Here we are. I finally finished playing yet another one of the original 5 games that convinced me to buy a PS3. When I first saw this game, I got a very “Phantasy Star” vibe from it, and being a huge fan of that series, I knew I wanted this game. Fast-forward to about a month ago, I decided it was time to play with the PS3 and having been kinda bummed out by the odds that we would never see Phantasy Star Online 2 officially hit the United States, I came back to this box. It was better then nothing, and I refuse to hack a game to play it when I have so many others to play now, so I wasn’t going to be playing the Japanese PSO2 anytime soon.
I finished the game today, and all I can say is you might want to sit down for this one. What I’m about to say isn’t pretty, but it must be said. While this game really isn’t bad, it definitely isn’t good… and there are a lot of parts to it that downright suck.
Story: In the case of most turn-based RPGs, the game relies strongly on the story to hold the player in the game. With this in mind, Star Ocean should be glad it’s more action orientated then most turn-based RPGs. This story is pure shit.
The game starts with a video giving a short depiction of Earth and it’s recent events. World War 3 has happened and nuclear weapons were used, completely ruining the condition of the world. In the name of survival, peace was swift, but not swift enough, and mankind was left with a very bleak scenario for life on Earth: in about 60 years, the world will be uninhabitable. For the survival of the species, the remaining countries of the earth unified and formed the SFD, a global organization with the goal of leaving the dying world for a new one.
Today is a very special day in earth history, as Edge Maverick (yes, that really is his name) is about to go forward as part of the crew of the Calnus to explore the galaxy and find a new home for humanity. Your first destination is a planet called Aeos, and believed to be perfect. But accidents happen in space, and while in warp, an anomaly knocks your ship off course, forcing it to crash land into the planet and looking for the others who may have landed in similarly grim conditions.
Before long, you will find that your colonization is being assisted by an alien race with mutual goals. Together your species build a base from which to work and from which you will now launch into space to find new worlds to possibly colonize, setting up a nice solid grounds to begin your tale with.
Sadly, the game falls apart at a little before the halfway mark. To explain how, I have to give some spoilers, so consider this your spoiler warning. Ready? Let’s begin.
The game jumps the shark completely as you attempt to use your warp drive only to be pulled into the 1960s on Earth by a black hole. Once there it seems you are the Area 51 incident, except that there is already an alien there: a cat-girl who will become a member of your crew. This is important to remember as beyond this detail, the entire section of the game means absolutely nothing as you will watch the Earth implode SECONDS before being ejected out of an alternate dimension and back into your own one where the Earth is exactly as you left it. Has your jaw hit the floor yet? Cause that’s not all!
The process has left your ship needing repairs so you land on the planet Roak to take care of it. Does that name sound familiar to you? If you are fan of the franchise, it should because this world is the one the original Star Ocean takes place on. What will follow is a quest to protect this planet and prevent the resurrection of a daemon so that he can be the final boss in the first game. You are literally here on a quest that is nothing more then a ham-fisted way to show a direct connection to the rest of the franchise. On top of this, the cat-girl suggests this world is her home world, DESPITE THE FACT THAT YOU PICKED HER UP IN AN ALTERNATE DIMENSION!
This takes us to the last quarter of the game, where we go back to Aeos because the base has gone dead silent, and upon investigation, we FINALLY get a picture of any kind for the main story of the game. It has kept us in the dark of the EXISTANCE of central plot for literally 75% of the game (and for me a good 40-50 hours), and a good chunk of that time we have been doing missions that mean nothing, so of course this is the perfect time to explain what parts of the bullshit we have seen had anything to do with anything and give the whole picture in one single conversation. It seems the villains are the same ones we haven’t even seen since the game jumped the shark and killed off Earth for no other reason and with no more consequence then “oops my bad” and are the central piece of the story and an organized force. In addition, they learn about their victims, cloning them into an army that they can spawn at will, and you will spend the rest of the game fighting them along side the group of aliens who have dedicated themselves to preserving the universe by wiping them out.
