significant damage.
The second flaw is that you will very seldom see a command that let's you do more than one thing -- either attack, heal, or support. If you're low on health and need to get some heals off, you can back out and the healers in your group will throw some heals, while everyone else will just stand there doing nothing. You can risk throwing heals in combat (and inevitably end up going last and letting the enemy hit you before those heals go off) but even then, your attackers will only do regular attacks. You can't split it between healing and combat arts. The same goes for using support items such as strength potions and such. Your support character will use the item while everyone else just uses generic attacks, regardless of how many AP you may have saved up.
Often times you will find you have three or four of the same command, such as "Attack with Combat Arts" but with varied amounts of AP (seldom ever the optimal amount) which furthers my belief that the system is random and doesn't actually take into account strategy or how many AP you actually have (aside from "Does party X have enough AP to allow this?"). And while it gives these three or four similar options, you'll often find yourself lacking a heal command when you could really use one. I've found myself low on HP with multiple healers in my group and not being given the command to back off and heal or even heal in combat many times. There's really no excuse for that -- having the ability to heal when needed is why you put healer characters in your party, duh!
So the combat system is severely flawed, that much is obvious. Even so, it is strangely addictive when it does work. It's fun to watch groups of soldiers go at it in big battles, kicking each others' asses. Just be prepared for LONG fights. Enemies level up as your battle rank increases (which increases with the more battles you fight, along with your stats) so you'll never find yourself breezing through areas, especially if you gather up multiple groups of mobs and take them on at once. The easiest of battles still take about two to three minutes, while your typical two-three group pull will range from eight to fifteen minutes.
Oh, I almost forgot the biggest flaw in the game! Something so unbelievable that it's mind-boggling how they shipped the game without realizing it, and why they haven't updated it with a patch, considering it's been addressed in the PC version apparently. In Last Remnant, you are given two types of soldiers -- Leaders, and generally cannon fodder reserve members. Leaders can be used to command squads or can just act as normal soldiers in a squad that's already got a leader. They have set up guilds in all of the cities so you can recruit Leaders if you ever run low.
Here's the thing -- You basically start off with five of them plus the hero and you are told you can only have three in your group at any time. So right from the get go you already have too many Leaders. So what's the point of giving us the option to recruit more?? Especially when they're crappy compared to the one's you're given who also happen to be main characters of the game?! By the second CD you are able to use a whooping six leaders, which mean you can FINALLY use all of the original five you were given yay!! Oh but wait, then they give you another main character as a leader, so if you want to use her, you have to put one of the others on the sidelines.
You'll obviously want to flesh out your groups so they have four or five members, so what do you have to do? Fill the rest of the slots with crappy cannon fodder guys you hire. Why can't we use the leaders as normal soldiers? Why give the option to recruit from the guilds if we can't put them in our groups? Why are we forced to use watered-down bland and practically useless infantry units? Seriously, who the hell came up with this? "Let's put in guilds where you can recruit guys... that you will never use!" And there are a LOT of leaders you can recruit. Different ones at each city, and more are available as you complete quests. But unless you have an attachment for a particular leader due to ascetics or you liked their personality or something odd, you won't even need to higher one as you have the original cast of members to use.
It's absolutely ridiculous and beyond my scope of comprehension how this could make it into the game without someone going "Umm... isn't this whole "Guild" thing sort of pointless if we don't actually let them use those characters?"
I could also go on about how the game handles equipment is severely flawed. Only being able to equip the hero, yet setting up shops that sell gear he can't use is ridiculous. The other characters upgrade their own gear so buying something in the hopes that they ask for it from your inventory (which seems to almost never happen, and when it does, it's completely random) instead of just focusing on upgrading their gear is a waste of time. Yet a big chunk of the stores in town sell gear the one character you can equip can't use. It strikes me as if they intended on you being able to equip other characters gear but ditched that idea. Why? What kind of game doesn't let you equip characters in your party? Was this really something they had to try and be "original" with? I still have items in my inventory that I found in treasure chests that I can't use and none of my other characters ever asked for. What's the point of that?
Character Design :: Ranges from terrible to awesome ::
Let's start with the protagonist --Rush. Possibly the most forgettable and poorly developed main character I've ever encountered; he looks like a creepy Japanese pedophile with an odd slouch, a twisted smile, and bags under his eyes. His dialog ranges from bland to absurd.
For example, early in the game he meets the leader of the army that he waltz through to find his sister and just starts calling him "Dave" and being all buddy-buddy, even though David's generals are there looking on as if he's trash. The effect they're going for was obvious, but the way the designers decided to go about it was just ridiculous. "It's funny cause he's so clueless that he's talking to royalty, get it?? GET IT????" It's almost embarrassing, and there are plenty of similar scenes scattered throughout.
Rush aside, many of the characters are actually rather well designed and developed. Emma, for example, is a pretty original character and her voice actor did a good job. You don't see many aged female knights in RPGs. Many of the quest givers are also uniquely designed and have their own voice actors to do their combat dialog (recognized a few voices from Persona 3 / Tales of Vesparia in the mix). I really wish I could have actually used more of these characters but, alas, thanks to that whole "Leader Limit" thing... yeah.
Speaking of voice acting, it ranges, as most dubs do, from being bad to being surprisingly good. Some that are bad -- the hero, the chairman of the council, the lizard general. Some that are great -- Emma, David, the bad mage in the white robe. Unfortunately, the characters on the screens appear like mannequins when delivering their lines, so there are many times where well-spoke dialog falls flat upon execution as the characters actions don't seem to fit the emotions the voices are trying to convey. This effect makes the bad-voice acting feel just that much worse (especially the hero, ugg).
Sound :: Mostly standard but a few excellent melodies ::
Wow, an aspect of the game that I have no problems with - the score! Most of it is your average RPG fanfare, though a few of the town songs are catchy and I found myself stalling so I could listen a bit longer before having to move on. One of the cool sound-related things I noticed was that the music during combat can changed based on your teams morale. If you're kicking ass and taking names it will change to a more upbeat rock score, while if you're getting beaten it'll be a more dramatic sweeping score. That was a cool touch.
Overall :: Disappointing and baffling ::
I'll be honest -- I haven't finished Last Remnant. I put it down out of a mix of disgust and apathy near the end of the second DVD. There are very few RPGs I do that with, as most at least have a plot that is worth trudging through the crap to get closure on. Unfortunately, I felt no attachment whatsoever to the hero of this story and it's sad I was hoping he would die so someone else could take over the helm. Never a good thing when you hope the character you control dies, right?
I'm utterly baffled as to how they could release this game with the plethora of flaws and poor design choices it came with. I'm equally baffled as to how they couldn't be bothered to release a patch for the console version, even though they addressed some of the issues on the PC. But then, Japanese developers still seem wary of this whole "online downloadable content" thing -- especially Square Enix, disappointingly.
One thing I will say that Last Remnant has over another recent SE release, Star Ocean -- There was more content on the first disc of Last Remnant than it felt there was on all three discs of Star Ocean. Unfortunately, Star Ocean is still a much better game.