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SummaryThe Game of Counterintuitive Whims
The GoodIt's fun, especially regarding its (turn-based) battles. You control a max of 5 squads of up to 5 people/beastpersons each, and so does the enemy, and you position them in order to tank the tanks and flank the squishies - melee is good against individual targets and magic is good against high-density groups. Your control of these squads is restricted to broad orders: prioritize melee, prioritize destroying the leader of a squad, prioritize magic, heal yourself or others, use your plot character magic nuke powers, etc. You *can* micromanage them by forbidding certain skills (so that your dumb hunks don't waste their time trying to cast inefficient magic and your squishy magi don't bother flailing their wands around too much), but it's also a lot of fun to just let them go wild and learn a thousand different things - the game has only a couple of stopgap bosses that may have you changing your strategies and imposing bans, and a truckload of optional ones that *will* screw you up. Unless you're using a guide, which is fine, as we'll see in the Bad Things section.
Anyhow, I must reiterate it's *fun* - all those numbers and names and different-colored items and everyone seems to have a special stat besides the usual ones (Str, Int and Def), with names like Leadership or Fortune or even Misfortune and Selfishness, and there's a thousand different class names like DEATHKNIGHT!!! and Marauder and Assassin and some more exotic stuff. These variations usually bear little effect on the gameplay, but it's all so cute, watching them grow in their myriad and mysterious ways. Like good literature. Sometimes you wish the game had some sort of HUDless replay function, because it's aesthetics are very flashy and nice without suffering the limp color-and-magic saturation high-fantasy settings may be burdened with, especially jRPG ones - swords hit and explode with bright white magic and you bombard mooks with searing meteors and it all feels quite kinetic. If you miss having some input (as a kind-hearted commander who wants to cheer his soldiers on, if you're like me), the game offers QTEs you can perform to let them do critical hits. If you hate QTEs (I generally do, but they're not the bad type in this case, like, perhaps, The Witcher 2's surprise boss laggy input torture sessions), you can make the computer skip all that, the tradeoff here being that sometimes the critical hit prompts will fail. By assuming this soft control, you can ensure maximum damage. Neat.
So: if you feel some sort of wonder at the autonomous nature of generic soldiers in Dynasty Warriors-type games, as well as the multitudes-per-party of, say, Yggdra Union, and enjoy watching all of them grow and gain new impractical-looking weapons and do ever crazier pirouettes, sort of like animals in a management sim, and if you enjoy a lot of stats popping up without the irritation of micromanaging and "OH NO MY BUILD IS RUINED!!!!", this is the game for you and also I love you.
You can even arrange your guys' formations by choosing premade ones you acquire by doing quests or looting chests. Some formations strengthen your attack and leave you super vulnerable, some raise your frontal defense and leave you open to backstabbery, some lets you put your mages on the back row to boost their magic damage, cool stuff.
It's so fun, BTW, that the dungeons are nice too and don't feel like a chore - unless you're hunting rare spawns (a Super Palette Swap of other monsters) for ingame prizes and crafting, as they can be quite a pain and never appear despite you having entered and exited the same zone 15 times in a row - and they can also appear in very remote dungeon areas and your third-person protagonist isn't exactly fast. Nevertheless, the game feels quite elegant with its short dungeons and universal treasure chests, minimalistic even, in spite of its fruit-salad nature.
It also runs really great. All hail the Unreal Engine.
The BadIn a fruit salad, you may sometimes not like one fruit or another; that seems to be a common design flaw in jRPGs and cRPGs alike: sift through the chaff to find what you really want. And that is extra bad here because The Last Remnant lacks any sort of search function besides broad categories - Consumables, Crafting Components, Special/Quest Items and so on. And since there's a thousand different little items and monster parts you'll get, good luck figuring out whether you have the Gold Death Necrodragon Bonemetal the friend you hired needs.
This is one of The Last Remnant double-edged swords: it doesn't escape micromanaging all that well, because micromanaging returns in the form of constant nagging by your soldiers to bring X so that they can upgrade their weapons (fortunately the only equippables in this game are Weapons, Shields and Accessories, another great minimalistic counterbuffering to the schizophrenia-inducing sea of names), and they won't stop bothering you until you bring them their crafting stuff or hit some level threshhold in which the game gives them better yet generic weapons. And upgrading weaponry by crafting is worth it, so you'll find yourself pressed to fetch a thousand buckets of crab blood or whatever, MMO-like. Luckily, this nagging happens only while you're on the world map, after raiding some combat zone or progressing the plot.
Micromanaging also returns in the form of how your fellows may appropriate weapons and accessories you're not using - this produces the nice effect of showing your characters' autonomy, as I've infatuatedly described above, yet it also traps you into nervously checking the wiki to see if the item they want is actually useful to them. They may be a big hulking fishman with a trident that looks more like some sort of missile and they may want your Amulet of Super Ultra Magic Buff for no exact reason.
