Friday, July 2, 2010

Last Remnant - Part Three

I've covered the story and characters pretty thoroughly, so now it's time to get to the nitty-gritty and talk about the actual gameplay in Last Remnant. On the surface LR is a turn-based RPG, one of those affairs where the action pauses so each side can determine how they want to proceed. While that's certainly the case, LR eschews standard character-based combat and replaces it with an emphasis on squads. You arrange your various characters into groups (up to 5), which then attack, defend, heal, or whatever as a team. You don't actually get to pick an individual action for each character (a good thing, since you'll eventually be commanding 15 at a time), but rather give each squad a general command (raise your HP, attack with special abilites, etc.) and then they follow as best they can.

It's an interesting system that greatly streamlines command inputs while still allowing for large-scale confrontations with enemy troops. The issue comes, however, with the fact that each squad receives a set of possible commands (mostly at random) from which you can choose, regardless of whether your preferred action is there or not. This comes into play especially when one of your squads has taken a lot of damage - you'll be looking for an option to heal (or at least pull back and regroup), but it's quite possible that the only options available will involve rushing headlong into the fight. It's a system that creates a strong (and largely unwelcome) element of luck. Indeed, I had instances where I got party-wiped in a boss fight because I drew a series of unfortunate command options, then tried again and won easily because I got healing and special attack options when I need them.

The lack of control over your characters aside, I will say that battles are cinematic masterpieces in this game. You really get a sense of ebb and flow as the tide of battle turns over the course of a big showdown (especially with the bosses). In that sense, LR achieved something I hadn't seen before - squad-based RPGs are not common.

Other positives about gameplay:
- No random see enemies on the screen and can avoid them if you don't want to battle. Very handy when backtracking so you don't have to waste time fighting worthless enemies.
- You don't control equipment and ability upgrades for your companions. They ask for equipment that you recover, and you can choose to give it to them or not. It's nice to avoid micromanaging a couple dozen characters, though occasionally you'll end up with a Sword of Awesomeness that's going to waste while your buddies are fighting with sharp sticks.
- There are a lot of side quests, hidden bosses, and special equipment to be found if you're looking. There's plenty of incentive to explore thoroughly, and the rewards are quite worthwhile.

So much to like in LR, and yet there's two MAJOR holes that tarnish the experience.

1. As a piece of software, LR on the Xbox 360 is essentially broken. Stuttering, slow-down, massive frame drops during battle...the developers should be embarrassed that they sent this game out the door. And it's no occasional thing either, something that could have slipped through the cracks in play testing. Every battle is marred by graphical glitches and frame rate issues. They knew this game was not fit to be released, and then they released it anyway. Poor form Square-Enix.

2. LR features the most screwed up leveling system ever devised. That is no's terrible. The way it works is that you army as a whole levels together after a number of battles. However, individual characters gain strength by battling specific (tough) enemies that trigger statistical increases. What's really crazy is that the level of your army is practically inconsequential in determining how battle-ready you are, while statistical increases to individuals is paramount to victory against the tougher bosses in the game.

That may not have made much sense, so let me bottom line what it means to you, the player. The more you fight, the more your army level goes up in relation to your individual characters. Thus, fighting a lot means that you get WEAKER AND WEAKER relative to the tougher enemies. Think about that...the more experience you gain, the WORSE your team fights. The key to raising a strong party? Dashing around the map and avoiding enemies as much as possible until you get to a spot where you can battle the special "character improvement" monsters. Then grind like hell beating them over and over until you're super powerful. If you don't do it that way, you may find at the end of the game that your characters are simply too weak to continue, with little means of improving.

What a backwards, asinine system. It encourages you to skip the actual "game" part of the game as much as possible and PUNISHES you for having the audacity to try improving your roster at the beginning of the game. And don't even get me started about the fact that LR offers you the chance to recruit an enormous number (50+?) of unique generals into your army, but actually using a variety of allies rather than the same ones every time will practically doom you to failure.

The worst part? None of this is explained by the game or in the manual. If you search message board threads about LR, you'll find dozens of people complaining that they got to the end game and were too weak to continue. These people invested dozens of hours into the game playing in a manner that they thought would make their team strong, only to discover that they were RIGHT FUCKED and had to start over. Folks, that is the definition of bad video game design.

So in the end, we have a game with great protagonists and not a single decent villain. A complex political plot that falls apart at the end. A unique and engaging squad-based combat system that's done in by buggy coding. A deep customization system that's complimented by numerous side quests and then SHAT UPON by a bass-ackwards leveling mechanic that potentially ruins the game for many players.

I alternately loved and hated this game, so why do I find myself hoping they'll make another one???


  1. "No random see enemies on the screen and can avoid them if you don't want to battle. Very handy when backtracking so you don't have to waste time fighting worthless enemies."

    Awe. Some!

    *snicker* shat upon *hehe*

  2. I dig your blog so I'd like to pass The Versatile Blogger Award along to you. Cheers!