When you think of Square-Enix, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Well about 98% of people will say Final Fantasy; the other 2% will say Dragon Quest. This is the reason why as of late Square has been putting more money into other franchises and developing new ones. The Last Remnant and Infinite Undiscovery have both been released onto Microsoft’s console and met with limited success. So it comes as no surprise that Square wouldn’t release another fine JRPG in Star Ocean: The Last Hope.
First a little history on the Star Ocean Saga, for those that don’t know this is not the first in this series of games, it is in fact a prequel. The first Star Ocean was released on the Super Famicom back in 1996, but has since been remade for the PSP with a new title Star Ocean: First Departure. The Second Story, which is of course the sequel, was released in 1999 on the original PlayStation. The third was seen on the Gameboy Color and the fourth was seen on PS2. The characters of the series were designed to be “action figure like”. With names like Roddick Farrence, and Fayt Leingod I mean “action” must be their middle name. Star Ocean games are also known for their real-time battle engines. Battles take place on a separate screen, but all characters (rather than waiting in one spot and taking damage) are fully mobile in three dimensions, can dodge and chase foes, and must cast their spells and deploy attacks despite enemy harassment.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope tells the story as to why we had to leave planet Earth and go out and search the great “star ocean” in the first place. Of course the reason is war; war never changes. (See what I did there?) The game does a great job of getting you up to speed, from telling you about World War 3, to the space station being built, to the tests of the warp engines. Not to mention the CGI movie that you watch during the history lesson is really impressive. Square-Enix did a good job keeping this prequel in line with the games that have come before it (if only they could have helped George Lucas with Star Wars…sigh) especially since the PS2 game Till the End of Time was supposed to be the end of the series.
Upon meeting our hero young Edge Maverick (….yes that is really his name) we find him dodging the send off ceremony for the Calnus, the starship which acts as your transportation and hub on your journey. You are also introduced to his childhood friend Reimi Saionji who of course is a girl, and starts off by nagging the young hero. It doesn’t take long for things to end up going wrong; as you enter hyperspace for the first time an object passes through the wormhole and forces your ship to make an emergency exit. You end up crash landing on a planet surface, and it is at this point that your journey really begins. Your initial mission is to find suitable planets for the human race to colonize, but after most of your ships were lost you are then tasked to finding out what happened to another childhood friend of Edge and Reimi, Crowe Almedio who is captain of one of the other ships in search for planets. What follows is a romp through the galaxy searching planets, and solving mysteries. The game even has a few surprises which I won’t spoil here.
The graphics in the game are top notch; easily the best out of any of the JRPGs to date. The textures look realistic, the hair moves in a realistic fashion, and the eyes are of course big and bright. The game does have the trademark RPG pop-in and some of the textures are repetitive, but the levels remain pretty interesting throughout. Same goes for the enemies that you will be spending most of your time fighting; there was obviously some real thought that went into making each enemy look as menacing as their stats would suggest. For some reason the game doesn’t allow for your characters to walk around freely. Instead they use the old “morph” where the characters all run into Edge and disappear. The only other thing that could have made it feel more modern would be if when you encountered an enemy you weren’t sent to a battle arena. But I can see why they left it, since it is one of the series staples.
Before I jump into the battle system I want to talk about some of the other gameplay features the game has to offer. The first of these is Item Creation, Commonly known as IC, Item Creation is a tradition throughout the Star Ocean series. The player can create weapons, healing items and accessories for use in the game. Raw items used in IC can commonly be found in shops, while rarer and uncommon types can be found in combat fields. In Star Ocean: The Last Hope, a new feature called “Recipe Creation Conference” has been added. You will be able to gather your team members in discussion of creating an item, but the abilities and stats of the final product will vary due to the team members’ different personalities and characteristics, specifically their IC skills.
This allows you to experiment, creating the same items with different members each time for desired results. Creation of weapons and accessories can wield out added effects using raw items, for example, you can create a HP+30% healing item or a weapon with ATK+10% effect. This in turn leads to an enormous amount of variations for the same item. However, creation of items has failure rates and ingredients and supplies will be destroyed in the process. Besides the usual items the player can build during IC, ship decoration items are also available for creation. These optional items spruce up the Calnus, adding more features such as new furniture, vending machines, a jukebox, a bio-rhythm machine that analyzes the player’s and team members’ health status, and etc.
