To be or not to be… Westernly
Before pointing your fingers towards the daring hairstyle, the huge humid eyes or the ritualized dialogue lines, bear in mind that The Last Remnant is by no means a game with a Shintoist feel about it. It has more to do with the American Chinatown, with myths recycled by a universal humanity, one that continuously cries for what’s generally known as commercial.
Still, Square Enix’s new JRPG has not been entirely swallowed by capitalism. The great Japanese saga is still in there, and manifests itself freely. Just that this one time, the ambitious story has been decorated with billboards and neon brands, meant to make the American tourist feel at home. That is why the developers throw the cliché destiny of Rush Sykes at us from the very beginning. Rush is a kid with hidden powers, who, close to being orphaned, spends his life on an island with his sister Irina. They are both waiting the return of their parents, two scientists trying to unravel the secrets of the Remnants, powerful ancient artifacts.
But the ultra-secret research activities of the parents get the two children into trouble, when Irina is kidnapped by an unknown demonic creature. Thus, players will get into Rush’s shoes in order to reunite him with his sister. Along the way, they will inevitably discover the dormant powers of the Remnants. And, as in any true JRPG, they’ll get their hands dirty with political intrigues, religious fanatics and the eternal struggle between Good and Evil.
Actually, the game begins with a battle between two armies, which will serve as the base for a sturdy friendship between Rush and the Marquis David Nassau. This is where we get to understand the complexity of the world that progressively lures us inside the game. The unnamed world described is not only home to humans, but also hosts unique races, like the Sovanni (feline creatures with four arms) or the reptilian Qsiti.
These creatures are completely suppressed by the power of the silent Remnants, whom they worship in order to be protected from evil. Their blind faith in the artifacts also carves out the social structure of the game. All races live in state-cities ruled by marquises, who are believed to be the direct links to the Remnants and the only ones that can communicate their will. However, the crucial decisions are being taken at the regional level, by a council formed from the leaders of the said city-states.
The complexity of the game has almost no boundaries, as some characteristics of the universe are both absurd and embarrassing at the same time. For example, most city leaders are kids that haven’t even reached puberty yet, while the pumped-up enemies, just as Obelix, seem to have fallen into the magic potion cauldron when they were little.
Moreover, The Last Remnant never ceases to cover a multitude of human aspects, from love to betrayal, to duty towards your followers. The lack of a Glossary or Journal takes its toll here, as the generous range of characters and secondary themes are easily lost in the thickness of the main plot.
And, by the end of it all, this becomes one of the biggest issues in the game: adventurers are not allowed to shape the game universe and they are permanently reminded of the thick mumbo-jumbo of ideas in the background. It’s useless to even try focusing on the main story as, because of the slow pace of leveling up, you will have to complete all uninteresting secondary objectives in order to move on.
The presentation is also a weak point of the game’s universe. The developers have stuck the secondary missions in the same shapeless caves, over and over. NPC models repeat themselves as if in an obsessive nightmare and the cities, although dominated by the wonderful view of Remnants, are usually small square maps that shelter the Guild, Shops and the Tavern where you go looking for missions. It is then to no surprise that the game doesn’t offer much besides the storyline.
The only reward you get for thoroughly exploring levels is gray and faded textures, in full contrast with the colored and deeply cultural cut scenes. Guild objectives are useless and they function as absurd achievements you only know of after you have unlocked them. NPC dialogues resemble five o’clock news and it’s highly unlikely that a person you’ve just met will share all his or her lifetime experience with you anyway. At times, you’ll even get the feeling that, while trying to make the RPG elements of the game more compelling, the developers only managed to complicate perfectly working mechanism.
For example, you can improve your weapons by collecting raw materials from the environment, or as loot from defeated enemies. But the required elements, as well as the place where they can be found are never obvious. You’ll end up with a lot of junk in your inventory and with a deep confusion on whether you’re supposed to keep everything or sell. And it’s even more frustrating when you realize that most of the loot is rubbish, as you never get more than a common talisman when looting corpses.
Rush’s armor can only be changed by progressing in the storyline (he receives a ceremonial armor gift). And, as a bonus, the quality of the loot is strictly correlated to the difficulty of the battle, worse than in World of Warcraft. But this mechanism doesn’t manage to make your fictional existence more interesting.