The Xbox has historically struggled to find a foothold in the Japanese market, as the Playstation was firmly entrenched as the platform of choice for the region. That meant that the majority of JRPGs tended to miss Microsoft’s platform. So during the Xbox 360 generation, Microsoft and Square Enix seemed to make a concerted effort to turn that around. The 360 ended up having quite the stable of dedicated JRPGs to choose from. Shortly after Infinite Undiscovery made a similarly weak impact, the inauspiciously titled Last Remnant seemingly signaled the end to this exciting trend. Unlike some famous Square apocrypha that says Final Fantasy got its name as a last ditch effort to save the company, The Last Remnant did not receive the same success. For how appropriate history will find the title, The Last Remnant hardly makes any sense in the context of its own story as there are remnants everywhere. It is full of interesting ideas hamstrung by poor design decisions and a story that is about as bland and uninspired as you could imagine from the worst of the genre.
I’ll start with what was clearly the impetus for this game: the battle system. The hook here is that instead of simply controlling a party of characters, you are commanding a whole squadron of units (as many as 18). To make sure this didn’t just become a turn-based battle with way too many options, you have unions in lieu of individual characters. A union is made up of as many as five characters that combine stats and share one health bar. This affords you a staggering amount of options when it comes to setting up your team, as you can control how many units are in a union — for example, you could have three unions with more members or six unions with fewer members. You can choose to set it up however you like, though I found little advantage to sacrificing a larger HP pool in exchange for more unions.
You are even able to customize the formation of those unions in battle. You’ll unlock dozens of different formations throughout the game and they each offer a different style of play. One may offer defensive bonuses to units in the back ranks but will hinder your overall mobility, while another may favor physical attacks over mystical ones. It forces you to think about the makeup of your different unions to assess what might be the most useful. My heavy hitting unions were set up to favor attack power, but my more healing or mystical focused unions favored those specific disciplines. My problem here is that despite how expansive the options were, it was often difficult to see just how those differences in formation were actually affecting my team makeup. I trust that there were variances in my overall effectiveness, but it was so obfuscated that the nearly limitless options felt more like taking shots in the dark rather than actually formulating a useful battle strategy. Like much of this game, I truly enjoy this concept on paper, but the execution left me wanting.
Similarly, the way that you upgrade your characters is needlessly complicated and opaque. Rush Sykes, the game’s protagonist, is the only character whose equipment you have direct control over, which keeps you from having to manage dozens of different characters, but because each character still has their own weapons and accessories, exchanging their equipment is actually made more tedious. Rather than simply assigning a character a new weapon, when you find a weapon that another character might want to use, they might ask you for it the next time you navigate on the world map. You are able to also spend components dropped from monsters or mined from dungeons to customize and enhance your weapons. But again, because you are only able to do this to your weapons, party members are left to pester you for specific components. You’ll enter the world map and five or six members will ask you if you would mind searching for “Butterfly Dust” or “Platinum Ore.” Once you find it, they’ll take it into their specific inventory and then upgrade their weapons on their own, and you might see that their weapon stats have increased after the next several battles. You’ll probably want to upgrade your party, though, if you mean to stay competitive against the tough bosses, so you’re left futilely searching for components in the hope that your party may get better in some difficult-to-discern way. At best, you’ll find components and better weapons naturally which will lead your team to improve organically over time, but it instead just becomes an obtuse and frustrating time-sink.
The battles themselves, though, are built around an interesting idea that mostly falls apart in practice. You have so many people in your party because you’ll be fighting large-scale battles where you’ll fight dozens and dozens of enemies at a time. To accommodate this, the battles take place on large battlefields and positions become very important. Which enemy unions you’re engaging with becomes critical, as enemies in The Last Remnant are capable of flanking your party and dealing extra damage. If you approach enemies that are far away, any enemy unions in between might intercept you on your way and you’re suddenly battling at a disadvantage. You are likewise able to make these same moves against the enemy, but like with much else in this game, I never felt like I had quite enough information or control over these mechanics. It was often a bit too difficult to build these sorts of tactical decisions as everything tended to unfold in a manic and crowded display.
On top of broader battle strategies seemingly being out of reach without staring at the game for too long, likewise your attack options are dictated by a system that is so ambiguous as to seem completely random. You won’t be issuing commands to individual party members, but once all your commands are selected, each member still individually attacks. Their solution to this was to offer you a handful of different options that bundle all of the members into one broader type of command. For example, it might give you an option that says “Attack with physical arts” which will mean that union will, as you’d expect, prioritize physical moves. If a party has been knocked out and you have the appropriate ability in your stable of moves, you might be given the option to “Bring them back.” It’s essentially just giving you options based on the current state of the battle. This mostly works, but it takes away a lot of tactical control in a genre where not being able to hand pick your moves feels uncomfortable at times. At worst, it was frustrating because I would know the next round of attacks would cripple some of my party, but because everyone was currently in good health, the game wouldn’t offer any healing options.
