(http://na.square-enix.com/starocean/so4intl/) Rated Teen by ESRB. Although Star Ocean: The Last Hope was first announced to be available only for the xbox360, this international edition is now here for all the PS3 owners. Out of the box, the most notable difference is that it ditched the 3 DVD look that traces back to the old school multi-disc JRPGs from the original PlayStation. The Last Hope, the 4th main entry to the Star Ocean series, is actually a prequel to it all. Set centuries before the other series, it shows mankind’s first involvement with the intergalactic struggles after being forced to find life in the stars due to the effects of World War III.

(http://na.square-enix.com/starocean/so4intl/) Rated Teen by ESRB. Although Star Ocean: The Last Hope was first announced to be available only for the xbox360, this international edition is now here for all the PS3 owners. Out of the box, the most notable difference is that it ditched the 3 DVD look that traces back to the old school multi-disc JRPGs from the original PlayStation. The Last Hope, the 4th main entry to the Star Ocean series, is actually a prequel to it all. Set centuries before the other series, it shows mankind’s first involvement with the intergalactic struggles after being forced to find life in the stars due to the effects of World War III.

 

As a series, Star Ocean is often incidentally compared to the “Tales of” series; it’s no surprise since the developers were also behind the creation of Tales of Phantasia, who formed tri-Ace after the production of that title. Besides Star Ocean, tri-Ace is also known for the Valkyrie Profile games, plus a few others favorably reviewed non-series RPGs.

Presentation:

After the events of World War III, the Earth becomes devastated beyond repair even after peace had been reach. Mankind looks to the stars through wormhole research in order to look for a more suitable planet to inhabit. The player, as Edge Maverick, is one such pioneer in exploring the limitless star ocean via warp travel. In the vast space, Edge encounters many civilizations that are surprisingly familiar to us average Earthling gamers in terms of manners and customs, though most of them have a slight fantasy look to their appearances. In this Star Ocean, visiting the different worlds feel like playing through a mini-RPG in each their own, but eventually connected by the same overshadowing catastrophe.

 

The mystery behind this newly discovered intergalactic threat keeps the story moving at every twist and turn, and the interpersonal and personal character development is equally refreshing in comparison to the main plot’s overwhelming mystery. When not wrapped up in the tense cosmic danger, there are plenty of humorous character subplots for discovering the charms of Edge’s universe-saving crewmen.

 

Graphics:

Like the starry sky of a clear night, many graphical aspects in this Star Ocean literally sparkle. The waters of the many different worlds glisten more beautifully than those of real life tropical beaches on Earth. In some of the more advanced alien worlds, the mechanical landscape is equally impressive with many sci-fi details. The signature eye candy pre-render cutscenes of SquareEnix also makes an appearance here. Overall, this game has many vibrant and contrasting colors, almost to the point of being sensory overload.

 

The character design is equally colorful, with memorable costumes. Their hairdos, like the signature CGs, are also representatively similar to many SquareEnix characters. All the items also come with a picture viewable when highlighted in the menu, though it is somewhat disappointing not being able to see those beautiful armors rendered onto the character models.

       

Sounds:

The music is composed by Motoi Sakuraba, who also worked on previous Star Ocean titles as well as “Tales of” series and Valkyrie Profile. Fans of these series will no doubt once again enjoy the music. For those are not familiar, his music is dynamic and fit nicely to each world. Having fitting music to Star Ocean’s many worlds of different development levels also means a large range of music style. For better or worse, the voice casts efficiently portray the unique personality and emotions of each of the characters. Few of the characters are perhaps not music to the ears, but luckily most of the conversations are carried out in dialog boxes.

 

Gameplay:

Edge can see monsters on the field as he travels, and contact will initiate the battle sequence. During battle the player may controls any one of the four battle members, while the others are controlled by the AI. Since the AIs are not particularly effectively, they leave most of the fun to the player. However, the game is not very helpful in easing the player into the game’s combat. The player is greeted with a lengthy tutorial right after the introduction movie, detailing every last aspect of the game’s combat. Although it is optional, skipping it will no doubt make the game unnecessarily punishing from the beginning. Fortunately, it becomes addictive once the player gets a grip on the battle system. The bonus board will gives the player extra rewards for achieving certain conditions in a battle, and the bonuses will carry from battle to battle.

 

There are plenty more to do besides combat and the main quest in Star Ocean: The Last Hope. One such is the astronomical amount of side quests to be found from shopkeepers and other NPCs. Though they offer decent amount of reward, their repetitive nature is clearly described by the trophy for 100% side quests completion named “Dutiful Deliverer”. Another system traditional of Star Ocean is the private actions, a system to encourage exploring the relationships of Edge’s crew. While it is not required in order to advance the game, doing so offers the player a better understanding of the other character’s personality as well as open up more scenes at the ending.

       

Innovation:

Among the many systems new to the Star Ocean series, the most noticeable are perhaps Blindsiding and the Rush Gauge. They are techniques that can increase the player’s damage output and are instrumental for overcoming the stronger foes. The Rush Gauge is a simple meter that increases during battle, and can be intuitively activated for extra damage and resistance when completely filled. Blindsiding however does not execute as intended against a large variety of enemies. Basically blindsiding allows the player to temporarily disable a monster by dodging last second with a charged jump, given that the player is dodging an attack coming from the character’s target. It can, however be difficult to do because the character’s target may not be the first monster to reach him/her, and Blindside will not trigger in that case. Other times a monster will continue carrying out its attack while being Blindsided legitimately, resulting in the player receiving a hit instead of landing a critical strike.

 

Longevity:

Tri-Ace had always been loved by the completionists, and this time is no exception. Everything that can be collected, including weapons, items, enemies, and spacecraft data, are kept track as part of a completion. Some of them will even have an effect on game play. Collecting a large amount of a character’s battle trophies will grant certain bonuses to that character. And repeatedly slaughtering the same kind of monster will fill up its data collection gauge, which allows the player to use that data to make an accessory. Item synthesis also makes a come back, this time the player gets to create the recipes instead of the actual items. This is a welcoming change after many hours of creating unwanted items in the past.

 

Star Ocean is also known for its post game dungeons and bosses, requiring many hours of leveling and item crafting in order to complete. And the game also comes with 2 higher difficulty levels for those feeling adventurous. With all the lengthy collector-type features and the side quests, Star Ocean: The Last Hope can easily mean several hundred hours of entertaining play time for the perfectionists.

       

Conclusion:

This journey through the Star Ocean is pleasant enough to carry itself through the initial 40 hours of main plot and then the many beyond even considering the few flaws that come back time and time again. It’s only made more pleasant when the game surprises the player with extra exp for picking up chests, discovering extra pathways, and completing side quests. This international version of Star Ocean: The Last Hope also comes with subtitles for 6 languages, the original Japanese voice over, anime-styled character portraits for dialogs and menus, and possibly some graphical touch-up. With numerous in-depth features, this is one worthy title for any RPG players. For the budget-conscious gamers, Star Ocean: The Last Hope International is definitely one of the top choices among all the current generation single-player RPGs.

 

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