But sadly, this is not the end of the bullshit-train. Since the game has proven a complete disregard for contingency based on space, why give a fuck about time? Another spoiler, but one of your friends, who was there with you from when the game really began to when he found out his race was being wiped out by these enemies is the mysterious entity who is creating these forces. Let that sink in. Somehow the same guy is DESPERATELY FIGHTING WAVE AFTER WAVE OF THE ENEMY TO PROTECT HIS SPECIES FROM EXTINCTION AND GENERATING THEM AT THE SAME TIME FROM A PALACE ACROSS THE GALAXY. And this is actually the core story of the game that the writers seemed to give too little shit to have make sense in any way. You could claim “Maybe he went back in time,” but even the game itself contradicted that. In this universe, warp travel can bend the length of time, but not it’s direction, eliminating that way of trying desperately to make this game make sense.
Suffice it to say, it’s clear that the writers here either phoned this one in or had to bend the story around the cutscenes already made by the developers/artists. I hope for the latter, because then at least I can say “at least they tried.”
Graphics: Star Ocean: The Last Hope is a JRPG from the earlier days of the PS3/360, and as such it has some odd touches with the graphics. Everything looks smooth for the most part, but most of your characters have a very “porcelain doll” look about them as an anime-style was being adapted to full 3D graphics. It also takes an odd take on adjusting the look of your characters based on your equipment: your armor changes nothing, but your weapon is reflected in the model when you fight and during cut-scenes. Some will be turned off from this style, but I thought it fit the game in total very well.
The monsters, however, have no such issues. Most of them simply look amazing, from the walking plant-monsters to the giant insects to the otherworldly monsters created by the main villains, your enemies are full of character and varied as one could possibly expect. Giant birds with toucan beaks run around the map, followed by stomping vine-monsters in some places. Others, giant snapping turtles with horns on their heads roam the land knowing nothing wants to mess with them. And yet in more places you could deal with common thugs or man-eating trees, complete with fruit that move to reveal eyes on the bottom that stare at you as you get close to them. It simply looks fantastic… with the exception of one creature you will need to use and then be glad is only needed on one planet.
On this planet, there is a point when you need to use a mount to travel across a desert, and your mount is a giant pink dumb-looking bunny. Not joking around, to compete with the Final Fantasy Chocobo thing, Tri-Ace decided this game needed a giant pink bunny.
But thankfully this is only for a small portion of the game and the rest of it looks great and vibrant. There is not a single map that doesn’t look like it was crafted with all the love and care you could expect from Square-Enix in any of their titles. You will want to explore each place just to see everything you can wander around in.
And when you get into combat, the game never stops being gorgeous, giving you a great look at the enemies before the combat begins, during which you will see every move in cinematic quality as the camera swoops around to give you the best possible view of your character. It does, however, get in the way of some of your planning of the battle since you can’t see everything with the camera focusing on you. So when you are done enjoying this aspect of the game, you may want to switch to a static view so as to see the entire battlefield at once.
But unfortunately, this game is a port from the 360 version which had been released a year prior and it just might show. I can not speak for that version, but on PS3, there are slowdowns throughout the game. It was exceptionally rare when on the map, but when things get really insane on the battlefield, you can expect to have a few frame-drops as you play. This issue showed it’s head particularly around one of the bosses who regularly had no less then 15 little flying minions harassing the party late in the game.
Sound: With Square-Enix as a publisher and one of their studios developing, you know about what you expect for music by this point. Grand and orchestrated, the music will hold your attention and become a main star while playing at it’s highs. And when it calms down, it refuses to be unnoticed. However little of it will be very memorable. Nor will the sound effects stand out for that matter. The usual whaps, whams, clangs, and smack sound effects one expects are all here and all do a decent job holding up the events they represent, but they are just nothing special.
Sadly, the one thing that is special is often not so for happy reasons: the voice acting. Some characters are acceptable and even a few are remarkably good (Im looking at you, Faize), but others really get terrible to the point of changing the character. For example, early on you will take a little girl into the party who’s known for speaking very monotone like she is bored with everything and ending every other sentence with “kay.” Keep in mind, her character is noted for being able to summon a demon dog on command, who she trusts with her life. I suppose this means she has a right to be bored by a lot, but you would think someone with something that unique would show a little energy when bringing it into battle rather then just blandly uttering “I’m gonna beat you up, kay?”
