The Last Remnant came at a strange time for the video game industry. With 2008 drawing to a close, the Xbox 360 was in its prime, taking the world by storm as Sony and its chunkier, pricier console tried to play catch-up. Square Enix was quick to latch onto that early success, releasing a cluster of exclusive JRPGs for the 360 including Lost Odyssey, Infinite Undiscovery, and The Last Remnant. Ultimately, Microsoft’s console never really caught on in Japan and although these games enjoyed cult status among fans of the genre, they’ve remained in limbo ever since. Until now, that is.
The Last Remnant may not be the most notable of the three, but here we are more than decade later playing a remastered version of the intriguing JRPG on PlayStation 4, with a PC version also available. For PlayStation fans, it’s been a frustratingly long wait since Square canned the PS3 release it had originally planned. However, after all these years, it’s a JRPG many will want to rediscover. It’s fascinating yet flawed, with many welcome improvements over the original.
Although not quite on par with Square’s more recent run of games, this remaster looks pretty great on PlayStation 4. Side by side with the 360 original, characters models are imbued with an enhanced level of detail, colours pop, and lighting effects appear more natural. If not for The Last Remnant’s creative art direction – its strange humanoid characters and bizarre menagerie of beasts – this 4K makeover would be far less impressive. Environments, while varied, are your typical patchwork of generic dungeons, caves, and lavish cities, many of which benefit very little from this remaster.
The one part of this game fans point to is its unique battle system. Instead of controlling a small party of heroes, The Last Remnant has you commanding your own battalion of soldiers, broken down into squads or “unions”. While the flow of combat should be familiar to those who’ve played JRPGs in the past, this shift in focus turns what would normally be small skirmishes into larger battles. Unions will clash, unleashing a hail of attacks on one another as they intercept, flank, and attack from the rear, resulting in unpredictable, often perilous, fights to the death.
The fact that health and action points are restored after each battle gives you an excuse to go all out and experiment with different tactics, instead of worrying over how many potions and ethers you have left in your inventory. The Last Remnant breaks conventions elsewhere too. Experience points and levels are sacked off in favour of its vague Battle Rank system, allowing you to command more unions and increasing their size. While there are named protagonists, these characters will be accompanied by nameless grunts you recruit throughout your journey. In an XCOM/Final Fantasy Tactics sort of way, these secondary characters will develop emergent stories of their own as you lead them into battle, unlocking new moves and attributes along the way.
There’s a surprising amount of depth to The Last Remnant’s union system and you’ll quickly find yourself running side missions, grinding out battles to see how your party members continue to improve. Where many older JRPGs suffer from repetitive, drawn out fights, this remaster includes “turbo” toggles to help you blitz through those less exciting stretches of gameplay.
One area Square had no hope of improving was the game’s story. It’s your typical run-of-the-mill fantasy tale of dormant god-like entities and unassuming heroes, but it’s conveyed through some of the cringiest dialogue you’re likely to encounter. Lead protagonist, Rush Sykes, is just about tolerable though talks like a bumbling pre-teen instead of some prophesied saviour. His repeated battle cry of “LLet’s kick some A!” is particularly grating.
It may be ten years late to the party, but there’s still a solid JRPG here to be enjoyed, whether discovering it for first time or revisiting it after a long hiatus. Square has made some clever, non-intrusive revisions to The Last Remnant and is pitching this remaster at a sensible price. It’s by no means essential, fans of the genre will definitely want to take a look.