You’d be forgiven if, when watching the surprise announcement of The Last Remnant Remastered coming to Switch, your first thought was “What?” Though the The Last Remnant has largely been forgotten in the current gaming industry, it once hopefully represented the future of Square Enix, with the president of the legendary company even describing it prior to release as the “cornerstone” of their entire global strategy. The Last Remnant was one of the first major releases from Square Enix on HD consoles (beating Final Fantasy to the punch by a couple years) and it was also the first title simultaneously released worldwide from the company. From its conception, it was ambitiously designed to be a project that would appeal to the cultural interests of both the east and the west. By all counts, The Last Remnant was supposed to be a smash hit that would change the industry forever, but after being met with lukewarm reception and low sales, it fizzled out with barely a whimper and was swept under the rug.

All of this is to say, it was rather strange when Square Enix decided to remaster a game few asked for and put it out on the PS4 this past winter, and that re-release did little to rekindle interest in the ill-fated IP. Now it’s found its way to the Switch (perhaps out of some last-ditch effort to get audiences interested) and while it isn’t nearly as bad as some may make it out to be, The Last Remnant Remastered proves to be too inconsistent an experience to rise to greatness. There are some great ideas here, and it deserves to be commended for the effort it put into breaking genre conventions, but the final product just never ties together all these cool ideas in a meaningful way.

The story is set in a high-fantasy world of warring city-states in which humans and many animal-inspired races coexist, though none of these other races have histories that are all that fleshed out. Our main hero is Rush Sykes, a naïve boy whose parents are researchers at an academy that studies Remnants, powerful magical artefacts typically used in battle by various city-states. Rush’s sister, Irina, gets spirited away by a sinister magician and his flying Remnant, and Rush enlists the help of David, the Marquis of a nearby city-state, and his posse. What starts as a simple quest to retrieve Rush’s lost sister quickly snowballs into a much larger conflict with a mysterious antagonist named “The Conqueror” over the fate of the world and the source of the remnants scattered throughout.

As far as JRPG stories go, the plot of The Last Remnant Remastered is about as ‘okay’ as it gets, featuring a wealth of clichés and predictable plot points that are all par for the course. Writing and characterization is all over the place throughout, too, with Rush coming off as a rather unlikable idiot and many of the main secondary characters having few defining traits to make them memorable. This is all capped off by the hit-or-miss voice acting, which can lead to some unintentionally comical scenes with uncomfortably long pauses between characters that are supposed to be having ‘natural’ conversations. You’ll likely reach the end of this one satisfied with how the story went, but we didn’t find ourselves wishing to hear more stories set around these characters or the overall world. For a game that was supposed to boldly launch a new direction for Square Enix, it’s rather disappointing that the plot turned out so ho-hum.

Luckily, the SRPG-like battle system proves to be a far more memorable element of The Last Remnant Remastered, offering up an experience that’s quite unlike anything else found in other JRPGs. Rather than taking control of a small party of three or four characters at a time, you’re placed in charge of potentially dozens at a time, which are all organized into smaller groups called “Unions”. Battles are still turn-based in nature, but place much greater emphasis on positioning and placement. For example, attacking an enemy union engaged in combat with another union will allow you to flank them and do extra damage. Strategic moves like this will then move the morale gauge at the top of the screen forward or back a certain distance, which will affect how likely your units are to block attacks and land critical hits. If you’re not careful with how you direct your units or group them, it can be all too easy for enemies to crush your morale and, in turn, your party members.

Rather than having you issue commands to each of the units individually, you put out more generalized commands to unions that encourage them to use skills in certain areas. For example, you may ask one union to use combat arts and its members will then fulfill the order to the best of their ability, with some using one of their combat arts and others just using basic attacks. Though fascinating in how unconventional it is, this system of generalized orders leads to a rather irritating flaw in the battle system.

The problem is that the orders you can offer aren’t consistent, and almost seem to be picked at random each turn. For example, two orders that typically show up each turn are those that allow you to tell your units to use combat arts or mystic arts, but sometimes one of those won’t show up in a later turn for no discernible reason. Similarly, we’ve sometimes been faced with the same order showing up twice in the same turn, with one copy being notably more effective than the other. Why is this the case? Your guess is as good as ours. Not knowing what you’ll be able to do next turn makes it difficult to plan out longer term strategies in certain battles, and proves to be frustrating in the long run.

This speaks to a much larger issue with The Last Remnant Remastered as a whole, and its utter failure to explain many of its complicated mechanics in a satisfactory way. The worst offender of this is the character progression system, which eschews the typical level-based structure of an RPG in favor of something much more esoteric and confusing. Using a weapon causes characters to learn new arts in that weapon class at random intervals, often mid-battle, and the stats they gain afterwards are seemingly handed out with no rhyme or reason whatsoever. Why did their HP rise after that fight? Why did this character change classes? What does the “Authority” stat do? What about the “Love” stat? Hopefully you have a wiki on hand, because there are no answers to be found anywhere in the game itself.

