25 Jun, 2009

Star Ocean: The Last Hope Review

360 Review | Twinkle twinkle little star.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope is the fourth title in the Star Ocean series, with this instalment serving as a prequel to the other three games. Unlike most JRPG's, The Last Hope isn't set in a fantasy realm but rather in our own distant future. Earth has been scorched by the fires of war and humanity has been forced underground. It's up to the Space Reconnaissance Force to discover and colonise new planets for when people grow weary of their presently subterranean lifestyles... or something. The game's lead is the gloriously named Edge Maverick, a blonde, androgynous space cadet with a heart of gold. Sound to you like some sort of amalgamation of typical leads in other JRPG's? You'd be about right. In fact most of the game's cast can be slotted into one stereotype or another.

The Last Hope does have some visual flair however. It's a pretty, shimmering sort of game that's almost oversaturated with colour. Both the locations and characters are endowed with an impressive amount of detail, and the game's aesthetic as a whole is bright and distinct. Unfortunately it can be guilty of some significant frame rate drops when attacking multiple units in battle. The camera in the field can also be troublesome. In wide open areas it's perfectly fine; you can pan out to a distance or pull in close to Edge as he traverses the landscape. Get yourself in a smaller area with corridors and rooms however and it's a completely different story. Entering and exiting rooms seems to really confuse the camera, not knowing whether to be in or outside of the room you're entering or exiting.

They're just chillin', watchin' Discovery Channel.

They're just chillin', watchin' Discovery Channel.
The Last Hope's battle system is quite strong. All combat is in real time within a large arena that launches when you touch an enemy in the field. Chasing them down will give you the attacking advantage, and likewise being chased down by them gives the enemy that advantage. There are a maximum of four members to a party and you can switch between them at any time with a touch of the bumper buttons. Whoever you aren't controlling will act according to one of a small number of very basic strategies, such as attacking with everything, attacking without MP use, or holding back. While these are sufficient in terms of attack they're useless for defence. Particularly irksome is that there's no strategic option dedicated to healing, made even more so by the fact that the AI just doesn't have the good sense to heal themselves most of the time.

The A button dispenses regular attacks, with special attacks assigned to the left and right triggers. Pressing Y pauses the fight and brings up a wheel menu from which to select other abilities and items. The targeting system does a reasonable job. Facing an enemy will cause a loose auto-lock which can be confirmed with a press of the analogue stick, though the auto-lock can be messy and unreliable. When an enemy targets you you'll be surrounded with a yellow reticule. That's about the time you should be pressing the B button, which prompts a semi-helpful dodge. However, holding down B will make the party member stand their ground and charge up. Releasing the button at the right time results in a Blindside, which puts the party member behind the vulnerable enemy and gives you a good chance at a critical hit. Finally there's Rush mode, which charges as you deal out and receive damage. When it reaches 100 it can be activated with X and gives your character a temporary boost in power and defence. Your enemies also have their own Rush bars for you to keep an eye on.

Feeling blue? OH SNAP.

Feeling blue? OH SNAP.
The repetition of battling is softened by the fact that everyone seems to level up rather quickly. In addition to the regular levels characters also level up something called a BEAT status, one of three classes that earn development bonuses according to the fighting style of the character. It seems that in every second or third fight somebody is either levelling up or gaining a BEAT status level and so the player is rewarded with a consistent, albeit manufactured, sense of progression. The Bonus Board is the game's sole but rather good piece of innovation. It's an assortment of tiles that starts out empty but can be filled with different coloured gems for doing certain things in a battle. For instance, by killing an enemy using only special attacks you'll gain a pink gem on the board. At the end of the battle, that pink gem will restore one per cent of your current HP and MP. If you collect more, your bonus will be higher. Experience bonuses can be obtained by executing critical hits (most easily achieved with a Blindside attack), which exacerbates the joy of fast levelling even more. Other bonuses include additional money for winning fights and additional SP points, which go towards juicing up abilities. Importantly though, your bonuses can be cruelly torn away from you. If an enemy gets a critical hit on you the board will break, and you will lose some or even all of your hard-earned bonus gems, leaving you to refill the board all over again.

The game's story is passable; Maverick is an ambitious space pilot, and when the ship of his rival Crowe goes missing, he and his crew go searching for it, uncovering a galactic conspiracy along the way. It's sort of like Mass Effect, JRPG style. Some of the dialogue is adequate, some of it is just bizarre. Before one particular boss battle the usually cool-headed Edge is struck with a sudden bout of mania, screaming 'Why?! Why does this always happen to us?! DAMN IT ALL TO HELL!' After the fight he's back to normal. The other particularly bad thing about the dialogue is that it's entirely lacking in subtlety and often goes in circles. Case in point, far from verbatim but faithful to the gist of one particular scene:

Character 1: This ship is going to explode.

Character 2: The ship is going to explode?

Character 3: It seems so.

Character 4: But if the ship explodes... we'll die!

Character 1: We will die if the ship explodes.

Character 2: We have to get off the ship before it explodes!

Character 3: Wait, what happens if we don't?

Character 4: We'll die!

Character 1: 'Okay, just so I've got this straight...'

