All the good The Last Remnant's battle system brings to the JRPG table is undermined by how stale the rest of the game feels. It's been designed to appeal to Westerners in a way Square Enix's previous role-playing games haven't, but we can't see much of a difference except that there's unrealistic looking and sounding blood (the first time blood has ever appeared in a SE game). The Conqueror, The Last Remnant's big bad guy, has apparently been designed with Westerners in mind, but it seems all that's different between him and FFVII's Sephiroth is that he's older and got more muscles. And the motion capture has been done with Western actors, another first, but you'd be hard pressed to tell.
The complex story is classic JRPG - an enthusiastic teenage boy, in this case called Rush Sykes, sets forth on a save the world adventure after his sister is kidnapped by awful beasties. He eventually meets up with the brilliantly named King David (called Dave by Rush), whose Western voice actor can't seem to decide whether he's Captain Jack Sparrow or Will Turner. Together with Dave's four generals, Torgal, a four armed cat thing, Blocter, a huge tank class with platypus lips, Emma, a matriarchal humanoid with a sexy posh English voice and Pagus, the love child of Kermit the Frog and Jar Jar Binks, Rush plays a key role in a war over the Remnants, powerful artefacts that can be used as powerful weapons. Because we've seen this kind of set up in a million JRPGs before The Last Remnant's story is depressingly predictable. Dogged fans of the genre will like it of course, but we're getting tired of playing annoying teenage leads in coming of age adventures.
Exploration also offers little new. From a third-person perspective Rush runs about town, talks to NPCs, sells bits he's picked up on his travels, buys stuff, improves the quality of his existing equipment (party members look after their own equipment, in keeping with the hands-off nature of the game) and embarks on side quests (which automatically teleport you to the appropriate area and back when finished, giving the game an odd, disjointed pace). Out in the wild, The Last Remnant feels very FFXII, granting the ability to run by monsters and pick and choose your fights. This doesn't prevent you getting bogged down in the 'grind' though. There are boss fights and core story dungeons that force you to go off somewhere and level up for a few hours in order to make them beatable. Again, there will be fans of the genre who enjoy this, but we've been here, done that and got an inventory full of t-shirts. If nothing else, The Last Remnant hammers home the uncomfortable truth that SE JRPGs haven't significantly evolved since FFVII, and that game's over 10 years old.
The graphics are at times stunning. The cities have a wonderfully executed Arabic-influenced design with vistas you can't help but gawp at. Each main city houses a Remnant which usually towers above all the other buildings, and stopping to pan the camera so you can take in the enormity of these artefacts provide the game's graphical highlights. The main characters themselves are brilliantly designed, impressively detailed and varied enough to stand out from each other. Rush disappoints somewhat in this respect in that he looks relatively normal, but the other party members are guaranteed to stick in the memory. Emma is great, as is The Conqueror, who reeks of power but isn't obviously evil. The in-game cut scenes allow the characters to shine, although it's a shame that the walking animations are so wooden (characters turn on the spot before moving in a direction, in ye olde Resident Evil-style).
Any brownie points the graphics score are eradicated by the crippling technical issues anyone without a hard drive to install the game on will unavoidably suffer. Played from the disc, the game suffers from awful slowdown, horrible texture pop in and tiresome loading. During battles involving more than four or so Unions, the game will slow to a crawl when anything other than a simple sword slice is triggered. Character and environment textures will sometimes pop in sometimes five seconds after a scene loads, which, frankly, is unforgivable. And the game loads what feels like every five minutes - before a fight, after a fight, in between cut scenes... all the bloody time. It's so bad that we can't actually recommend The Last Remnant to anyone who doesn't have an Xbox 360 hard drive.
Installed, The Last Remnant runs much better, so much so that you can't believe it's the same game. When textures do pop in it's after half a second not five, and slowdown is less noticeable. The loading, too, is reduced. Still, compared to other games it's a lacklustre effort, and feels rushed out the door without optimisation. Either that or the development team simply couldn't get to grips with the Unreal Engine 3, the first time Epic's much licensed engine has been used by SE.
At the end of the day, The Last Remnant is a stale JRPG with interesting combat and lovely graphics that's crippled by technical deficiencies. It's a good game when installed, and is unquestionably better than Infinite Undiscovery, but there's nothing here to make it worth recommending if you're anything but a die hard SE JRPG fan. The pressure on Final Fantasy XIII increases.