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Review: Star Ocean: The Last Hope (360)

Star Ocean: The Last Hope

Star Ocean: The Last Hope

I should make it clear that Star Ocean: The Last Hope is not entirely a bad game.   I enjoyed the game enough to play through the entire 30 hour adventure in a week, despite the glaring balance and design issues that plague the experience.  Unfortunately for Star Ocean fans, by no means is it a return to the series’ glory during the PlayStation’s reign. The Last Hope is ultimately flawed and forgettable, but manages to be a decent Japanese role playing game for those who want to stab some monsters.

Oh yeah, it takes place in space in the near future.  It has to be kind of interesting, right?

Mild spoilers after the jump.

Hands down, the best feature of Star Ocean is the real-time combat.  It has the right combination of depth and mindlessness that prevents the common monsters from being annoying and the bosses from being too simple.   The battle system is designed so the user has the option to either just mash the A button exclusively or use a bit more finesse by using advanced mechanics like rushing and dodging.  You can generally fight any given battle any way you want, but there is a stunning lack of battles built around these more thoughtful mechanics.  There’s also a bonus board which provides boosts to experience, health, money, or skill points when the user does certain things in battle.  Killing an enemy with a critical hit results in a 10% bonus to earned experience and destroying multiple enemies with one attack results in the same boost in money earned.   It’s a compelling addition to the real-time combat.  Not only did I start going out of my way to fight differently just so I could have a good mix of after-battle bonuses, I also had to be more moderate and strategic in battle as mashing the attack button will resort in enemy counter attacks that can break the board.

The quality of the combat actually manages to contribute to one of the game’s larger issues.  Star Ocean is absurdly easy on the normal difficulty.   Because the combat is rather fun, you’ll find yourself battling much more often than one would like to in a more traditional JRPG.  This ensures that your characters quickly end up much stronger than the game assumes you should be.  In addition, effective use of the bonus board results in up to 140% extra experience per battle.  To further exacerbate the chronic overlevelling, nearly every action in the game results in large amounts of experience and skill points for your party.  While quests providing experience isn’t surprising, why do actions like opening chests, picking flowers, mining, and melting ice need to as well?  Star Ocean quickly becomes a cakewalk.  Upon completing the game I was nearly 20 levels higher than I needed to be without once going out of my way to level up or completing even half of the side quests.  Additional difficulties do unlock after beating the game, but the game shouldn’t require a complete playthrough to get a reasonable difficulty level.  Even at said higher difficulty levels the crafting system can be exploited to create equipment and accessories with absurd experience bonuses that, when combined with the bonus board, can result in experience bonuses easily passing 300% per battle.

Graphics-wise, Star Ocean is nothing special.  The environments are simple but aesthetically pleasing.    Enemy design is generic up until the third disc when Every planet you explore (with one very notable exception) could have been taken from a different game with no problem.  In a game prominently featuring planetary travel, needing to waltz around generic villages in order to purchase items with your universal spacebucks raises an eyebrow.   The one interesting planet, about a third of the way through the game, is ruined by the introduction of an annoying half-naked preteen cat-girl who subsequently joins your party for some reason.  Pallet swapped enemies are disappointly common past the first disk, and there’s even the obligatory final dungeon cliche of reskinned bosses popping back up to request another beatdown.

The cat-girl is only one part of what may be the most generic and terrible collection of characters in a JRPG.  There’s also the whiny main character named Edge Maverick who has a mystical power, his childhood friend and love interest who also has a mystical power, the magical five-year-old prodigy who really has no place confronting the galaxy’s Ultimate Evil, the clumsy airhead, the over-rational cyborg that learns to love, the jealous second-fiddle to the main character, the crank that turns out to be kind, and the mysterious soldier that is almost identical to Magus from Chrono Trigger.  Not only does every character have spaceship sized plot holes in regards to their motivations, it’s hard to believe the developers thought this cast would be able to sustain an entire game in any way considering there’s nothing new or interesting among the lot of them.  And while the game’s Ultimate Evil is underdeveloped and only really revealed in the last several hours of the story, there is a twist at the very end of the game that was surprising and executed very well.  The dialogue and cutscenes, however, are not as fortunate and prominently feature stilted animations to accompany some of the worst voice acting in recent memory. The benevolent developers at Tri-Ace kindly provided not only a way to skip these horrific wastes of time but also provided text synopses of what was just skipped and what to do next.

In a nutshell, Star Ocean: The Last Hope is a fantastic battle system wrapped in a mediocre-at-best generic JRPG mess.  As much as I enjoyed my playthrough, I would have a difficult time recommending anyone to purchase the game.   It’s frustrating to see a JRPG that takes place in a relatively original setting so readily embrace the banality that has choked the life out of the genre.

  • Developer: Tri-Ace, Square Enix
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Release Date: 02/23/09
  • MSRP: $59.99
  • See Also: Tales of Vesperia (360), Persona 4 (PS2)
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