This brings us to another thing I've briefly mentioned: guides. Consulting them. There's an excellent TLR wiki and you shouldn't feel guilty about consulting it - TLR is a very gifted, very special game that doesn't know how to communicate. What is this? Where to go now? How many crab blood buckets do I have to gather now? Your're outta luck. Your quest log won't tell anything useful and the game explains jack with regard to stats, and some of its mechanics only come to light when surprise bigass Hell Gate gimmick monster comes along. Which is not the end of the world, still, as it is a very fun game and even losing is fun; I retried a boss fight about 20 times and did not regret it, and the game (at least in the PC version) has the kindness of you giving you a turbo mode that speeds up animations substantially, which you can pair with the computer-does-the-criticals mode for a deluxe ticket to the Land of Non-Infuriating Repetition.
Oh, yeah, and you might have heard of this game's infamous difficulty-balancing method: things scale along and you're punished for playing the game as it's seemingly meant to be played. It's not as bad as in the Xbox version, apparently, but here's the gist of how not to incur Bullshit System's Wrath: fight while letting a few of your people die and taking longer than it's necessary, because then the Doomsday Clock called Battle Ranking will tick less. Battle Ranking raises enemy HP and damage and reduces stat rewards, which can gimp you somewhat if you're not careful. Nothing like bonking your rubber swords against a sewer rat for forever to gain an insignificant Number increase, even though the game upgraded such rat to Vorpal Sewer Rat +3; good luck repeating that until Big Nuking Stone Robot Dragon doesn't TPK you on the second round.
And of course, there's the plot. I actually like it because it's so light on lore jargon and pretension. It's straightforward: you are the Generic Protagonist Teenager Boy of this Medievalish Steampunky Final Fantasy World and you are looking for your Generic Innocent Perfect Sister, whom a bunch of sinister-looking wizards kidnapped in the intro. While stumbling along the woods with bitterness and abandon, you come upon a big battlefield where an army of monsters is about to be clashed with by Blonde Lithe Temperate Leader Boy Tritagonist's army of rough-looking bronze-clad men, big muscular fishmen, four-armed catmen and tiny Yoda lizardmen. You mistake one of the army's generals, a badass dual-wielding sword lady, for your sister and true to your name (you're called Rush... Sykes... rushed! psyched! impulsive! dumb!!!!!) you rush madly into the midst of the battlefield yelling your sister's name, and Blonde Leader yells charge and casts a Nuke Spell and you fall into the bowels of the earth. Pissed-off sword lady and you make your way back into daylight, and Blonde Leader who conveniently awaits at the cavern's mouth thanks you, and as a token of his gratitude invites you into his entourage of soldiers. His name is David and you call him Dave and hug him and are almost beaten by his Four Generals (lady Human General, Fishman General, Catman General, Yodalizard General), and yet for some miracle David really likes you and you're pardoned and not beheaded in public for your indiscretion towards Blonde Leader, who's actually the ruler of a city and fights for justice. Thus begins an epic saga with its heroes, Kefka-laughing aristocrat schemer types, evil wizards, Chewbaccas and Yodas.
(One could make quite an interesting study of Squeenix's beastmen stereotypes: take the newest Final Fantasy Tactics games for instances. Your Big Lugs, Nimble Elven and Kooky Halfling types are there: big lizardmen, lithe rabbitwomen and scholarly dogmen. The Last Remnant: big fishmen, four-armed catmen and Yoda lizardmen. Bonus points if they're represented in-game by a single sex, even if in the lore there may be, say, female bigfishmen.)
Here's something nice, though - I know it's the Bad Things section, but enh, let's go wild: what is The Last Remnant? You'll find out, and it's pretty interesting, doesn't wind up in Big Final World Eater Monster territory. Alright, it *kinda* does, but let's just say there's an interesting Blade Runner-ish element to it before anything gets spoiled. Let's content ourselves with knowing that Remnants are Ye Ancient Machines of a Previous Civilization, and they come in many forms. It's very cute that they come in any forms: from small keys to big stone dragons and even mecha-like robot angels (Evangelion/Xenogears/Zone of Enders-inspired, most likely), as well as buildings, obelisks or just blobs and rainbows of light. The game never explains them verbosely and detailedly, but it's fine. Very fine. In an age of endless flaccid loreblabber/worldbuilding, the silence and vagueness of giant static scorpoid hulks and floating oil blobs in the background tells wonders. TLR is a very pretty game, and it's a delight to roam its cities, all of which have some different archictecture stereotype and giant Remnants. Nothing like staring at the distances behind a Notarabic Sultan's Castle and seeing a mysterious giant monsters who barely moves. Not even the game's sporadic growths of Nomura belts and eyepatches can soil that: in fact, the Nomura cancer in this game seems to be benign, not bothering the eye and even... making some abstract, far away sense?... perhaps.
Still, the counterintuive design infiltrates these wonders: most of the cities are optional. There's a *lot* of optional and missable content, missable in the sense that if you do not hit some triggers at exact points, you may as well whisper nevermore. E.g. if you don't speak to the Fishman Duke of Optional Fish City between a series of Climactic Battles against the Six Evil Generals in their Six Different Fortresses you will forever miss the chance of doing Fishman Duke's mission and even getting his Lovecraftian assistance as a party member. This is not a game for those squeamish about ludonarrative dissonance: things are urgent, but you can always take a gigantic ten-city tour in search of sidequests. You don't wanna FOREVER MISS them, do you?