An addictive, strategic combat system makes Star Ocean: The Last Hope worth playing despite its cliche storyline and annoying characters.
- Incredibly fun and strategic combat system
- A variety of huge, beautiful environments to explore
- Simple, powerful crafting system
- Plenty to do and collect once you've finished the game.
- Cliched story and characters
- Awful camera system
- Emotionless, doll-like characters are just plain creepy.
Since its advent nearly 13 years ago, the Star Ocean series has challenged the role-playing game norm with its real-time battles and sci-fi trappings. Despite what appeared to be the series' conclusion with the unconventional revelations seen in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, it has returned in prequel form on the Xbox 360 with a newly overhauled and better-than-ever combat system. Though it features a weak, cliche story and characters you may want to launch out of the airlock, its fantastic and engaging battles, simple yet fun crafting system, and bevy of bonuses make Star Ocean: The Last Hope worth your time.
In the latter half of the 21st century, humankind all but nukes itself into nonexistence, forcing the survivers on Earth to look to the stars for a new home. As Edge Maverick, a first-generation member of the Space Reconnaissance Force, you start off on your mission to explore the galaxy for a suitable new home and are drawn into a battle for the fate of the galaxy when you encounter a mysterious and destructive force that threatens all life. Of course, that's nothing that a can-do attitude, the support of your friends, hidden inner powers, and the occasional all-too-convenient plot twist can't handle as you race off to save the day. Sound familiar? Star Ocean: The Last Hope doesn't have a very original story, and its frequently ridiculous plot points and consistently dreadful dialogue don't help to make it any more memorable, especially when it forces half-hour-plus cutscenes on you with alarming frequency. Luckily, you can skip these epic events at any time (though oddly enough, they can't be paused) and read through condensed text synopses to make sure that you didn't miss anything too terribly important.
The formulaic nature of the story is further compounded by the cast of characters, themselves an off-the-shelf mixture of walking, talking space opera and anime cliches. You've got the hopelessly idealistic leading man, who is full of an infinite (and often misplaced) trust in others; the self-deprecating childhood-friend-slash-possible-love-interest; the emotionally repressed, scientifically minded space elf; the busty, scantily clad staff-wielding sorceress; the overly affectionate underaged cat girl; and more. Though the members of your misfit crew do undergo some fairly heavy changes as the game progresses--both as part of the standard narrative and in optional cutscenes and events--it's always in extremely predictable ways that ultimately fail to break them out of their original molds.
Despite these shortcomings, The Last Hope is a fun and engaging game thanks in great part to its deeply engrossing and highly addictive combat system; if the story is the heart of a Japanese RPG, then the battles are its soul, and Star Ocean's shines brightly. Monsters appear on the field, and once engaged, they're fought completely in real time with a party of up to four characters. You actively control one of your crew members and navigate him or her around a wide-open battlefield, dishing out damage at your own pace, while the others act according to basic AI routines that you've given them. At any time, you can switch over to manually control anyone who you have deployed, and you can even swap out active characters with reserve ones at your discretion. Every single character plays vastly differently, and it's fun and engaging to experiment with each character in order to find the play style and party combination that works best for you.
Though the battles can get frantic, they donít all come down to button mashing, especially when you're taking on bosses. These major battles in The Last Hope often play out like simplified versions of encounters in an massively multiplayer game such as World of Warcraft. Each boss has a specific strategy that can be followed to take it out--though it's not necessary to follow these tactics if your party is powerful enough--and figuring them out during the fight will make your life a whole lot easier and dramatically reduce battle times. Another concept taken from online games is monster aggro, or aggression. Though enemies will wander around the battlefield, you can draw aggro from them with attacks or by using specialized skills for doing so, which is useful for pulling a monster off of your physically weaker magic-slingers to give them a chance to cast their powerful spells. Once you have aggro and the monster gears up for an attack, if you dodge out of the way with the right timing, you can break its line of sight on you, leaving it temporarily confused and open to special counterattacks called blindsides. Another powerful tool at your disposal is Rush mode, which can be activated once you've taken or dealt enough damage to grant you an array of bonuses and the ability to chain attacks together with other party members.