Star Ocean: The Last Hope
Developer: Tri-Ace
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
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Keeping the JRPG market satisfied while the world waits patiently for Final Fantasy XIII Square Enix present us with Star Ocean: The Last Hope, which is actually a prequel in the series' timeline and is set after the climax of World War III where men have set their eyes to space in order to find an alternative home after completely destroying their own.

The game's themes have their roots in classic sci-fi: swanning across the galaxy, literally going where no-one has before, feels very Star Trek and one part of the game has you sneaking around a massive space station (which was indeed "No Moon") in order to deactivate the tractor beam to enable your party to escape capture.

But despite the game's bold sci-fi references it is far from revolutionary in its nature - you'll spend very little time on the ship and will quickly be back in familiar locales such as dungeons, caves, open plains and snowy plateaus battling monsters with only a half-arsed explanation as to why you're using swords and bows instead of laser cannons. Groundbreaking, the gameplay 'aint.

For such a grand premise the storyline is uninspiring and you'll spend a lot of the time performing mundane tasks (like finding a lost kitty) that are frankly beneath a space captain and more Last of the Summer Wine than Star Trek. Often the objectives are really obtuse and you'll spend hours wandering around a location with no real knowledge of what you're doing there, yet pushing on through until a ten minute cutscene explains all.

For a JRPG the characters are unsurprising: The hero, a reluctant teenage space captain with daddy issues (he was killed by a monster) floppy blonde hair and an equally ridiculous name (Edge Maverick is one of the silliest names in a videogame yet) joins up with his childhood friend who swans around with her breasts in your face all day, a sycophantic alien who tells you how amazing you are all the time, and a really young girl who talks agonisingly slowly and always says "'Kay?" at the end of every line. With the balance of breasts and extremely tedious cutesy characters I still can't work out whether this is aimed at teenage girls or boys but being neither it didn't quite sit right.

Couple this with laboured cut scenes that really slow the pace of the game to walking speed when it should be thundering along - simple plot expositions seem to require five minute cut-scenes with some of the worst voice acting and lip-synching yet. The option to skip them and read a handy summary saved this game from a three-storey death more times than I care to imagine.

Luckily where the plot and characters fail to impress the gameplay succeeds and on many levels. By far the game's finest feature is the battle engine, which seamlessly combines intricate micro-management with real-time combat. While you're moving about normally you can tinker with your characters' attributes, magic skills and also battle tactics, as you won't have much time to do this when the ‘proverbial’ hits the fan.

Once you're in combat you control only one character (usually Edge) and use ‘A’ to attack the enemy. Special combos are mapped to the triggers and can be chained together almost endlessly to deal some serious damage to the bigger enemies. Pull off particularly nice moves like critical hit kills or take out two enemies at once and you'll light up the bonus board. This fills up over the course of battles and gives you extra bonuses when you win each battle, such as extra XP or cash. However if you take a critical hit the bonus board is broken, so it's a good incentive to stay on your toes.

Although you can switch between all characters in battle the best thing to do is to set the enemies up for them - Edge has a sweet move that flicks them into the air for the others to pick off with arrows and magic as they fall back down to earth. Teamwork is essential but if you've taken care of your characters then everyone does their job without you even having to think about it. The only issues with the combat are minor ones: not being able to manually switch targets can be annoying as you sometimes inexplicably ignore the enemy right in front of you to chase another enemy across the battle map. Also each character only has one bit of victory dialogue which becomes painfully irritating before you've even reached the second disc.

What's also disappointing is the story/action balance in Star Ocean, as puzzles are drawn out through levels jammed with the same simple enemies. Simply getting from one room to another takes at least fifteen minutes so if you have to backtrack for some reason you'll be spending way more time fighting than running with no real variation, which starts to grate.

Star Ocean is crammed with enough sub quests and mini games to keep you far more interested than the main quests, the key to which is the item creator which allows you to design and make all types of weapons, armour, talismans (and before you say anything, no, it’s not “talismen” – Ed.) and even Spaghetti Bolognese! Item creation is reason enough to scour each planet for those rare berries and raw materials needed but each shop also has a "wanted" board for speciality items which carry nice rewards.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope has elements of a great RPG, the combat in particular kicks life into the stale genre. However the game is hamstrung by being far too annoying and not concentrating on making the main plot an epic and enjoyable experience. It's a bad sign when the side quests are more interesting than the main story. If this actually is the ‘last hope’ for the Star Ocean series then they'll be in serious trouble...


Best Bits

- Great Combat System
- Extensive side missions
- Item creation
- Buxom ladies
Worst Bits

- Terrible voice acting and cut-scenes
- Annoying Characters
- Unengaging storyline

by: Crazypunk

Copyright © Gamecell 2009