To make things even worse, The Last Remnant Remastered can count itself among the few RPGs that can actively be played wrong. See, every cleared enemy encounter causes your “Battle Rank” to slowly rise, which both allows characters to learn new arts and makes all enemies progressively stronger. You can’t lower your Battle Rank once it’s gone up, so if you happen to get a decent amount of the way into the plot and realize that you have a poorly specced team, you’re basically out of luck. Raising new characters to be on par with your older ones is a monumental task when you have to pit them against enemies that are scaled way higher than them, and it only becomes more difficult a task as it goes on due to the Battle Rank steadily rising from your grinding. Backwards as it may seem, the Battle Rank system means that you’re best served fighting as few enemies as possible until you hit a certain point where things go hard the other way and you’re best served fighting every enemy. By the way, the Battle Rank is never explained to you in-game, it’s another hugely important element of progression that’s simply left to be ‘figured out’.

There’s nothing wrong with an RPG experimenting with new progression mechanics and battle systems. In fact, it’s something to be welcomed and celebrated. But in breaking new ground, it’s inescapably important that the RPG communicates the importance and meaning of its new mechanics to the player. The Last Remnant Remastered completely ignores this; not only does it bafflingly refuse to explain hugely important aspects of its progression and battle system, but it then actively punishes you for not understanding those elements. Luckily, there’s a wealth of fan-curated online guides that explain the important points, but when you have to read a guide before playing a game due to a well-founded fear that you could very well completely and irreversibly screw yourself further down the line, something is wrong at a foundational level in the game itself.

It’s a real shame, too, because once you actually know what you’re doing, The Last Remnant Remastered can prove to be a wonderfully enjoyable experience. Battles are kept interesting by their strategic depth and the presence of occasional “Critical Trigger” moments that offer up mid-battle quick time events which can grant extra damage. Character growth is manageable and fairly customizable once you understand how various stats and class changes are triggered. Dozens of hours of side quests and several whole locations are just waiting to be experienced, if you know what steps to take before they’re permanently locked away. Under the surface, there’s a stellar RPG to be found here, it’s just all buried beneath opaque mechanics and poorly written tutorials; this is the sort of game that, if you enjoy it at all, you do so in spite of all the ways that it bizarrely tries to make itself uninteresting and confusing.

The overworld isn’t fully traversable, you instead go through a series of self-contained dungeons, cities, and semi-open environments scattered as points across the world map. Dungeon designs are about as straightforward as they come, but things are made blessedly less frustrating through the absence of random encounters. Every enemy roams the world freely, granting you the chance to avoid fights you don’t want to be in and allowing you to initiate the ones that you do. This is even turned into its own clever mechanic, where you can slow down time and ‘chain’ together several enemies, causing a more difficult fight that grants better rewards. Still, it’s a bit frustrating that most enemies don’t drop any gold, instead dropping parts that you then have to sell for gold back in town. The universal lack of direction can make it difficult to know which parts are ‘safe’ to get rid of and which will be necessary for character progression later on.

This being the remastered version of the original release, there’s plenty of quality of life changes and updates that have been made that improve on the overall experience. This port is based on the later PC release of The Last Remnant, which means that several mechanics (like that cursed Battle Rank) are made a little more forgiving and palatable, while new additions have been made to smooth out slower sections. For example, you can tap the ‘L’ button at the start of a turn in battle to drastically speed up the animations of all the fighting that follows, which shortens battle time considerably. On top of this, you can even hold the button down in the overworld to speed up traversal, a welcome feature borrowed from many of the recent Final Fantasy re-releases. This is all brought home by the enhanced graphics and presentation, which look pretty sweet whether playing docked or handheld.

A big complaint about The Last Remnant when it released was the heinous texture pop-in that made many scenes and environments feel oddly janky as they noticeably loaded in new textures. All those performance issues are gone now, and the new character models and textures have a pleasingly detailed appearance that can look surprisingly realistic in many places. This realism is made possible in large part by the impressive dynamic lighting, which draws some of the best shadows we’ve seen yet in a Switch game. Granted, the underlying structure certainly feels dated by modern standards, a lot of environments are just a bit too ‘flat’ and basic, but the environments are at least presented in the most colorful and eye-catching way possible. Compared to even the recent Final Fantasy remasters, we’d rank The Last Remnant Remastered quite favorably by its visuals.

This is all backed by a well-produced and diverse soundtrack that keeps things interesting from stem to stern. All the typically epic, sweeping tracks for overworld exploration are present and accounted for, but The Last Remnant Remastered likes to surprise every now and then with an unconventional track that takes things in an interesting direction, like the Dream Theater-esque main battle theme that incorporates plenty of hard rock elements. It’s clear that a lot of thought and time went into making this soundtrack just right and we’re thrilled at the quality of the final result here, even if we’re miffed that the same attention to quality wasn’t paid to the rest of the game.

Conclusion

The Last Remnant Remastered is the sort of game that we wish we could recommend more highly. Though it has plenty of interesting ideas, like the Union battle system and the SaGa-esque character progression, these are all so mired in obscurity and confusion that their impact is considerably lessened or nullified outright. The Last Remnant Remastered is the best ‘bad’ RPG out there; it’s a game that undeniably has some excellent qualities, but it can never manage to get out of its own way. If you can get past the hokey tutorials and confusing mechanics, The Last Remnant Remastered on the Switch stands as one of (if not the) best versions available, as the enhanced visuals and quality of life improvements are now offered alongside the ability to play on the go. We’d give this one a very light recommendation; if you’re an RPG nut and you have the mettle to get through the more frustrating entries of the genre, this is the game for you. If not, we’d recommend you take a pass.