I don’t really have a pleasant history with The Last Remnant. I played it when it originally released on the Xbox 360 ten years ago and, as I typically do in RPGs, I grinded to improve my character’s levels so that I could pummel any enemies that came my way. Unfortunately, it turned out that levelling up your characters can be done wrong in this game, and in doing so I had an under-strength party that was facing off against enemies that synced with my higher battle level. Ok, that might sound a little complicated: basically, I hit a point where my ‘over-levelled’ characters were too weak for me to progress through the game and my only option was to start from the beginning. Needless to say, I didn’t play it again during the ten years since then and nor did I plan to.
At E3 2019 though, Square Enix announced that they were bringing The Last Remnant to the Nintendo Switch in its remastered form. What better time than now to re-visit the game and play it properly, right? Whilst my experience with the epic RPG saw a lot more progress this time around though, it’s still a somewhat flawed experience that needs to offer its players a bit more direction.
The Last Remnant puts you in the shoes of Rush Sykes, a young man who is separated from his sister when she is kidnapped by a mysterious pair of men. Whilst trying to find her, he stumbles across a powerful group of allies that offer their help – part of this is thanks to the fact that he just so happens to have famous scientists as parents, though their work has seen them kept separated from Rush and his sister for some time. Whilst their journey together begins as a straight-forward rescue mission though, it soon escalates with Rush and the party tangled up in a war across the land and facing off against an ominous figure known only as ‘The Conqueror’.
So The Last Remnant is known to have a dull narrative by those in RPG circles, though it probably doesn’t deserve that bad of a reputation. Sure, the tale is full of clichés and can be incredibly cringey (protagonist Rush will have you wincing from the moment he says the name ‘Dave’), but it does enough to keep you invested in the world and what’s happening to it. It’s not the most epic RPG narrative you’re going to encounter and it’s disappointing that the protagonist is easy to dislike, but it should manage to keep players at least half interested throughout its fairly lengthy runtime.
Whilst most RPGs typically see you leading a small party of characters into battle, The Last Remnant changes things up a bit – rather than having party members act individually, they instead lead a small group of warriors known as ‘Unions’ with them into battle and each follow a specific set of commands. At the start of each turn you’ll give each Union a command, be it simply attacking, using magic abilities, healing, or even allowing them to do what they think is best. Every member in that Union will then follow the same action as they head into battle with their foe.
It sounds a little complicated, but it’s actually pretty straightforward in-game. In fact, you could essentially treat Unions as individual party members if you preferred, with the player able to customise their formations and even set them up with members that suit a specific fighting style.
Unit positions play a role in how battles unfold too, with a mini-map placed in the top right of the screen that displays the locations of both your Unions and your enemies. When you choose which enemy to attack, you’ve got to consider their position and any other enemies that could get in your way – if an enemy is in front of your target they’ll often intercept your attack, whilst you could also leave yourself vulnerable to a flank attack if enemies can approach from the side. Again, it sounds a little complicated, but it’s easy to understand in-game and can give you a much needed tactical edge when taking on one of the trickier encounters.
It all comes together nicely to make for an intuitive and unique battle system, whilst the abundance of party members and enemies battling at any one time gives each showdown a really epic vibe. It isn’t without some flaws though – for one, the choice of actions you can perform can be a little bit random. On one turn you may be able to unleash mystic arts for some decent damage for example, but on the next the option might not be there. Not all Unions are consistent with their options either, with each often having something completely different available at any time. It means you can’t always take advantage of each Union’s strengths, though more than anything it can just leave you a little baffled as to why it actually happens.
Then there’s the levelling up system, which in my opinion stands out as one of the worst I’ve seen in any RPG. Two things level up in The Last Remnant: your Battle Rank and your stats. As you clear more battles and defeat more enemies, you’ll see your Battle Rank increase – this gives you access to some of the more powerful abilities in the game, but it’ll also improve the capabilities of the enemies you face off against and make them more threatening. Your stats on the other hand improve if you group multiple enemies together to fight at once, with more efficient victories over your opponents rewarding you with better stat improvements… I think.
It seems simple enough, right? The problem is that the game doesn’t fully explain to you how either of these mechanics really work, so sometimes you might see stats increase quite often whilst other times you won’t see anything at all. Worst of all, if your Battle Rank increases without the player managing to improve their character’s stats, you can quickly find yourself overwhelmed by the more powerful enemies. The first time I played the game on the Xbox 360 I misunderstood the system and was left myself powerless against a certain foe; this time around I tried harder to group up enemies in order to try and improve my stats whilst also trying to keep my Battle Rank low, but even that felt difficult to do and often left me as the underdog in just about every battle I encountered. The levelling up is just frustrating and I wish a better effort was made in-game to explain how it all works, because even RPG veterans will find themselves struggling to grasp the mechanics in order to make a well-balanced and efficient party.
At least the game offers plenty of neat environments to explore, with your typical selection of dungeons and fields joined by some bustling and well-designed cities. These locations are all full of side quests to complete too, with a lot of them tying to your party members and giving you access to all new characters to use in battle. The Last Remannt’s unconventional take on battling and having large Unions means that you can recruit all sorts of warriors to battle alongside you, and sometimes clearing side quests will give you access to the best options. Of course, there are plenty of side quests that you’ll complete for NPCs too that offer extra bits of narrative for you to uncover, so you won’t run out of things to do fast in the game. Just be warned: there are no recommended levels for these quests and you’ll often be sent straight into a dungeon to complete it, so you can find yourself overwhelmed quickly if you don’t go in prepared.
Visually, The Last Remnant looks a whole lot more impressive than it did when it originally released. Character models have been improved, environmental textures are a lot more detailed, whilst some improved lighting effects have ensured the world itself feels a bit livelier. Best of all, it runs really well on the Nintendo Switch in both handheld and TV mode, with the visuals proving striking throughout and the frame rate steady. Square Enix have done a really good job here and I’d argue that playing on the Nintendo Switch is the best way to experience The Last Remnant.
And that’s the thing: whilst The Last Remnant really misses the mark as far as levelling up (or even just explaining its mechanics in general) is concerned, it has all the potential to be a fun RPG experience. The battling is clever and unique, there’s plenty of stuff to do, whilst the world itself is interesting – simply knowing that you can essentially play the game wrong though and not realise you’re doing it just sours that experience a bit.
The Last Remnant is one of those games that I really wanted to love, but the confusing levelling up system and the sheer lack of direction as far as explaining the game’s mechanics is concerned has just left me underwhelmed. Sure, I enjoyed it a lot more now than I did the first time I played the game, but that’s because I had a better idea of how to play it; the fact that it’s possible to essentially play the game wrong and potentially lose hours of progress though shows that it’s definitely not going to be for everyone.
If you do manage to grasp the levelling up system and play the game the way it’s meant to be, there’s definitely some fun to be had – especially with the unique battle system that proves to be both epic and entertaining. For the most part though, I think there are more enjoyable (and certainly more accessible) RPGs available to play than The Last Remnant.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4