The Star Ocean franchise has been around the Japanese role-playing game scene for a long time. While it might not have quite the same infamy as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, I've always had a sentimental attachment to the series. I can still remember the profound impact Star Ocean: The Second Story had on me when I played it on the original PlayStation, and I had the pleasure of reviewing both PSP remakes: Star Ocean: First Departure
and Star Ocean: Second Evolution.
So this marks the third time I've reviewed a Star Ocean game, as Star Ocean: The Last Hope International is now available for the PS3.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope, the fourth game in the Star Ocean series, first hit the 360 in early 2009. Like other JRPGs before it (Eternal Sonata being a good example), Star Ocean: The Last Hope is now available for eager PlayStation 3 owners looking for another intergalactic quest. The "International" part of the title mainly refers to the very welcome inclusion of the original Japanese language track, as well as a minor but still appreciated option to change the HUD to its original design, which features stylish anime portraits.
For a detailed analysis of the original game, don't forget to read Erik's review
of the 360 version. But for a quick take on this excellent RPG, you've come to the right place.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope International follows the exploits of one Edge Maverick and his childhood friend Reimi Saionji. Both young soldiers are part of Earth's desperate Space Reconnaissance Force -- an effort to find habitable worlds beyond Earth's now ravaged surface. As the two friends journey together through the stars, they meet a host of charming heroes, devious villains and -- of course -- world-ending plots. As a player, it's your job to save the day.
The most important thing to note about Last Hope International is that it is much more enjoyable than its 360 counterpart, if only because of the Japanese language track. This is a very Japanese game. Unlike some JRPGs, Last Hope International contains characters that possess Japanese personalities and mannerisms that just don't quite fit with an English voiceover. The Japanese language track makes the characters feel much more natural and -- in turn -- more likable.
But a good amount of your time will be spent in battle, and that system is the same as the 360 version. Players control one character at a time while the AI (which can be set to certain behavior patterns) manages the other three characters. You can opt to set all the characters to manual mode if you wish, but they can still be targeted by your enemies.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope International uses a real-time battle system where you can move around an isolated battle field and execute basic attack combos by hitting the X button. Each character will learn a variety of techniques and spells (called "symbols" in the Star Ocean universe) that can be mapped to the L2 and R2 triggers. This system is very much like the previous Star Ocean games and it's easily one of the highlights of the experience.
Some of the most notable differences between Last Hope and other Star Ocean titles include the Blindside system and the Bonus Board, both elements being huge improvements to the formula. By holding down the circle button, players can charge up their Rush gauge (which, when filled, boosts the character's speed and strength) but also enter a defensive state. In this state, hitting the left analog stick before an enemy attacks you will execute a Blindside, which confuses the enemy and causes your character to rush around to the enemy's back. This is an extremely helpful technique and it also adds a much needed layer of strategy to a system that traditionally just required the mashing of one or two buttons.
The Bonus Board is another fantastic addition to the gameplay. By fulfilling certain requirements, players can fill a board on the side of the screen with different colored gems, each giving the player a boost at the end of battle. Killing an enemy with a Critical Hit, for example, will add a blue gem to the board, which gives you a 10 percent bonus to your experience earned. Killing multiple enemies with one hit, alternatively, will add a 10 percent bonus to the amount of money you walk away with.
The Bonus Board will break if an enemy lands a Critical Hit on your leader, or the leader is incapacitated. By playing carefully, however, players can largely avoid this and earn some fantastic bonuses during battle. This makes an already enjoyable, action-packed system even more enthralling.
Other Star Ocean staples, including item creation and Private Actions, have also returned in Last Hope. By either finding or creating recipes, players can craft a number of helpful items that can be employed throughout their journey. But my favorite element of the Star Ocean formula is still the Private Action system. I strongly believe that these scenes continue to be some of Star Ocean's strongest points, as they do something JRPGs have been forgetting as of late: non-story related character development.
Private Actions play out very differently in Last Hope, but they're still optional scenes in which the characters interact. This greatly helps build up the characters' personalities and lends a real sense of life to the cast. They're also hysterical, as any anime fan will find Welsh's personality instantly likable.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope International is not without flaws, however. Although the character models are great, the game does not look as striking as other modern JRPGs and there are a good number of framerate drops to be found during battle. Organic environments are hit-or-miss and there's noticeable pop-in when exploring.
But the single greatest flaw of Last Hope is the save point design. Save points are few and far between, especially during dungeon segments. This can be incredibly frustrating, as I discovered the other day when I was three floors into a dungeon, late for an appointment and desperate to save. I think we can all agree that save points are an ancient relic of the JRPG design philosophy and they need to go away.
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