These options often felt completely random. There were some tougher boss battles where I would die over and over until one time I would randomly have a better set of moves available at the start for no clear reason. This leads into one of the more annoying aspects of The Last Remnant: the grinding. Several times during the game I was forced to halt my progress to spend hours on end grinding to even stand a chance against the next foe. The most glaring example came at the end of the game. This might be different from player to player, but I bested the penultimate boss battle at level 55 (quite handily, I might add) and then when I got to the final boss fight shortly afterwards I was immediately destroyed. I didn’t even stand a chance until I grinded my way to level 71 where I finally could withstand even the initial volley of attacks. This happened several times during my playthrough, and it was always a frustrating way to halt my story progress.
Additionally, the way the game handles character stats and levels is counter-intuitive, and if you aren’t careful, can actually completely kneecap your progress. You have one overall level in your Battle Rank, which has little impact on your characters outside of dictating when you can unlock more powerful abilities. Instead, it decides how powerful the enemies you fight are. Every enemy in the game scales to your BR, but your stats are all increased completely independently from this number. HP increases from taking damage, attack from dealing it and so on, while your BR increases simply from battling more and more enemies. Ideally, your stats will increase naturally as your Battle Rank does, but if you decide to go fight hordes of weaker enemies where you won’t be required to use your abilities to their fullest, your stats will stagnate while your BR, and subsequently, the enemy difficulty, will increase. It’s a strange system that the game goes out of its way not to properly explain to you. Similarly, all of your abilities are upgraded through using them, so I ran into an issue early on where I desperately needed the ability to bring unions back from the dead, which required me to use healing abilities multiple times to unlock that skill. But because the enemies were either too easy to necessitate healing spells or they were too difficult to grind weaker healing abilities, I was stuck for hours just hoping to use the right abilities enough.
By the time I got to the end and most of my team had all the appropriate abilities, the battle system became much more interesting as the game had much more to choose from when determining my options, but it was only after countless hours of limited control and futile attempts at strategy. It’s deeply unfortunate because through all of this, I can see a battle system with a ton of promise with just enough foibles to be unwieldy and convoluted. The idea of a standard, turn-based, JRPG battle system with a much grander scale is one that I wish Square Enix had been able to further iterate on, but in the case of this game, it is simply too obtuse and complicated to be worthwhile.
Speaking of scale, The Last Remnant’s story, to facilitate these battles, has your plucky protagonist fighting alongside the Marquis of Athlum, David (pronounced Dah-veed), and his troop of warriors in international squabbles. The game naturally leans into expected genre tropes of an evil outsider bent on world-ending calamity in the name of control. This lends itself to the larger battles, which are admittedly interesting spectacles as your fights can often play out in huge, open arenas. While it serves to set up large-scale battles, it’s characters never break out of their expected roles and the villains are little more than talking heads that spring up from nowhere. The scope is also hindered somewhat by the fact that each city you go to is broken up into discrete areas that you warp between that are all themselves quite small. You’ll be navigating towering cityscapes, but only within bite-sized chunks that only serve to afford access to the requisite shops in each area. What also hampers the aesthetic somewhat is the fact that much of the architecture and character design looks notably and improbably similar to Final Fantasy XII, but without that game’s sense of wonder and legitimate sense of scale in its environments. The Last Remnant feels like a facade where if you were to peek around the wrong corner you’d see the sad and cold soundstage this whole game is built upon.
Clearly, someone at Square Enix had an interesting idea for a battle system in an RPG and attempted to build a game around that concept and fumbled the whole way. There is little inspiration in any other aspect of the game. The “last remnant” is even a complete misnomer as the game is chock full of remnants, a sort of mystical object that are all ambiguously powerful, around every corner. Even the treasure chests you open are all different remnants that your character resonates with. I was waiting to discover what would most likely be the actual final remnant, but immediately a character introduces the game’s treasure chests by saying they are just small remnants. Every corner of this game feels like it simply needed another pass to file down the rough edges.
Now, if you played the Xbox 360 version and you had too hard a time, but otherwise enjoyed yourself, this remaster on PS4 is a slight upgrade on the eventual PC port it received. This means it has changed some important things like adding the useful auto-save feature that will keep you from having to redo some exceedingly frustrating boss battles, as well as smaller changes like item drop rates and enemy placements. For this remaster, they have moved it over to Unreal Engine 4 for some nicer lighting effects, but you won’t confuse this for Final Fantasy XV.
I do really wish I could have liked this game as it attempted to do something that was at times legitimately interesting, but around every turn was another frustration that got in its own way. As it is, though, this remnant just didn’t resonate with me.
The Last Remnant Remastered
The Last Remnant is an interesting experiment in expanding the traditional turn-based battle system, but there are enough annoyances in that system and weaknesses in its setting and characters to keep this from reaching the heights it’s clearly reaching for.