Last Remant is pretty daunting game when it comes to amount of different mechanics. Sure, it’s not Crusader Kings II, but it still has plenty of different options and strategies to consider. Luckily they aren’t introduced immediately, but piece after piece during the game. Even after several hours of playing the game new skills and mechanics pop up and give player new option. This makes learning them somewhat easier, as you don’t have to memorize everything in one go. However, sometimes it’s difficult to gauge what skills are good and what are not that great. Seems that this is one of those games where the community wikis and guides are extremely valuable.
Gameplay wise the game consists of few modes: watching cut scenes, exploring city or some other friendly location (including visiting pubs, stores and such), exploring dungeon or some other dangerous location and fighting. Walking between interesting locations is completely skipped (which I found really nice), you just select a destination on map and immediately arrive there. New locations are revealed as game progresses. Especially nice this is when one needs to travel from one side of the map to other side. It also increases density of interesting choices per minute, which helps the otherwise slow pacing of the game.
Did I mention already that the game is pretty slow? Because it is, at least when following the main story line. Story is being told with cut scenes and there is plenty of them. They are otherwise nicely done, but the sheer amount of them make game feel slow. They do tell the reason why player is roaming around the countryside and thus are essential, but I sort of wished they had been a bit shorter or a bit more fast paced. While a cut scene is played, player has nothing else to do but watch. They can’t participate to story in any way and after a while it starts to feel like a drag.
The map system saves quite a bit of hassle though, thus speeding up the game. I already mentioned ability to travel between interesting locations on the overworld map. Similar system is in use in cities, where different districts are shown on overall map and player can quickly jump between them. While walking inside a district, mini map makes navigation a breeze. Different stores (which are also shown on the city map, so no need to hunt down the right district in order to buy those herbs that you want) are shown with clear symbols and characters that can be talked are highlighted on minimap. On top of that, characters who actually have something important to say are highlighted with different colour, thus removing the need to talk each and every citizen of a city.
Most of the actual game play is spent in combat. While the combat is turn based, it’s not your typical stand in line, everybody attacks on their turn type of event. Instead of acting alone, units (characters) are grouped into unions, with special bonuses and drawbacks and each union attacks, uses items and such on their turn. Game also models swirling melee in a refreshing way. A small minimap shows location of each union and during the combat they move freely around the field. As soon as swords are crossed, union becames deadlocked and can’t disentangle or perform certain other activities without penalty. Nice little touch is possibility to have combat animations play in turbo speed, so you don’t necessarily have to spend time watching those same attacks play out time after time (there is variation, but it still gets repetitive at some point).
Combat system encourages on ganging up. First unit attacking a regular enemy unit merely deadlocks it, second and third perform flanking attack which gives them boost on damage and third (and subsequent I suspect) get to do rear attack with even higher boost. Sometimes it makes sense to break a deadlock with an enemy unit and take penalty doing so, if your own union gets to perform a rear assault or otherwise change the tide of battle.
Most units of course have their special skills and abilities and while game progresses on of the key tasks is managing who gets to join the battle field and in which union. Amount and size of unions grow as the story progresses, giving player easy start to rather multifaceted system. Now and then members of your group might even ask what kind of things should they specialize with, allowing even further fine tuning of your combat experience. Not all special abilities (or abilities in general) are available all the time, but they may depend on the current position of your troops, available resources and such. Nowhere does the game explain what’s the difference between regular attack, be careful and be strong though, which makes you feel like you don’t have full control of things.
Members of party give quite nice illusion of thinking beings. As mentioned before, they sometimes ask what they should focus on their skill development, but they also ask to borrow your gear or have specific components for crafting. And when they have acquired all the components and enough money, next time in a city, they’ll spend all that in exchange of getting a better weapon (or other gear). They might even suggest going and hunting some monsters for fun if they’re getting bored sitting around. While not always very transparent system (it took me forever to realize why they sometimes wanted some components to themselves, instead sharing them with the party), it does add a bit of atmosphere to the game and take away some of the micro management (you pretty much need to care about one person’s equipment).
Crafting system is pretty straightforward. Gather enough resources (either buy from stores, collect from loot drops or split captured enemies into parts), have sufficient amount of gold and head to town. You can either ask creation of completely new item or upgrading old one (or even taking apart items that you don’t need anymore). System is nicely transparent and shows you what kinds of upgrades are available for your gear, how much they cost and what resources are needed. Obtaining resources might be the hardest part, since there are tons and tons and then some different kinds of. So unless one want to spend time making complete notes of each and every monster and location in game, using a wiki is almost mandatory. As mentioned before, player has to take care of crafting items for their character, while other characters are pretty good taking care of themselves.
Cities also have mandatory guilds, where one can hire more units and check some missions. Missions are relatively simple (at least so far): collect n of x, find specific item, kill n monsters and so on. Completing one nets player some gold and maybe other resources too. System has one bad flaw though, while it’s possible to check currently open regural quests, it’s not possible to check for guild quests, unless you’re in guild building. This is rather minor detail and doesn’t complicate the game, but it’s still somewhat annoying now and then.
The Last Remnant is rather large game, with lots of different mechanics that can feel a little overwhelming from time to time. In game tutorials do their job well, without being jarring like “Hey, special operative. Press A to crawl under that crate.” in certain other (really good) game. Details of many mechanics and aspects of the game are left vague (on purpose or by accident?) and use of community wikis is needed to save from lot of experimentation.