Dignity: Death and Rebirth

Square Enix's The Last Remnant arrives this week, and the anticipation for it is guarded at best. It's an ambitious game in design and marketing, as it fashions elaborate open-field battles thronged by humans (wait, they're called mithra), newtlike mages (qsiti), four-armed cat-people (sovani), and other creatures whose species I can't pronounce, all while trying to sell itself to unconvinced Americans just as much as the RPG buyers of Japan. Previews have been kind, at least, and it received two 10s from Famitsu, the Japanese magazine so esteemed that no one would have paid attention if it had given The Last Remnant only one 10. Two 10s, however, are the Famitsu equivalent of a B+ from a genuinely critical publication.

There are cracks in this acclaimed façade, of course. The game's use of the Unreal Engine 3 has sown lag and other visible shortcomings, and the gameplay is the creation of Akitoshi Kawazu and other designers from the SaGa series, which is highly experienced at pissing potential down its collective leg. The story carries a stale aroma, too, though it's not so much the tale of a determined hero out to uncover secrets as it is dialogue like “There's something about that guy.” In this case “that guy” is the Conqueror, a grumpy old man who wears robes dyed red with the blood of his slain enemies. It's the stuff of anime parodies, not the company that once brought us Final Fantasy XII's uncommonly elegant localization.

Yet there's one reason to look forward to The Last Remnant, and her deceptively silly name is Emma Honeywell.

Emma's the leader of an influential clan in The Last Remnant's world, and she serves as a maternal companion to another supporting character, the British-sounding David Nassau. More importantly, Emma looks exactly like you'd expect a 41-year-old warrior to look in a stylized medieval realm. No chainmail bra, no bared midriff, no unrealistic nonsense (that's all for the antagonists). And, as early clips reveal, she's not some sweetly deferential matriarch. Yes, the efficiently dressed older woman of battle is a cliché in fantasy circles, but it's a cliché that video games should jump on a little more often.

It may be that Emma's the sacrificial mom of the piece; her quote mentions protecting her liege city with her life, so perhaps she's here just to throw herself on the blood-red villain's sword and motivate the rest of the heroes. I only hope she'll raise the bar on her way down.

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