Xbox 360 owners cheered while Playstation owners cried foul when it was announced that the beloved Star Ocean franchise would be making its way to Microsoft’s console. Developed by tri-Ace, and published by “Sony loyal” Square-Enix, Star Ocean: The Last Hope is the latest installment in the classic RPG series, and apparently the last in the franchise according to Producer Yoshinori Yamagishi.
The Last Hope is a prequel to the entire Star Ocean series that precedes it. The story recounts humanity’s journey in the aftermath of an apocalyptic third World War and its search for a new home world. The nuclear war has left Earth’s surface ravaged and inhospitable, forcing the remaining human survivors to move their civilization underground. This new desolate existence is merely a temporary solution and humans turn their eyes to the sky to begin a search through the far reaches of space for a “New Earth.” The nuts and bolts are essentially epic, but it is all fairly standard stuff in the world of sci-fi.
Players step into the role of the absurdly named Edge Maverick, the main protagonist. He is your standard Japanese RPG character we have seen dozens of times before; heroic, cocky, and a little reckless. Edge is your basic melee swordsman who brandishes his blade primarily for offensive attacks.
At Edge’s side always is his childhood friend Reimi Saionji who aids him on his quests. Reimi is a skilled archer but remains a support character for the most part. Throughout the game your roster will be filled out with various characters ranging from the standard annoying little kid roles to cooler heavy tank roles like Bacchus. The characters in this latest Star Ocean are well varied for the most part, even if they lack originality. As with most RPG’s, learning all the subtle nuances of each character will aid in navigating the game.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope is an enormous game with a huge expansive world to explore. I personally haven’t played the previous installments but this outing seems huge compared to something like Lost Odyssey. The size and scope of The Last Hope brings out both the good and bad qualities many gamers find in RPG’s. Pacing is a definite issue when faced with an epic storyline that sometimes faces a player with 40-minute cut scenes. Often these emotional storytelling segments no longer draw you into this sci-fi world but rather drag on and lose any impact they may have had. Not helping is the often poor English voice acting and somewhat clichéd conversational dialogue.
Speaking of clichés, here’s one that more than rings true: what you put into Star Ocean is what you’ll get out of it. Pushing through the main story line and quests will result in a 30-40 hour experience, but it can also be so much more. Tri-Ace has added what seems like endless side quests and room for character development. Sure most of the side quests are your standard “fetch” scenario, but everything you do gains experience, money and items for your team. There are larger bonus quests as well including bonus dungeons and boss battles which only add to the replay value. Guaranteed, gamers will want to return to the world of Edge Maverick for multiple play-throughs to discover and experience everything The Last Hope has to offer.
Character building is where Star Ocean: The Last Hope really shines. There is a huge item creation system and a weapon/item fusion system allowing for the combining of countless items with weapons to vastly upgrade your equipment. Players will want to put in some serious time developing their equipment and characters. The Last Hope is not a simple “level up and repeat.” I know I’ve missed a truckload of opportunities on my initial pass through with characters rapidly approaching level 70.
Though The Last Hope utilizes the same attack set-up as previous games in the series, a new Rush gauge allows the player to either have a pre-emptive attack against an enemy or allow them to use a certain ability or special attack. Each of the characters has their own unique Rush gauge status and ability which deepens character building even further.
Without a doubt the best new feature in The Last Hope is the Real Time Member Change. This small yet key addition allows you to switch out active members for reserve members right in the midst of battle. More character options during battle translates to more diverse attacks that I would love to see become a standard in all future RPG’s.
The Last Hope uses an improved version of the Infinite Undiscovery game engine that is gorgeous from gameplay through the cut-scenes and runs with a silky smooth frame rate. Later in the game during more intense battles brings out minor hiccups easily forgotten once they pass. Most of the lighting and environments are stunning with the final climactic battle looking especially jaw-dropping. Even packing 3 DVD’s with content I was surprised how varied the environments are with dungeons and locations rarely repeating themselves. The only real gripes in the graphics department are the rather generic looking main cast and the often horrible lip-syncing.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope is not a genre-defining title but it is a solid RPG and pretty darn fun to play. If you push past the initial minor frustrations, drawn out cut scenes and get yourself to the meat of the game, you won’t be disappointed. Featuring stunning battles and robust character development, Star Ocean: The Last Hope ends the series on a high note.
– Jason Krahn