Star Ocean: The Last Hope Xbox 360
A few years ago, no one would have ever thought that the Xbox 360 would become the console to have if you were looking to play Japanese Role-Playing Games. Even now, as time goes on, more JRPGs keep getting announced as Microsoft try and use the force of this genre to push its market share in Japan.
After Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of Final Fantasy, announced his two JRPGs, Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon for the Xbox 360, it seemed to set off a chain reaction where other major companies had to join the bandwagon. Namco brought out a new Tales of Vesperia game and Square-Enix announced a trio of games coming to the system. One of these games was a new entry in the increasingly popular Star Ocean franchise, which is exclusive to the Xbox 360.
Star Ocean may not be as well known as big games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, but it’s been around since the Super Nintendo era, when the first in the franchise was released back in 1996. Since then it has been gaining fame as more instalments were released. To boost interest in the series Square-Enix released some updated remakes/ports of Star Ocean and Star Ocean 2 for the PSP. Now the newest instalment is here and it’s setting up the whole franchise’s beginning as it goes down the prequel root.
The Last Hope is about humankind’s first steps into space exploration as the Space Reconnaissance Force (SRF) look for a planet fit for human habitation. Earth itself is now war torn and scared as World War III has left its toll on the planet. The two nations involved in destroying the Earth came to a peace agreement, but it was too late, Earth on the surface has become uninhabitable as the population now all lives in underground cities.
One of humankind’s last hopes is Edge Maverick, a 20 year old dude who is part of a team along with his childhood friend Reimi Saionji. Their job and yours is to explore new life and find a planet for the human race to colonize. This sets up much of the game’s story as you jump from planet to planet. It’s a shame that the story doesn’t move at a faster pace – the game is on three DVDs and for pretty much up to about half way through the second disc, you still don’t know exactly what the enemy you’re supposed to be up against is. Usually in a JRPG, you’ve got some guy who is revealed as “the evil one” and you know at some point towards the end, you will fight him. But for half of The Last Hope, the story basically feels like you’re jumping from planet to planet, following the whole exploration premise, while being nice and solving the problems the habitants have.
When you finally find out, it turns into your cliché save the universe storyline, even if the danger is something unique, it doesn’t escape from being the typical JRPG plot. It’s not all generic, the story does have its ups and some of the characters you come into contact with are truly entertaining, especially Welch, a crazy representative of SRF who contacts you to update you on your mission. She gives hectic comical value to the story as she makes jokes out of the alien races that join your party.
Star Ocean has a gem hidden up its sleeve in the battle system. Even since the first outing the franchise has always had real-time elements, though it’s not done on the same screen like Fable or some of the other action RPGs. Instead it’s more like Namco’s Tales of Vesperia games, where you run into an enemy to initiate the battle area, so there are no random encounters. Once in battle you control one of the four characters in the party. The other three are selectable, although most of the time though the AI does a good job of helping you out and you can command them to focus on attack, defend, healing or other move types.
Due to the playable characters having different weapon sets, each character plays distinctively different when taking control of them. Edge is the main character, but it doesn’t mean you have to play as him. If you want to use a bow and arrow you can play as Reimi and use her long range to take out of the enemies while the other people in the party do their stuff. It’s the same with all nine of the characters; you’ll have a different strategy with each one. It’s one of the features that make the battle system such a joy to play with compared to some of the turn based RPGs on the market. You will have to play as all the characters to collect all the battle trophies. These are in-game achievements that lead to an Xbox 360 achievement to get them all… but it will take you a lifetime!
Of course when new games come out in a series, new stuff is usually added and Tri-Ace have improved the battle system that was last featured in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time on PS2. Characters now have the ability to jump in battle, but it’s more like a dodge as it allows you to quickly move out of the way of oncoming attacks and links into the Blindside feature.
A Blindside attack is a good way to deal extra damage on opponents. Holding down B button puts you into a charge state where you will gain more rush (a bar that fills up and allows you to do a special move combo). You can’t charge it for more than three indicated stages or you’ll become fatigued and be stunned for a bit, so you have to get the timing at least somewhat correct with a little margin for error. The B button has to be released when an exclamation mark flashes above the enemies head. If not then either the enemy may counter attack you or the attack won’t work. When pulled off correctly you’ll run around to behind the enemy and get a critical hit for hitting the enemy on the back.
