The Last Remnant, I pondered, sat in my waiting room reverie. What could it be about? Being new to the crazy world of gaming journalism, the title had slipped its way under my fresh-faced radar, and in my naivety I had offered to review a game that I knew nothing about, a blind-date if you will. Ripped from my contemplations by the high-pitched squawk of an overworked and underpaid nurse, the thought escaped me until the review copy arrived through my letterbox. It was time to delve into the unknown and delve I did, because to discover the scintillating gems that this game had to offer, I would have to venture into its very bowels.
What first caught my wandering intrigue about this game was that it was presented over two disks. With raised eyebrows and flared nostrils of surprise I thought, "I'm in for a LONG ride." I was right.
First impressions following the grand box-opening were poor to say the least. Met with a choppy framerate just at the menu screen, my heart sunk as I realised I could have opted for a duff title, nevertheless I continued on through the confusing introductory sequence and while dazed, I continued into my first battle. With the wonder of the generic battle sequence, never lost on the Eastern market, I realised that I was basically playing another J-RPG, I understood with a sinking stomach that this would be the first of many.
The short, sharp cinematics before each fight came at me with an indomitable vigour. The flash of the weapons, brightly coloured costumes and character design had me well and truly bedazzled. Briefly. After looking past this shiny facade, I began to notice small flaws that quickly grew into gamebreaking, title-smashing, gaping holes in the games quality. For one, the character textures. The process was not a simple fade in, but three distinct stages of a few seconds each. The character visuals flowed like treacle through the lipid-lined veins of an obese pork farmer. This was nothing, however, compared to the environment textures. When these were done loading, they were crisp and crystal clear - no complaints to be made. But the time it took for them to morph, somewhat jerkily into their pretty stage was just too long to not notice.
With the heavy contrasts between the quality of the loading times, the texture pop-up and the smooth finesse of the graphics on show, I was beginning to think that Square had made a mistake when naming the game. Where it stood as 'The Last Remnant', it should have been 'The First Paradox - Of Many'. This trend of high quality features interspersed with low-rent, amateurish flaws was consistent through many portions of the game. Where some indoor environments were decidedly lacklustre, the physics and particle effects on the flames in the game were very impressive. This variability of quality is the game's biggest downfall.
Gameplay-wise, The Last Remnant doesn't stray too far from the beaten path, using a turn-based combat system with a range of attack options and items to be used. As a gamer who has played an average amount of J-RPGs, this I understood. Something I did have an issue with however, was the interface. All over the gleaming visuals of the in-battle sequence has been vomited forth a veritable mess of confused and muddled words, or stats if you will. With the inclusion of quick time events in the battle system, randomly appearing with varying levels of success, the battle system in general could be much more refined. The animations of attacks look to be very promising, but the jerky freeze-frames take away from the ability of the player to enjoy the cinematic qualities of turn-based combat.
In terms of audio, the game seems to be very lost. In such a game, an original score with soaring highs and thunderous crescendos would add to the journey in a very big way. Playing through the innumerable field-battles would ascend from mind-numbing monotony to an epic experience. Instead, the driving rock soundtrack, while providing a beat and tempo to battle to has a discernible lack of depth and soul, leaving some parts of the game a fairly superficial experience.
In between battles, most notably in the open environments, the game comes into its own. With varied environments and satisfying character animation, the texture pop and environment loading can be excused, The skybox is especially beautiful making for views look like they've come straight out of a school Geography textbook.
As a J-RPG, the lifespan of the game was always going to be long, but it was the sheer expanse and replayability of The Last Remnant which impressed me the most about it. How Square Enix have spun out a lengthy saga about a boy's search for his sister is very impressive, and the abundance of cut scenes drive the story forward whilst encouraging the player to keep digging on.
With the flaws glaringly apparent, it is a testament to the game's playability that it kept me coming back for more, compelled to continue. It could be noted that with Final Fantasy XIII on the horizon, The Last Remnant had the role of a testing board where Square could develop new techniques and hone their skills for use on the company's definitive baby. Were this true, The Last Remnant has succeeded very well, but as a game in its own right, it doesn't bear the hallmarks of the master gamesmiths that Square have established themselves as, but of a diamond in the rough; unpolished edges and all. If a little more attention was paid to the framerate, the visual flow and the battle animations, perhaps The Last Remnant could have made noteworthy ripples in the great, ever-expanding sea of the J-RPG, but as it stands, it will make its home as a footnote beneath the truly great titles in what is a very difficult genre to perfect.
In terms of being a viable purchase, The Last Remnant is definitely worth your consideration, especially as it can be bought for around £25 from some major retailers. It will provide hours and hours of gameplay. As long as you don't enter into the story looking for a masterpiece, you should enjoy it. Those who are looking for a genre defining J-RPG adventure, look elsewhere (or ahead for when FFXIII is released).