Star Ocean Comes Full Circle
Although the Star Ocean series has been around for awhile, after its last console entry, Till the End of Time, the series was in definite need of a reboot – not because the last game was bad (it was actually pretty good), but rather because the ending to this previous title was… definitive, to say the least. Luckily, the latest chapter in the Star Ocean series, The Last Hope, is a prequel that actually takes place before the first game.
The story in Star Ocean: The Last Hope takes place directly after the events of World War III, during humanity’s first foray into space exploration. You play as the excellently-named Edge Maverick, who, through some unfortunate coincidences, has been charged with finding a new planet that humans can colonize and inhabit safely. The game’s plot is almost reminiscent of last year’s Mass Effect, with main characters reaching out to alien civilizations to try and “help” them. And by “help” I mean ready them for colonization.
However, although humanity’s motives may be a little less than earnest, the real bad guys in Star Ocean happen to be a race of genocidal aliens who think themselves to be better then the newly galactic-aware humans (as well as several other interstellar races.) This evil race forces the humans to band together with several other alien nations in order to thwart this new threat from destroying all other races in the universe.
One thing I have always appreciated about the Star Ocean series is it’s obvious sci-fi influences. Although many JRPGs are set in future worlds (and generally feature non-human party members), space travel and self-determination are concepts that are rarely dealt with. However, Star Ocean: The Last Hope tackles these tough questions, and it really nails a lot of the core sci-fi elements that are standard in popular film and fiction. The creators have said that Star Trek was one of the biggest influences on the Star Ocean series, and this latest entry really showcases many of the themes that were central to this sci-fi staple series.
But, even though the story is great, any RPG fan can tell you that without solid gameplay, the story is superfluous. Fortunately, the gameplay in Star Ocean: The Last Hope is quite good, and the active battle system works very well.
One of the hallmarks of the Star Ocean franchise as a whole has been the action-based battle system, and The Last Hope definitely does not disappoint in this respect. The main battle mechanic involves running up to enemies and using the A button to execute standard attacks. Special attacks can be earned as you level up and assigned to the left and right trigger buttons, which is very convenient when you are chaining together long attacks against extra-nefarious foes.
New for this entry’s battle system are two elements: Rush and Blindsides. The Rush system is a basic charged attack mechanism that is tied to a status bar at the top of the screen. This bar fills as you land hits on an enemy (or are hit) and when it reaches 100% can be activated with a simple press of the X button. Entering Rush mode has several advantages including increased critical hit damage and less vulnerability to attacks. However, Rush mode can really be put to work when you use it in conjunction with equipped special attacks. This triggers a “rush combo” which allows you to use a series of timed button presses to unleash an attack guaranteed to deal some major damage.
The Blindsided system involves luring an enemy into targeting you and then pressing the B button and running quickly to one side. When this mode is triggered, a short cinematic scene will be triggered, and you will be able to attack their weak points for a short period of time. However, this system also allows for enemies who might fall victim to your Blindsiding to perform counter attacks, so it is wise to proceed with caution. Although the Rush and Blindsiding elements of the battle system certainly add some more challenging (not to mention strategic) elements to the gameplay, I found using the simpler attack mechanics to be much more effective in battle. And even though the game awards you plenty of incentives for using these elements (via in-game bonus trophies and experience multipliers), I really didn’t find myself using them all that often.
As far as graphics are concerned, Star Ocean: The Last Hope has a lot of things going for it. Different environments are huge, and everything from lush jungle environments to frigid arctic wastelands is presented in vivid detail with a striking color palette. These large environments also sport a fair amount of detail and have an immersive amount of depth. However, even though looking at the different settings can be awe-inspiring, there are some technical issues that permeate the visuals. First of all, enemies and NPCs suffer from a substantial amount of pop-in and sometimes don’t appear at all unless they are right in front of you. The game’s framerate also drops occasionally when there is a lot happening on screen. Although these issues are a little bit on the annoying side, they don’t really detract from the overall visual presentation, which is definitely a good thing.
The sound scheme is also very good, and the music in particular shines in this title. Series composer Motoi Sakuraba is again back for the music, and the sweeping orchestral melodies in this title are very nice to listen to. However, as good as the music may be, the voiceovers do leave something to be desired. While certain characters like Edge and Faize don’t sound half bad, other characters, mostly female, suffer from very hollow voiceovers and a lot of mismatched dialogue. And, in case you were wondering, there is no Japanese voiceover option, so you’re stuck with the hit or miss English voiceovers.
It’s no secret that the recent string of Xbox 360-exclusive JRPGs like The Last Remnant and Infinite Undiscovery from Square-Enix have been less than impressive. However, Star Ocean: The Last Hope bucks this trend and manages to be the first really great RPG on the Xbox 360 so far this year. Although series producer Yoshinori Yamagishi has said that it is the last in the series, I can’t help but hope this is not the case and we can look forward to even more Star Ocean in the future. The Last Hope is a fun adventure, and one I would love to see continued in some form.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
The expansive environments are gorgeous to look at, but occasional framerate drops and pop-in enemies mar these vistas. 4.1 Control
The basic battle controls are easy enough to use, but the more complex Blindside and Rush attacks are not practical in most combat situations. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music is composed by Star Ocean mainstay Motoi Sakuraba, and it sounds beautiful. Voiceovers, however, are hit or miss. 4.2 Play Value
With a very engaging storyline and plenty of side quests to keep you engaged, there is enough substance and depth to keep you playing The Last Hope for quite awhile. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.