In the past year, several Xbox exclusive games have been making their way over to the PS3 from the Xbox 360. Star Ocean: The Last Hope International from Square-Enix is the latest title to make the leap. Overall, the game is 90% a port of 360’s The Last Hope so this review will be more or less the same as last year’s review. However, one small difference improves the game design and user experience exponentially. When I reviewed The Last Hope, my biggest gripe with the Xbox 360 release was the character voices. Most of the characters had very monotonous English voicing. There was a child symbologist (spellcaster) who constantly annoy you by saying ‘Kay (as in okay) at the end of every sentence. Thankfully, in the PS3 version you can switch to full Japanese voicing from the beginning. This helps with the overall experience of playing this JRPG. Another nitpick I had with the Xbox 360 version were the character models. They typically had vacant expressions that could have benefited from an emotional upgrade since their happy and sad faces were nearly identical. The Japanese voicing somehow makes this less noticeable. For starters, the actors resonate more with the dialogue than their English counterparts. So, even if you’re just listening to the voices you can get a sense of the emotional magnitude of the scene. Another change introduced in the PS3 version are Anime style character portraits which is a nice touch.
The day will come when JRPGs buck the trend and deliver an innovative story that isn’t your cliché rags-to-riches fairy tale. Unfortunately, that day is still a distant dream. Tell me if this story sounds familiar. An unlikely teenager with self-confidence issues unwittingly becomes embroiled in an epic quest to save the world from certain doom. Along the way, he becomes the leader of a patchwork group of would-be heroes, including the ever-present battle-weary soldier. The group has no similarities, except for their overwhelming respect for a hero who is so young, yet seems so wise. In the end, you have an epic battle with an unexpected twist that you were actually expecting.
That, in a nutshell, is the story you’ll find in the JRPG from Square-Enix, Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Hopefully, I didn’t ruin it for you. The Last Hope is actually an engaging RPG that boasts hours of dungeon crawling, lush landscapes, and an intricate rewards system that will divert your attention from the cliché story. Star Ocean: The Last Hope International is the prequel to the Star Ocean space odyssey franchise. The series had its roots on the SNES before eventually becoming a mainstay in the Playstation world on the PS, PS2 and most recently the PSP.
The Last Hope takes place in the aftermath of World War III. Earth has become uninhabitable and the population has united to form the Greater Unified Nations and moved to space. You begin your adventure as Edge Maverick, an up and coming member of the Space Reconnaissance Force. Edge is joined by childhood friend and possible love interest Reimi Saionji. A space warp accident lands Edge and his friends on an adventure in time and space.
The anime visuals of Star Ocean have become the trend of RPGs over the recent years. You’ll immediately enjoy the resplendent landscapes of each new world you visit. It helps add to the enjoyment of dungeon crawling, which this game has in abundance. You’ll encounter the obligatory treasure chest that just happens to be lying in an open field or behind a snow capped mountain. Of course, why people put food in these chests still baffles me. One major quirk that was definitely annoying was the camera movements. Sometimes there are some awkward zooms that take place as well.
What really takes the loot hording in The Last Hope to the next level is that item hording isn’t restricted to treasure chests. Depending on what skills your party members possess, you can dig for random food supplies or mine for different minerals and items. In fact, item hording is one of the only times you will need to backtrack in this game. Once you get the right party member you’ll want to ho back to prior planets to get some quality mining in.
Searching for items is further intertwined in this tale through side quests. There are several small side quests where storeowners will ask for a few ingredients to be picked up along your travels. Each completed mission will reward you in some spending money and a few experience points. Although, the game is filled with a lot of order pickups there are a few other side quests that break the monotony like finding escaped patients or lost pets.
Star Ocean really wins out on the real time battle play. You can control each of your characters attack techniques. So, if you tire of the hack and slash, you can quickly switch up to a spellcaster. The AI of your party members is intelligent enough to dodge most attacks while fighting as you programmed them to. This game won’t go down as your typical button masher either. Battle Trophies break up the monotony of fights. You will find yourself trying out different types of fighting styles and finishers in order to rack up the trophies.
There are points in the game where the dialogue can be long winded. At the end of every battle, characters will start talking about their experience points using the same line almost every time. Hearing a character say “useful experience indeed” in English VO about one hundred times can be painful. Luckily, you can actually turn this yammering down. The music beds and sound effects are awesome to listen to so if you can miraculously tune out the voice acting you’ll be fine.
There are several cutscenes that drag on forever, some taking a full half-hour to complete. If you want, you can skip the entire cut scene and just get a text synopsis. This is like in game cliff notes, and after the first few cutscenes you’ll cheat every time. Warps also create another lull in gameplay. Between jumps between planets, you will be given the decision to either sleep for the entire journey there or interact with your crew. The good news is you can skip these lulls without hurting your gaming experience much. But, this RPG is worth playing over a few times for the additional endings and to unlock the higher difficulty levels.
There were a few times I experienced slow down when I summoned a monster, but it didn’t take away too much from the game. The best thing to do is install this game onto your hard drive for maximum enjoyment.
Despite having your everyday story from Japan, you’ll find that Star Ocean is an extremely fun and engaging dungeon-crawler with hours of gaming enjoyment to match the price tag.