Name: Star Ocean: The Last Hope
Genre: Action RPG
Platform: Xbox 360
I have never been much of a Star Ocean fan. The series is over a decade old and spans four generations of video game consoles, but somehow, it never held my interest. I’m not sure what it was; after all, I love a good JPRG, and Square Enix’s name on the box should have been convincing enough to at least give the series a try. I played the PSP remakes of the first and second games in the series, and while I thought they were okay, they didn’t exactly make me want to keep coming back for more. Therefore, I didn’t know what to expect when going into Star Ocean: The Last Hope; despite the optimistic title, I certainly didn’t have my hopes up. Things weren’t looking good for the first few hours, but then something happened—I found myself loving this game, and could not have been more surprised by it.
My first impressions of Star Ocean: The Last Hope were not good. The game starts off with an hour-long “battle simulator”, which breaks combat down into a series of dry, aggravating tutorials. I loathe tutorials, and enjoy it when developers can sneak them in naturally without forcing the player to feel like he or she is sitting through a class; unfortunately, that’s exactly what Star Ocean did, and it made the combat system seem uninteresting and unintuitive. It takes a few hours for the story to really get going too, which is more time than some gamers might be willing to give. However, I stuck with it, and I was greatly rewarded for my time and patience.
A prequel to the other games in the series, Star Ocean: The Last Hope takes place about 80 years in the future, a future in which Earth has been made uninhabitable by nuclear war. The planet’s only hope is to find another planet to call home, and Edge Maverick and his childhood friend Reimi are two of the people chosen for this task. They set off to explore the great star ocean, hoping to find a planet with properties similar to Earth. It isn’t long before things go terribly wrong, with the rest of the space vessels crashing or disappearing. Through a series of events, Edge becomes captain of the remaining ship, and the heavy task of salvation falls on his shoulders. Though the idea of a post-apocalyptic Earth isn’t anything new, it’s also not something you often see in role-playing games, especially Japanese RPGs that also have monsters, cat people, silly outfits, and many of the other elements you would expect from a game in the genre. The Last Hope seamlessly blends science fiction and fantasy in a way few games in the genre have done, and I was impressed by the way the tale unraveled.
I previously complained about the opening battle tutorial, and have never been a fan of the fighting system in Star Ocean games. It is an action RPG, but in previous installments, the battles were less about strategy and more about mashing buttons. However, once Edge and his crew crash-landed on that first planet and the real battles began, I found that the tweaks added to the fighting actually made it a lot better. When you’re not having explanations shoved down your throat, the fighting is fun, and will have you experimenting with different characters and strategies to earn more battle trophies. The battle system is much deeper than other Star Ocean games, and much more enjoyable.
Unfortunately, some parts of the game just did not seem polished enough. While the cut scenes were epic and pretty, as you would expect from a Squenix RPG, oftentimes the game looked less than stellar. The characters almost always looked great, but backgrounds and environments sometimes lacked the same level of graphical prowess. The voice-acting isn’t bad (some characters will get on your nerves, depending on how much tolerance you have for little girl voices), but the localization seemed a bit off. There were so many instances of dialogue not even coming close to matching up with the way a character’s lips were moving, I came to expect it.
My biggest problem, however, was that the game froze up on me multiple times, and while it’s not a game-breaking bug, it did cause me to lose thirty or forty minutes of progress each time. At first, I thought maybe it was just a problem with my game or my 360, but since each freeze happened as a battle ended, I figured that wasn’t a coincidence. A little research revealed that this isn’t an uncommon problem, though it may be limited to one part of the game. At any rate, it’s severely frustrating. It never made me want to stop playing, but it is still an issue that should never have made it into the final version of the game. There were also a few framerate issues during cut scenes (which made me think the game was going to freeze, but it didn’t).
Despite the freezing, and the other minor complaints, Star Ocean: The Last Hope is still a great game that far exceeded my expectations. In my opinion, it’s the best game in the series, and I find myself actually sad that it is supposed to be the last. Those who haven’t played the Star Ocean games before will have no problem getting into this one, but for fans of the series, there are plenty of references to familiar characters and locations littered throughout. While it takes too long to really get going, it wasn’t long before I was losing hours at a time to this game, and they passed by like minutes. Before I knew it, I was putting other games aside and looking forward to playing this every day. The Last Hope was the last attempt to make me a Star Ocean fan, and surprisingly, it succeeded.