But the absolutely best example of inappropriate voice acting belongs to the main healer (and one of the last characters to join your party). She speaks with a pleasant and always happy tone, and yet in combat that happy tone will include such gems as “I’m going to rip you to pieces.”
Gameplay: Star Ocean: the Last Hope is an RPG who’s franchise was born in the SNES era. As a result, it carries a lot of the old tropes with it. You will play the game mainly in two basic modes: map and battle. You will spend a majority of your game exploring whatever map you are in with a goal determined by the game.
The places you travel in this mode will vary from the great out doors to dungeons to villages and cities where you can rest, talk to the citizens of the town (and occasionally get a side-quest or two), and rebuild your stock of supplies. But unlike most games, you will have the option to do business in the form of mini-quests with these stores. By accepting orders, you will be able to turn in a list of items you collected through your travels for cash and experience for your entire party, giving you new ways to minorly augment your leveling, which you will need to do as the game goes on, but we will get into that in a moment. Sadly, all these options do come at an odd cost, for the game’s controls are pretty clunky. You will find yourself often trying to click to do something (such as save) and you will go right past the point where you can use the option and spend the next few minutes squaring off to do it. It can be VERY annoying, but thankfully there is nothing that will punish you for it, so it’s not anything you can’t deal with.
While running around, there will be places you will be given the option to mine or harvest (provided you have the character at the time). Doing so will grant you items that may either help directly or be able to use for game’s crafting system so it’s well worth the time to collect.
That crafting system is rather unique in that it’s done from a room in the back of your ship. Using the interface, you will first have to create recipes by dividing your crew into up to 4 teams of 3 and letting them get to work. This will cost you 1 party skill boosting point for every few seconds and the results will very based on the skills of the collective groups. Once you have some recipes, you can review them and assuming you have the parts, you can make anything in your list.
Those group skill points can also be used to upgrade both the skills of the individual characters to increase the odds of success creating recipes as well as boosting the power of individual abilities (both on and off the battlefield). They will be gained by successfully collecting items via mining or harvesting. The skills you are upgrading will generally be on a 1/10 scale before maxing out and the point-cost for each level will vary both by the skill and by who’s skill it is. In addition, each character will also gain their own points when they level up.
And leveling will be very necessary in bulk at moments. Star Ocean seems to not understand the concept of a difficulty curve so much as it understands difficulty steps. You will find yourself one minute literally steamrolling over everything in your path and then the next the boss of the area steamrolls you without warning. This will happen a lot in the game, so expect to have to stop your forward progress pretty much on a dime and grind often.
And finally that combat is in real-time, requiring you to control one character and let the AI of the game handle the others. For the most part this is not a huge deal, as you can pause at any time to change the behavior of the AI from a set of 5 or 6 behavior sets, or switch your character at will. Each character can have 1-3 techniques set for quick-use onto the triggers of the controller (which again, you can set at will), or if you need an action not setup this way, the same menu that lets you pause to do all this will also have all the character’s available moves so you can manually command them. The result is a fast paced combat that feels very good, but occasionally makes you wonder about the boss behavior choicesvs the AI’s intelligence. More then once, I found myself cursing out the intelligence of my allies where we were fighting a boss that you are supposed to fight by reacting to their actions, but the AI insists on the “mash the attack” approach, but those were basically over before the first half of the game was.
Bugs: This game had no real bugs to speak of.
Overall: Star Ocean: The Last Hope is not a bad game. The game mechanics keep it different and deep enough from most of the genre that the gameplay can carry it to an extent. However, this proves to be vital to the game’s longevity as the writing has plotholes literally so big I could walk a transformer gymnasitcs team through them without them having to break up their routine… and this is when the game is done dicking around and lets you get on with that main story. I’ve read first draft’s of fanfictions put together better then this tripe. If you are one of the few people who enjoys the more intricate details of a console RPG’s combat systems, you will probably enjoy this and should pick it up of you can cheap. However, if you play RPGs to see and be part of the story, you are better off going elsewhere. Even in this relatively RPG starved console generation, there are much better games to get that from.