3 Reviews

The Last Remnant

Last? More like first in a series that's set to run

Why did Square call the original Final Fantasy 'Final Fantasy' back in the 1980s? Given how ambitious the game was, the developer must have had some idea that this was a fledgling series that would run and run.

Jump forwards three decades and the Final Fantasy franchise is still nowhere near being 'final', with multiple sequels, spin-offs and tie-in merchandise. Clearly Square has had time to savour the irony, as its newest game, Last Remnant, is likely to be anything but.

However, trying to capture lightning in a bottle a second time is not something Square is intent on doing, and the attempt at trying something new (fumbled though it is) wins more respect than if the developer had given us an identical match of Final Fantasy.

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What we find here is an approach that is starting to becoming more common in Western games. There is a trend emerging amongst developers to introduce a good, but not fantastic first act, with a mind to improve and develop those new ideas further in a superior sequel.

Assassin's Creed had the look but not the depth, while Gears of War 2 embodied the pitch of "bigger and better".

And that's the dilemma. There's a new genre emerging here, but it's still stuck in the shell of that old RPG mould. Either playing it safe or not fully realising a breadth of ambition Last Remnant could have, Square-Enix is stuck with a compromise. This is a game RPG buffs will appreciate, but there's not enough here to sell it to the masses.

The heart of the new stuff is the battle system. It's crucial to the gameplay, but for a good chunk of the game is a complete headache to understand. You will eventually have one of those nirvana-like gaming moments when it all clicks.

Said moment, however, will come several hours into the game and comes at the sacrifice of messing around with an intricate menu system that'd have Dynasty Warriors fans crying in happiness.

That's the bad, but once the click kicks in, the good becomes very enjoyable. You control not one character, but up to five in a group called a Union. The Union's HP is a collective of all its members. Depending on the story you could be in control of a number of Unions at once, and face off against one enemy or a number of enemy Unions.

There's a lack of dependency on magic attacks like other RPGS. Here, strategy is based on choosing the formation of a Union to max out its potential, and the make-up of its members - the right balance needs to be struck between offensive brawlers and defensive dodgers.

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The positioning of the Unions is important as well; surrounding enemy units or attacking from the rear will yield higher hit points for your attacks, and swing the on-screen Moral meter in your favour. Start doing that and the tide of war shifts your way and increases the chances of stat-based counters and such.

However, Unions aren't divided by an invisible wall and placed calmly across from each other. Like the real battlefield, Unions mingle and mix. Deadlocks are broken and allies can be strengthened by another Union at the next turn.

Time to do battle
The flow of battle is exciting in all the ways RPG battle systems aren't anymore. Initiating Combat Arts, special physical attacks that quickly become the norm in any fight, will kick in a button-pressing QuickTime event for bigger hits.

Unlike other QT events every one is important, possibly ending a fight before the enemy Union can call in reinforcements.

It also looks great. While there are a few frame-rate issues (the battle system suffers as combatant numbers pile up), it's still impressive when you're watching eight fighters tackle each other in quick succession, slicing, blocking and dodging with animation chains you'd never see in the RPG world. Even as you're deciding the moves for your next turn, the battle continues with sword clashes and units shifting side-to-side.

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