Star Ocean has been an RPG series that has only received modest attention. Overshadowed by other Square Enix series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, the Star Ocean series has only begun to receive attention thanks to its PSP ports in recent years and the earlier Till the End of Time PS2 instalment. To the surprise of many RPG fans, the next title was announced exclusively for Xbox 360 that left eager PS3 fans in utter disappointment. More than a year later, the Last Hope is released on the PS3 with the International version featuring extra language options and user interface customization.
Star Ocean tells the tale of World War III that erupted between the World Republic Federation and the opposing world nations. Most of the earth was left in devastated ruins with a cease-fire negotiated two weeks after (wait for it) weapons of mass destruction were unleashed on a global scale. Survivors of the war wandered underground cities with little hope of deliverance. The remaining nations formed the Greater United Nations and eventually launched a space campaign to explore inhabitable planets. Edge Maverick, a young soldier and Reimi, a childhood friend and expert archer, are sent on the SRF (Space Reconnaissance Force) maiden voyage. Along the journey, Edge meets other such characters like Faize, a young Eldearian, Lymle, a spoiled Lemurisian village child and Meracle, a spunky feline humanoid.
The Last Hope utilizes a real time battle system. You can issue commands to use items, switch characters, cast symbols and unleash skills, all on-the-fly. One of the highlights of these is the jump ability, allowing you to dodge enemy attacks or surprise them with blindside attacks, (where a “!” symbol appears that makes enemies vulnerable to getting attacked when you escape from their line of sight). While most battles can feel like a chore in other RPGs, the ability to quickly maneuver around enemies keeps the battles intense and engaging.
As you take damage, your rush gauge slowly fills up enabling you to initiate rush attacks upon your enemies once the gauge is full. When initiated, they temporarily give you more speed and higher defense stats against various enemy attacks. There are no random battles as monsters prowl in open sight on the battlefield. In the event you are attacked while moving or standing still in battle, your party member may, depending on your stats, block the attack entirely. You can also execute special attacks with the trigger buttons and link combos together to inflict heavy damage on your foes. A battle simulator is accessible for those that wish to hone their skills prior to fighting real battles in the game.
As you build your repertoire of skills, you will be able to harvest and mine for materials on the open field with your character. Many of these points are both visible and well hidden in different locales and terrains on differing planets. Disintegration rings allow you to interact with the environment to remove barriers by utilizing different elements. For example, a large ice block can be removed with a fire disintegration ring. All of the rings have limited uses and can only be recharged by Lymle with her charge command ability or by ring experts in villages. Battle skills can also be upgraded frequently to unleash devastating attacks on enemies that increase your Bonus board, a tiled gauge that grants you extra bonuses for stylish and hard-fought battles.
The Calnus is your spaceship hub used to travel between planets. As you progress in the game, you can assign rooms to different party members. Depending on how you treat them, opposite party members can be assigned the same room for opportunities to trigger Private Events in the game. Private events are made of up of personal dialogue and interaction between two characters with a unique sidestory. Save points are also located in various rooms to allow you to rest and recover after difficult missions. Though the use of save points is convenient on the Calnus, the lack of sufficient save points during missions can be quite frustrating.
Item creation is one of the most satisfying features in this game. New items can be created by using old items with the help of your party members. This is done by designating your teammates into groups to invent recipes. The catch is that the recipes must be created in a timed session with the results hinging on the IC (Item Creation) abilities of your comrades. Once they are out of ideas, the message “No Plan” will appear and the session will end. You can also end the session manually if you are satisfied with the recipes before the timer is up. Much time can easily be spent on item creation to boost your party’s offensive attacks in battle.
Visually, the game sports beautiful environments and polished character designs. The special effects are stunning in battle with a lot of symbology and chain combo attacks. Regarding the characters, the anime-style designs are decent but the vacant stares and awkward facial expressions in various cutscenes are rather disappointing. As for the soundtrack, the music is exceptional and is composed by Motoi Sakuraba, the acclaimed Star Ocean and Valkryie Profile maestro. The voice actors, however, don’t fare nearly as well as the soundtrack.
One of the issues in this game is the mission objectives. You will find yourself either talking to your comrades often or wandering around aimlessly just to finish your objectives. They are not always clearly defined resulting in a bit of exploring and backtracking. In battles, the camera tends to swing or position itself poorly when fighting numerous enemies. With respect to the story and character development, the cutscenes are too long and would be more effective if they were shortened to emphasize key plot points.
Star Ocean is an enjoyable RPG with engaging battles and an addictive item creation mode. Despite the bland dialogue and vague mission objectives, role playing fans will love the open worlds and intense combat with their party members. Ultimately, Star Ocean is a vastly superior game to Infinite Undiscovery and The Last Remnant titles. With multiple endings, battle trophies and various achievements, the Last Hope appeals to both casual and hardcore players. Between the 360 and PS3 version, The Last Hope International on the PlayStation 3 is the definitive version to own. Though the game is plagued by bad dialogue and long cutscenes, The Last Hope is definitely an RPG that is worth the investment.