The market for Japanese Role Playing Games on the PC has never really been one of much largess. The large majority of PC owners tend to stick to the titles that were created for their medium, which usually take advantage of the hardware available to provide more customizable experiences, with additions such as multiplayer or interactive cut scenes. As a result, Western RPGs have always been king on the platform, since the PC has always been a much more US-centric platform then in Japan, where PC Gaming is relatively unpopular.
So it was with some element of surprise that Square Enix announced that PC ports of future titles would be released, the first time since its disastrous (but well intentioned) first attempt with Final Fantasy 7 back in 1998. The first of these was The Last Remnant, originally released on the Xbox360 in 2008. The release was unfortunately marred by terrible engine problems, with everything from slideshow frame rates to texture pop-in. It was with those particular issues that the title suffered almost universal condemnation. So, can the PC version repair the mistakes of its predecessor?
The Last Remnant follows the chronicle of Rush Sykes, a reasonably generic protagonist who witnessed the kidnapping of his sister, Irina, and sets off to find her. Unfortuntely for him, the situation is not that simple. The world is currently at war. The multiple races of the world he inhabits are in a tight struggle over the control of “Remnants”, crystals that tie power to a specific realm. The story is, actually, one of the best I’ve had the pleasure to play through in recent times. With strong political overtones, a dramatic and interesting set of twists and turns, and a great set of supporting roles, you’ll want to play through to the end. Sykes is reasonably irritating, sounding and acting more like a 13yr old boy then the hero the game is trying to make him out to be, but you’ll quickly find that it doesn’t matter.
As the story winds itself around the continent, you’ll meet interesting people, such as Torgal, the leader of the Athlum Army, and The Seven, a group of antagonists that are, for once, generally interesting villains. Cut scenes using the in-game engine push the game along, while the Japanese voice acting track is also very well done. I would specifically avoid using the English one, believe me, there is a reason why the Japanese one is the default. All in all, you’ll definitely enjoy pushing through this game, if for no other reason to find out who comes out on top in the end.
The battle system makes up a large chunk of the game. When you aren’t running around through caves, fields, forests and towns, you’ll be fighting in the absolutely epic fights that litter this game. The only issue is that the battle system can tend to, well, simply ask you a question then take over the rest of the work. There is very little management. Essentially, each member of your party is split up into grounds called “Units”, which make up part of a larger group called “Unions”. You provide battle instructions to each particular unit and watch the battle unfold in front of you. For the most part, the larger then usual battles can get quite exciting, and it’s great to see a Union work together to rip apart the enemy.
But, well, it was hard for me to really enjoy the battles when I was giving up such a large chunk of control over the individual characters. Since the unit operates as a team, you’re simply left to tell that unit to “Attack”, “Heal”, “Use Battle Arts”, “Use Super ability”. The unit, though, is smart enough to differentiate the healers from the fighters, thus not sending your magic user to go smack your enemy for 7HP while your swordsman clumsily throws a heal potion at you. I would have liked the combat system to relinquish a little more control, which I know would have been difficult for some of the larger battles (some can go for 30 mins plus, I’m not joking) but it would have felt good to know I was truly the victor, not the AI.
As the game progresses and your party widens, it becomes easier to create units that suit particular tasks, which removes some of the irritation, and strategy becomes very important. Not only that, but Sykes eventually gets himself some absolutely awesome summons, which have to be seen to believed. The battle system eventually grew on me, and I enjoyed it a lot more then FF12′s, which took far too much control away from you, and removed absolutely any strategy at all. Overall, you will enjoy it, if for no other reason it allows you to watch and appreciate the work gone into it.
But the question, I’m sure, that a lot of you are asking is: Have any fixed the engine issues? My answer is, thankfully, a resounding yes. The game runs flawlessly. The framerate and texture problems are gone and it flows along as a lovely 60FPS. Just be warned, though, that it does require a pretty hefty system to run full screen. I ended up playing it in a window, even with my HD 4570, because in some of the larger battles my PC started to get a little upset. That said, to make sure it wasn’t my PC I installed the game on a friend’s monster rig and it hummed along nicely. Kudos to Square Enix for making an active effort to solve the issues, but it’s a shame the original title was released completely broken.
In terms of graphics, the game looks pretty damn good. It’s sharper and cleaner then the X360 versions, allowing for more powerful graphics cards and resolutions, plus higher levels of anti-aliasing and HDR effects. Most of the gloss has been put into the battles, but some of the locales, with their massive majestic remnants pushing high into the sky, look brilliant. It’s classic Square, and you won’t be disappointed. Sound is similarly good, with dramatic scores in key moments and satisfying battle effects. I must also mention that Square deserve a medal for keeping the 360 controls in the game, it feels very natural to control with a thumbstick then a keyboard.
There’s a few other features of notability too. You can save almost anywhere in the game, which may annoy some, but it avoids the issues surrounding losing a small battle and having to go all the way back to the last point. Unfortunately, it’s easy to die during a long battle and then have to start all over again, so the save system doesn’t really change the difficulty, it just removes pointless frustration.
You can quick jump to specific areas in towns and there’s no need to run all the way from one area to the next manually. It’s a similar system to Final Fantasy Tactics and FFX-2 and works well. Cut scenes can be skipped, whether you have seen them or not. There aren’t many, and they do work into the story, so its worth watching them at least once.
Square Enix have somewhat redeemed themselves. I say that, because this is the version of the game that SHOULD have been released last year, and a lot of people who bought the 360 version should rightfully feel ripped off. The story is fantastic, gameplay is great and you won’t be disappointed with the time you invest in the 40+ hours it provides. But time will tell if people can embrace PC versions of JRPG’s. But in any case, SE should take notice – Ports should not be a second chance draw, it should allow everyone the chance to enjoy a great adventure.
It's now a polished effort, thanks to a reworking of the graphics engine and default Japanese voice acting.
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The battle system is fun, but a lack of micro-management stopped it from being evolutionary. Story is top notch.
Square usually get sound right, the dramatic score and battle effects are great.
It's a 40+ hour jaunt, so you'll get your money's worth, but its doubtful if you'll play through it again.
What was originally a 6.5 JRPG has been reworked and tweaked in multiple areas to become one of the best of this gen.