Character 1: 'Okay, just so I've got this straight...'
Whenever some kind of plot point develops you're dragged through the same horrible sequence of reinforcement and repetition, the player not trusted to comprehend even the most basic plot point. The voice acting is also a mixed bag. There's unfortunately no Japanese dub and the lip synching is terrible. Characters like Edge and Reimi are fine, if overly earnest. However, the voice of Welch will break any surrounding glass, and Lymle's 'Kaaaaaaaaaay?' at the end of every sentence (regardless of context) will cause internal bleeding due to pure hatred. The music is competent orchestral fare, doing nothing in particular to annoy or to inspire.

An important point: if you don't like cutscenes, you won't like this game. There's a lot of them. Some are long, and not entirely interesting (though always pretty). Whenever you're moving between planets you can bond with your crew via Personal Actions, which is really just initiating a light-hearted cutscene, sometimes with a choice that can increase Edge's affinity with other characters. Some of them are genuinely amusing, and some of them are genuinely creepy. The little girl character wants to have 'nappy' time with Edge? Let's just back away slowly, now…

'Erm, I'm not sure this is ethically sound...'

'Erm, I'm not sure this is ethically sound...'
At least there's plenty to do over the game's three discs. It's a completionist's dream, with all variety of encyclopaedic galleries and information that's begging to be filled out. There are jillions of fetch quests if you're into that sort of thing, and each character is loaded with the intimidating challenge to obtain each of their one hundred individualized battle trophies.

What this game has going for it are some appealing visuals and a quite decent battle system. Its flaws are contained to small niggles and annoyances that collectively bring it down a notch or two on the ladder. In the end though, The Last Hope is sturdy, competent, and does all the things an RPG is supposed to do.
The Score
The Last Hope offers a pleasant looking and reasonably playable JRPG experience, no more and no less. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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4 years ago
Yeah I gotta agree. 'Kay. I just got off playing it for a few hours just now. 'Kay. There are some hitches in the game and everything is so damn shiny. 'Kay. I was actually laughing really hard at the story near end of disc 1, you know the Earth thing. 'Kay.

Dub kills me though. Lymle sucks and I hate, hate, hate her full stop. Edge is borderline monotone and etc. with all the other characters. But in all honesty, I actually like Welch.
4 years ago
Nice, gotta love that dialogue. I'll get this guy eventually, won't be for a while though.
4 years ago
42 hours in, this game is certainly long. Definetly well worth the purchase though. =D
4 years ago
DarkYoshii, I found it to be one of the shortest RPGs I have ever played... Less than 25 hours! icon_neutral.gif

As for Lymyl... I thought she was awesome. She is SUPPOSED to sound like that, its the whole point. She says generic sugar high child things, and moves about in a sugar high fashion --- in unemphatic slow motion. It's funny! I love her D:
4 years ago
Less than 25 hours are you serious? I'm almost 40 in and havnt finished yet. Loving the game though, didnt mind the dub either.
4 years ago
It took me a total of 69 hours to finish the game, and that isn't doing the post endgame content. The dub, while it can be annoying at times, isn't all as bad as others make it out to be. The brightness of the game can be frustrating though. Still, an awesome game, and well worth the pickup.
4 years ago
Honestly, if you're after a JRPG, don't get this, get Tales of Vesperia. It's better in just about every way.
4 years ago
Pfff. A true fan would buy both. In any case I have always preferred the Star Ocean battle system. Tales needs to wake up to the third dimension. They finally let you run around in it, but you can't attack at the same time... icon_neutral.gif
4 years ago
NegativeZero wrote
Honestly, if you're after a JRPG, don't get this, get Tales of Vesperia. It's better in just about every way.
I just got Star Ocean today purely because Tales of Vesperia has been delayed past when JB's trade in deal ends (I had some trade bait). I want Tales more though. <3 Cel Shading.
4 years ago
I, for one, am enjoying the hell out of this game. Just made it onto disk 2, 18 or so hours in. Will have to agree with the issues mentioned in the review, but there's nothing that isn't difficult to overlook, at least for me.
4 years ago
Nice review Michael, that was a fun read icon_biggrin.gif

The only reason why I want to buy this game is for the Battle system alone.
4 years ago
Thanks for the review! I love the circling narative hahaha I bet its an attempt to make the game feel longer than it should be icon_razz.gif
This was going to be the game I'd buy a 360 for however I think I'll live; it doesn't sound as amazing as I was hoping for it to be but I'll wait for the final verdict till I see it HD action at my friends house icon_biggrin.gif
4 years ago
I don't own a 360, but I am a fan of Star ocean so I sat through and spoiled the game through the power of youtube video walkthroughs. At the very end I was left with but one thought about what I had just watched;

Isn't Edge Maverick one of the greatest porn names ever?
4 years ago
Im in the exact same boat as Verv, Just got it due to the Vesperia delay at JB.

Played about 2-3 hours of it today. Its ok so far. I dont see myself keeping it when Vesperia comes out. I might power run through it before then.
4 years ago
I thought Lymles 'nappy' time scene was of the sweetest scenes i've seen...you just have a creepy mind icon_razz.gif
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    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  4/06/2009 (Released)
Standard Retail Price:
  $109.95 AU
  UBI Soft
Year Made:

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