Another staple in the series is Private Actions. Commonly known as PA, Private Actions allow Edge Maverick to interact with his team members. By conversing with them during rest after exploration or battle, you can form a rapport with him/her, which increases the member’s affection or respect for the main character. Talking correctly by choosing the right choices and fulfilling the conditions unlock special events or cut scenes between Edge and the team member. You can also select a team member for roommate, which also builds up rapport and further unlocks more PA events. In battle, a special “Rage” mode can be unlocked if Edge is seriously injured or near death, which angers the member into attacking enemies with much stronger attacks to defend him. Finally, PAs pave the way for different cut scenes shown during the ending of the game. A total of about 100 PAs can be achieved in the game.
A new feature has been added to this game called: Command Skills. Each character in the party has access to different unique skills of their own to utilize in the field. Examples of these are: “Harvest”, a command skill employed only by Reimi, which enables collecting of plants and herbs to be used as ingredients for healing items; “Mine”, employed by Bacchus, which enables mining of various stones and raw items in the field to be used in Item Creation; “Dash”, employed by Edge, allows the player to run past enemies and avoid random battles. Another new feature known as “Vanish” makes use of elemental rings to remove obstacles in the field, as well as opening element-specific treasure chests for unique loot.
Now onto the battle system, this is of course where you will spend most of your time in the game. When players encounter enemies out in the field, three types of encounters will occur:
Preemptive Attack – Which means you run into enemies from the back. Enemies’ backs face the party; this allows you to get a free hit before the enemy begins combat.
Surprise Attack – Enemy runs into you from behind. Enemies surround and immediately attack the party from all angles.
Ambush Attack – After seemingly defeating all enemies in the encounter, the party immediately runs into another set of enemies in the field. This happens when two or more sets of enemies are very close to each other on the field, or the ambush is story-driven. Instead, when the current battle ends, another battle begins, so the party will have to keep defeating enemies till no more encounters in the surrounding area can be achieved. After-battle results are postponed until the last encounter ends.
Another feature is the Battle Bonus Board. Whenever the party battles, a bar on the right-hand side of the screen will start accumulating colored jewels. These jewels are rewards for accomplishing various skills, magic, Blindsides, critical hits, etc, by any character in the party. For example, if any character deals a critical hit on an enemy, a blue jewel will be awarded; killing multiple enemies at the same time will net a yellow jewel. When jewels of the same color are chained, these bonuses will be added to the result at the end of each battle. However, if any character is interrupted when dealing out a move that will net the party a jewel (such as being injured by an enemy or the party decides to escape the battle), the chain of colored jewels will break and the party loses the bonus when the battle ends, this is known as Bonus Board Break.
The main new feature in battle is the Rush system. Each team member can unleash special or preemptive attacks by building up their Rush gauges during normal attacks. Besides returning to 4 party members in battle, new features in Star Ocean:TLH such as Jump add different varieties and styles during combat. Blindsides will enable you to evade enemy attacks and dash behind them, inflicting counterattacks out of their line of sight. Another new mode is the Real Time Member Change, which allows you to switch out active members for reserve members during battle. As Edge and his team members’ levels increases, special attacks for each of them can be unlocked.
A variety of long-range, short-range or area attacks can be performed. As level increases, these attacks will get much stronger and damaging. Link Combos can be created by chaining special attacks together, which make it highly effective during boss battles. All these require MP to perform in battle. Symbology, which is SO’s version of magic attacks allow the usage of magic by inscribing symbols or crests on the body. MP usage differs from each character; a combat-oriented fighter who isn’t used to casting magic may lose more MP than an adept Symbology user does. Various symbols have different casting times, depending on the user’s stats. Link Combos can also be used when casting Symbology for creating multiple chains of magic attacks.
Star Ocean:The last Hope is an excellent JRPG. Is it perfect? No, but it is very entertaining and even has a story that most Sci-Fi buffs will enjoy. All of the new innovations that they have made with this entry are all appreciated, and add an extra layer of depth to an already deep game. If you are a fan of JRPG’s pick up Star Ocean.