Nobody will accuse The Last Remnant of being too ambitious. Square Enix's latest RPG mixes a dollop of tactical warfare into a familiar console-epic recipe, tweaking conventions without breaking them. When a game executes the old standards with Remnant's grace, though, a tweak might be enough.
Remnant's new ideas play out on the battlefield, where instead of controlling individual fighters, you command "unions" of up to five units each. You issue stirring orders like "Don't be afraid to die!" to your troops, and each character takes action accordingly. At first, this big-picture framework might annoy micromanagers, but there are plenty of details to obsess over, like which mercenaries to recruit and what formation best conceals your scrubs' weaknesses.
The main story—a nuclear-proliferation crisis translated into the realm of enchanted talismans—does a workmanlike job of moving the action forward. Remnant's narrative gems are found on a more intimate level, in the interactions between protagonist Rush Sykes and his companions. These are characters, not caricatures, and in spite of the occasional patch of tin-eared dialogue, they form an engrossing emotional connection.
Rush's world is gorgeous, and once the game opens up to side quests, you'll want to explore for the sake of exploring, not just to collect the next "+1 ATK" equipment upgrade. But during battles, Remnant uses a rapid-cutting, zoomed-in style more suited to a Bourne fight sequence than to large-scale tactics. Battles are also plagued by graphical slowdown and choppy frame rate, so if that sort of thing bothers you, consider waiting for the PC or PlayStation 3 release to see if Square Enix fixes the problem.
Beyond the game: The Remnant music, a blend of rock and orchestral themes, is the best Square Enix soundtrack since Final Fantasy maestro Nobuo Uematsu left the company.
Worth playing for: It's a while before the game fully hands over the reins to its battle system, but once it does, an 18-man fighting force makes for some insane skirmishes.
Frustration sets in when: You're near death, and the CPU inexplicably leaves healing spells off the next turn's "context-sensitive" menu of tactics. Game over.
Final judgment: If Square Enix polishes the rough edges off this game's novel combat system, Remnant could be the foundation of an excellent series.