Tobold's Blog
Monday, April 13, 2009
The Last Remnant

Turn-based battles with real-time overland maps? Check! Emo hero with oversized weapon? Check! Huge story with long cutscenes? Check! Fantastic graphics with original monsters and exaggerated spell effects? Check! Made by Square Enix? Check! Chocobo? Nope, The Last Remnant is just a Chocobo away from being confused with a Final Fantasy game. Which is not a bad thing if you happen to like Final Fantasy games, because The Last Remnant runs on a PC, which few games of the Final Fantasy series do.

The Last Remnant takes you to a fantasy world full of magic and intrigue, with no orc nor elf involved. You control not just your hero, but his complete party, which is considerably larger than in other games. I'm still very much at the start after a full weekend of playing, and already control 12 units, and at the end of the game there will be 25 units under your command. Of course giving individual orders to 25 units in a battle would be far too slow. So your units are divided into up to 5 unions with up to 5 members each, and you give orders to the whole union. That is something that takes getting used to, not being able to tell specific units what they should do, but in general it works fine. The secret is your ability between battles to switch off certain spells and abilities for certain characters, if you want to micro-manage things. But the good thing is that if you don't want to micro-manage, things run quite well if you just tell your union whether to use combat arts or magic arts or healing.

The Last Remnant is working extremely well on my high-end Vista 64 PC, I haven't had a single crash yet, and no problems with low framerates even when the whole screen is exploding with spell effects. But be advised that this is on a computer I bought this year, with a GeForce 9800 GTX+ graphics card, and people report less good framerates on older machines. The only technical issue I had was that The Last Remnant refused to work with any of the 3 gamepads I had in the house. I had to go and buy a specific XBox 360 controller for Windows to play with a gamepad. Which is the way I prefer to play these games. Of course you can also play with the keyboard, but be advised that if you do that, you should go to the gamepad settings and select "keyboard" as your gamepad. If you don't do that, the keyboard still works, but the tutorial keeps showing you what gamepad button to press instead of teaching you keyboard commands.

The Last Remnant isn't exactly a casual game. It is huge, and the "tutorial" part at the start of the game only explains you the basics. It didn't help that the Steam version came without a manual. The good news is that you can totally play this game like that. But if you want to delve into the game's surprising strategic depths, and find out everything on how to gather tons of components to customize or create your own weapons and equipment, you'll need some guide or walkthrough. This is the type of game where even I consider buying a strategy guide, but the only printed strategy guide for The Last Remnant got very bad reviews on Amazon. So to look up who of my characters wants what weapon, I use the Last Remnant Wiki. Because again the game tries to keep equipping your troops simple, by not allowing you to do it. If you have some loot unequipped in your bag which one of your units need, they'll ask for it. They also ask for components during loot distribution, and upgrade their equipment themselves. So again you pretty much have the choice between just letting all this happen, or trying to micromanage by getting the right equipment.

I very much like The Last Remnant, especially in contrast to World of Warcraft, because it has all the things that WoW is missing: A story, and real tactical combat, where thinking is more important than fast reaction (there is a fast reaction combat option for critical hits, but you can turn that off and get the hits randomly). This game might already be too complicated for the average gamer, but if you happen to like this sort of game, I can very much recommend The Last Remnant.
I, too, just started playing The Remnant and am surprised, as you are. It is actually quite good, if you overlook a few things:

1) The main story line is for 6-year old children. For any adult it is very hard to like. All main characters are children and they often behave so stupidly that you would like to jump in the screen and do the battle yourself.

2) Then there are the big but soft guys, the fragile but intelligent cute guys, the completely unable but very sweet sister you need to help .. all stereotypes you can think of - including the evil, but absolutely stupid bad guy, whose only motivation seems to be to do evil stuff no matter how much it hurts him.

3) For much taste too much information is unavailable. What does it mean that weapons are red, golden, green, blue, white ?? What do I need these 1mio components for?? Which weapon would my companions like ? Why don't just tell they, when we are at a shop ?? Why do I have to buy the stuff and keep it for 1 hour in the inventory until they tell me they like to have it ??

4) The game is very hard - which is a good thing. I like hard games and I had several battles which I couldn't win and I had to go do some sidequests to even stand a chance - even then it is not easy. Some PC battles have become massively harder to beat. Don't even think of playing it 'casually' ;)

5) The battle system is very creative, but ultimately not satisfying. There are some monsters you don't want to have all your characters 'tank', but sometimes you HAVE to give them a command that effectively makes them attack the enemy in close combat, because the system doesn't allow you to select a different command - even if you disabled ALL other abilities and tried to fine tune it. Consequently you characters die immediately - which lowers you morale.

6) I have a hard time to build balanced groups. It seems more efficient to build pure magic groups and pure melee groups. A pure healers group can sometimes be efficient, but unfortunately you are sometimes forced tomake them go into close combat which is a suicide mission against some bosses and rare monster.

7) Very frustrating: You DO have some very good spells, but even though you often have enough Action Points (AP) you are denied the ability to tell you guys to use them. This can be extremely frustrating, if you have this spell that wipes out all the enemies at once, but the random generator doesn't allow you to do it ARGH!

