Guest Author - Lisa Shea
"The Last Remnant" is a strategy RPG (with more of the latter than the former) produced by Square-Enix using the Unreal 3 engine. It stands as a bit of a departure from regular Square-Enix RPGs in a lot of ways, and while it has its attractions as an overall product it's somewhat disappointing.
TLR plays like an RPG, except that every "unit" is actually a small squad made up of 1 to 5 people. These "unions" are given orders as a group - a union can be assigned to attack, to use magic, to heal, and so on. The "strategy" element comes into it during combat; unions attacking enemies will "deadlock" them, preventing them from moving to attack other units. A union that engages an already-deadlocked unit with flank them, doing more damage. The goal, then, is to use your more powerful unions to engage enemies directly and keep them out of the path of your support unions (healers and mages, for example).
While this may sound simple, the orders you can give your units vary based on context. Depending on unit class (which is affected by actions in battle), you may not get the orders you need at the right time. For example, sometimes units can be told to retreat - and sometimes they can't. You only get five orders at a time, and if the one you need isn't on the list for that turn, there's not much you can do except watch your units die.
The game treats experience unusually, as well; by going into battle, your active units increase their hit points and so on, but do not "gain levels". Your "battle rank" serves as an overall status bar, but it also powers up enemies as you go higher. Essentially, the game levels up dynamically, which means that unless you unlock new skills, you're not really making any process by fighting enemies. The game doesn't really tell you this, though; it's something you'd only learn by referring to guides or the internet. In fact, that's really the game's biggest problem: It doesn't really tell you how to play it.
Consider, for example, the fact that you can't give your allies items unless they specifically ask for them. This means that while you may have up to 18 people in your active party, you cannot specifically choose to give them weapons or items. Instead, each character will have items that they'll ask for (if you have them), as well as a list of components they'll request in order to upgrade their current weapons. On the other hand, components themselves are a giant mistake as well; some of them can only be found in literally one spot in the entire world, and even in that spot there is a small chance of actually getting it (so you might never even know it was that spot unless you looked it up). These kinds of things abound in the game, and can have effects on your gameplay without you ever having any reason to assume it.
The game's graphics are probably its best feature. As mentioned, you can have up to 18 people on the field at a time, and battles really seem like frantic melees. The range of soldiers available is fairly diverse as well, so even using generic units you'll feel like your party has variety. Cities tend to be designed uniquely, while dungeons feel much more generic and low-quality. The sound design is decent, but not particularly enjoyable or memorable.
As a whole The Last Remnant is a fun game, but not a good game. It's worth it if you want to watch the battles, because (rare for an RPG) the combat is actually pretty fun and interesting. However, the frustration factor and the amount of complexity hinders its value as an actual game. What's especially notable about it is that the Xbox 360 version of the game is even worse; there was a huge number of improvements added to the PC version, and it's still a ridiculous mess.
Buy The Last Remnant from Amazon.com