You are rewarded for how you fight with the inclusion of the bonus board. This board is displayed on the right side of the screen and can contain up to 14 bonuses of four different types. Experience boosts, extra money, health/magic recovery or extra skill points can all be gained through this. I personally found that the experience boost was most worth getting. It’s one of the easiest to gain because all you need to do to get one bonus is to kill an enemy with a critical attack. Mix this with the Blindside and you’re ranking up those experience bonuses and level up a lot faster.
The real bummer is most of the time you won’t need that extra experience bonus, in fact it takes the challenge away even more. The Last hope is an easy game to play through for most of the part. I didn’t once see the game over screen till I reached the last boss. Tri-Ace for some bizarre reason has given the player the option of four difficulties. However players can only choose between Earth (easy), and Galaxy (normal) at the start of the game. The other two difficulties, Universe (Hard) and Chaos (Very Hard) are unlocked when you finish the difficulty under them. Galaxy difficulty is just too easy for most of the time and they should have just had a standard difficulty for starting. This should have been Universe, as that mode seems about the right amount of challenge for standard JRPG players.
Gamers who just fly through the game will be looking at finishing Star Ocean in 35-40 hours. They are however plenty of side quests to take part in. In fact they are a ridiculous amount of side quests featured. However most of them don’t add anything to the story or universe. Instead most of these side quests are shop orders, where you have to go and find items and bring them back in exchange for money. I was hoping to try do most of them as I played through the game, but to be honest as I got on to the second disc, all of the shop orders became a chore and I was getting bored travelling backwards and forwards, wasting time trying to collect 14 of the item the shop wanted. It’s even worse when you get onto the last zone on disc three. If you want to go back to another planet to do side quests, you have to enter disc two again. That means every time you go back and forward from the last planet, you have to keep swapping discs, an awful process which stopped me doing any more side quests and forced me to go complete the game after clocking nearly 60 hours.
Recipes and item creation is the last major element of The Last Hope. Throughout playing you’ll gain a huge amount of items from item portals or enemies that can be used with the item creation unit in your spaceship. A lot of your super weapons and armour will come from this feature, with the best ones locked until the second play through of the game. Before you are able to make things, you need to discover the recipe by sticking your group in a meeting room and letting them think up of new ideas to create. It depends on what area they are developed to what you unlock. To improve on their category skills, you need to level them up using the skill points. Skill points are also used to learn new abilities and moves for the characters. It adds to great character customization as you can select what battle moves he/she can learn or power up specials to increase their effectiveness.
One thing Star Ocean really has going for it is the graphics. It has a highly detailed anime-inspired look for the characters and the models are exceptionally detailed, all way down to their armour. There are plenty of areas to explore and the environments are lush, but feel a little lifeless at times. I did feel at times that some of the planets weren’t explored enough; you usually just see a little section of the planet. All these areas felt like they would make a whole single planet if the game wasn’t set around space exploration.
A presentational change was made between the Japanese and English release of The Last Hope. The character art for the in game menu and battle system facial avatars were changed from a hand drawn anime look to a CG look. There is only an option for English voices as I guess there was no space left for the Japanese dialogue. The voice over work is a mixture of both good and bad. Edge and Reimi and a lot of the major characters sound decent enough, but then you have someone like Lym. Nearly all her lines finish with the word “Kay” and she speaks in the most monotonous and motionless tone. I assume the voice actor was told to act like that, but they could have spiced her up a bit, she is a young kid after all. What is she doing with depression already?
Star Ocean: The Last Hope brings appealing sci-fi imagery to the Xbox 360 catalogue of RPGs. It’s not the best JRPG on the system, but what it does is give players a game with an addictive battle system. You’ll forget the shortcomings of the story and be more engrossed in the fighting. If you want a RPG to fill in your gaming gap then Star Ocean is recommended. Just don’t expect it to be a complete package of greatness.