8) The game is very sexist! All girls (except for you mom) are dressed like they want to date you and actually even more than that. Most are dressed more fancily than you will ever see a self-respecting woman dress herself. They are all very young and - depending on your taste - very attractive. Lucky me I got the right taste; still it makes the game world less credible.

After all:
If I didn't like the game I wouldn't write so much text. I love it. And I hate it. All game companies should take a look. The highly tactical combat system works after all and proves that turn based combat IS a REAL alternative - if not superior to real time combat.
no problems with low framerates
You mean out of combat...right? I have a more powerful ATI 4870, and every battle looked like another combat scene from the movie "300". The particle effects, and the slow plodding movement with stuttering frames is really quite bad.
Many a board and review site has complained about it.

Maybe you just do not notice it...then you are lucky.

Uninstalled after 20 minutes of the trial.
Now this sounds very interesting.
Nice review, good game, completed it a few days ago :D
played using an 8600 GTS card, runs very smooth with only shadow and effects not on max, except when spells like gae bolg >.> comes on

A few things though :
- max union is 5, but max unit is 18
- if you want to do all the quests (including recruiting one of the best characters IMO and a huge optional dungeon), make sure to read the sidequests guide on the 360 boards on gamefaqs (I used the one on the message boards, but I think the FAQ section one is complete too)
- try playing low BR (avoiding linking battles and avoiding random mobs except forced fights), I find it much more interesting and challenging playing this way, if you battle every monster the boss fights tend to be rather easy

spoilers ahead (nothing that can't be found on The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Cliches though)

@Nils :
1. Yeah, story isn't very good, when it gets somewhat interesting, the game ends :(
2. The sister is far from "unable", both in battle and in cut scenes. And are you talking about the "villain" or the "real villain"? The real villain's motivation gets interesting at the end, but see number 1 :(
3. I really dislike the companion stuff too, there's an edit for the PC to change your companion stuff around, but it feels like cheating because the developers intended for your companion to take specific weapons/accesories.
4. As with every RPG, you can grind stat here too, so difficulty is very relative.
5. See number 6.
6. Ultimately, you WANT to make separate specialist groups, because you can only have 4-5? commands per enemy, having both caster and close combatants will take up another slot that could have been a command to either heal, or stand ground. With specialist groups, I can guarantee every union has at least 1 empty command for stand ground (which is crucial for later fights).
7. IIRC, morale and other stuff gets calculated to determine what actions you can take, and (at least on the PC version) you can disable skills you won't use, so for example if the next fight is against multiple unions, I would disable wind shear, etc and enable permafrost, etc.
8. You must be focusing only on the eye candy characters (Irina, the twins, and my favorite, Roeas :D), because I got the exact opposite reaction from you. The female fighters actually wear armor all over their body (Emma, Glenys, Violet, generic melee soldiers) and the mages wear as much cloth as someone would today (Nora, Khyrnia, generic caster soldiers)
I take it the game doesn't literally play itself, like FFXII did? It seems like the three major activities of FF games are running around, fighting enemies, and watching cutscences. Problem was that FFXII's gambits were sufficiently good at automating combat that it basically became a game of run around, watch your players fight, and watch cut scenes. I would have happily traded it in for a disc with all the cutscenes as a non-interactive movie, so I could have just watched it and been done with it.
I never got that impression of FFXII at all. What is the difference between mashing X for auto-attack and letting them auto-attack yourself? There are more than enough sufficiently hard boss fights that gambits only act as backup strategies in those fights. They just save time in random enemy battles which, hey, I love.

I'm trying out the last remnant demo today, to see if my laptop can handle it.
Did Tobold say that WoW was missing a story?
The problem with WoW isn't that it's missing a story, but that you have too many stories going on at once (up to 25 in your questlog). It's like watching 1 minute from each of 25 DVD's. Until you get to raiding, in which it's the same DVD over and over again, except for the random loot drop at the end.
You mean out of combat...right? I have a more powerful ATI 4870, and every battle looked like another combat scene from the movie "300". The particle effects, and the slow plodding movement with stuttering frames is really quite bad. Many a board and review site has complained about it.

I have no stuttering at all, not even in combat, not even with the larger special effects.

Kind of reminds me when I said that Empire: Total War crashes on my system, and "many a board and review site has complained about it", some people said it wasn't true, because it ran fine on their machine. The truth in both cases is that these games run well on some machines and not so well on others, although I'd say stuttering is less bad than crashing. As only the people who have the problems post about it, it is impossible to say what the percentage of PCs is on which these games don't run well.
I got a 1.5 years old Intel Quad 2,4GHz, 4GB Ram, 8800GTX with Vista 64. At the standard graphics level the game runs 100% smoothly. I didn't see the need to increase the detail level or shadows as the game looks pretty good the way it looks now. However, not even with Gae Bolg firing into a massive endgame battle does it stutter.

One other thing that crossed my mind:
The game is balanced in a very strange way. The abilities of the characters are actually not balanced at all. Some healing spells are a joke, all area spells are devastating against even single opponents etc. It doesn't matter due to the 'random' abilities you are allowed to execute each turn. A very interesting way to balance a game, I think.
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