It has been a while since I have played a JRPG. I think the main reason behind this is that I have not had a lot of time on my hands. But, that all changed when I saw that a new Star Ocean was released. Now, I know what some of you might be saying: it was released over a year ago on the 360. That is all true, but it wasn’t until now that I truly had a craving to play a good, old fashioned JRPG, and that is exactly what Star Ocean is: a by-the-book, traditional Japanese role playing game. But, even with that in mind, it does far from disappoint.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope opens on kind of a depressing note. It is post World War III, and Earth has been nearly destroyed by nuclear weapons. However, there was still time before it was completely destroyed to reach peace. The Greater United Nations formed, and humans now have their sights set on traveling into space. They have also formed the Universal Science and Technology Administration or USTA, to explore the far reaches of space for a new habitable planet, and you are one of the crew members on the premiere fleet of the Space Reconnaissance Force or SRF. Your character is Edge Maverick, a brash, young, twenty year old with a strong sense of responsibility and justice, takes command of the starship SRF-003 Calnus, along with the help of the Spock-like Faize, and his people the Eldarians. The three of you set out on a journey to help find a habitable home for humans, as well as face a new, never before seen threat that I will not spoil here.
The presentation of the game is pretty well done, with a lot more voice acting that I expected. However, the voice acting is so-so, with characters lips not really matching up with what they are saying. This is just a minor thing, but with RPGs like Mass Effect 2 doing it so well, it is hard not to notice things these anymore. The cutscenes are very lengthy as well, but they are interesting because of the unique character styles. Also, the vistas are very beautiful, the music is catchy, and overall it is a good looking game.
The gameplay takes the old active battle systems of the previous Star Ocean titles, and combines them with a few new twists. First, is Rush Mode, which is simply an overdrive mode where you move fasterand can deal more damage, but for a limited time. The second new gameplay additive is Blindside. If an enemy and you are locked on to each other, and you jump and time his attack just right, you can jump around to the back of the enemy, dealing multiple critical hits. However, this can be somewhat challenging to do, because they can counter your Blindside as well. The third and final new addition is the Bonus Board. This is a set of number squares on the right side of the screen that when you take down an enemy in a certain way, you gain a piece and this can earn you extra money or experience if you accumulate some of each color.
Overall, I really enjoy the battle system. It’s fun, fluid, but at the same time very challenging and I find myself being overwhelmed sometimes. I like that it is not just a breeze to battle enemies. I find the battles to be by far the best part of the game, and you need something like that to hold everything together in an RPG. The rest of the gameplay is not much more than the traditional fare, with you finding chests, running errands for the townspeople, and doing simple puzzles in dungeons. I find that the running errands are pretty unnecessary, and I wish that the game funneled you down a straight path, because it’s sometimes not the most fun thing in the world to do fetch quests to lengthen your experience. Also, the game doesn’t really open up until a few hours in, when you finally do get to become the captain.
With all these positives though, there is one thing that really discourages me: how traditional the game is. It is just an RPG that is similar to those that came before it. It doesn’t do anything that really blows me away, but on the other hand what it does it still does well. It’s hard to not think, with this game coming out a month (to the day) before Final Fantasy XIII, is it worth a purchase? If you are a hardcore JRPG fan then yes, I recommend it. But, to the people who play RPGs every once in a while, I would say pass, and wait for the heavy hitter next month. Its not that this game is bad, not by any means, but with the hype juggernaut that is behind FFXIII, this one will likely get lost in the shuffle, whether it deserves it or not.
On a little side note, some things that are unique to the International Edition are that you can switch back to the old-school anime art style for the character menu, as well as have the whole game switched to Japanese voice-overs.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope International Edition is a game that is a cookie cutter RPG for guys like me, to ease them back into the JRPG genre if they have been out for a while. It has a good battle system, interesting story, and a sense of wonder that will drive you to keep playing even after you say “I will play just to the next save point”. If you give it a chance, you really will want to dive right into the star ocean.