While casual players might enjoy SO3, only really dedicated players will get a lot of out it.
Miss: Combat can be unresponsive and dull at times, backtracking, characters are sometimes hard to hear, Farlene!
To be honest, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time was somewhat of a letdown for me. After spending several years in the making and being the first in the series to set foot on the PS2, I was expecting a little more. Regardless though, Star Ocean 3 is still a good game, but those not willing to dedicate themselves to lots of level grinding likely will not get as much out of it.
Gameplay: The combat system in Star Ocean 3 is sort of a mixed bag. On one hand, its real-time, yet still strategic and complex, having the player utilize weak and strong attacks, battle skills, magicks and blocking. However, it can also feel clunky and unresponsive and the AI can be questionable at times. Also, the game uses a mechanic called the bonus gauge. Attacking enemies fills the gauge, and once filled, it gives you bonuses such as Triple EXP or increased chance of getting an item. These bonuses make level grinding less of a drag, but they encourage you to stay away from the action and not choose a melee character (you can control one of three combatants at any time), as receiving a critical hit cancels all your bonuses, making the combat less fun. On the bright side, all enemies can be seen on the map, so battles can be avoided if necessary. Outside of combat, you'll be exploring towns and dungeons. The dungeons actually have some interesting puzzles, but can sometimes drag on for too long, especially given that you can carry a maximum of 20 of an item (as opposed to the 99 limit used by most RPGs). The game can also do a poor job of telling you where you need to go, and its very easy to lose your way if you stop playing for a long time and try to go back. At one point in the game I was told to visit a mine that I came to before, but the last time I played was weeks ago and without any guidance or any sort of map, I had to check a FAQ. SO3 also forces you to do a lot of backtracking and revisiting old dungeons and other areas, and while most games automatically teleport you out of a dungeon once completed, SO3 forces you to walk all the way back.
Story: SO3 tells the tale of college student, Fayt Leingod, the son of two renowned researchers. Fayt is currently on vacation with his childhood friend Sophia, when the planet is attacked. Eventually the identity and motives of the attackers are revealed, giving way to a grand story of heroes who eventually have to save the galaxy. While this may sound somewhat cliché, there is actually a HUGE twist in the game, along with other smaller plot twists. The problem is that this twist isn't handled very well, and while I liked the idea, I found it hard to accept it given various reactions by certain characters to said twist. (Hopefully my ambiguity will prevent anything from being spoiled) Another kind of minor problem that I had with the story was the sometimes ridiculously slow pace that the dialog would go at. Sometimes, really simple, insignificant conversations will take 10-15 minutes with conversations seemingly written for a 6-year old audience to be able to understand. The characters that make up the plot are pretty likable. Fayt is a little whiny, but makes an alright hero and the supporting cast is good overall. The problem that I had with the characters were not their personalities, but how they factored into the gameplay. Many of the characters you get are so severely under leveled that only really dedicated grinders will get any value out of them.
Value: SO3 isn't that short by RPG standards. It will likely take 30+ hrs. to complete the main story, but dedicated players will manage to get 50-100 hours depending on how much of the extra stuff they do. Aside from combat and exploration, the item creation system, returning from SO2, has a fair amount of depth, but casual players might find it boring and dismiss it altogether.
Presentation: Graphically, SO3 looks pretty good. Character models are well rendered and the artists successfully captured the anime look and feel for 3D characters. Environments look okay, but not especially great. The background music is at times excellent. The BG music in certain towns is especially fitting and soothing to the ears. There is some really over-excited rock music in some of the dungeons that just seems to be a little much. The voice-acting is actually really solid with the exception of one character, Farlene, who made me want to vomit every time she opened her mouth. Despite the overall good quality of it though, it very often gets overshadowed by BG music and is sometimes very difficult to hear. This is okay given that the game has a subtitles option, but either lowering the BG music when characters speak or giving the player options to tweak Voice and Music sound individually, would have helped a lot.
SO3, despite its flaws, is a solid RPG worth playing for fans. Though casual players might get something out of it, its really only the hardcore RPG vets. that devote a lot of time to the game, who will likely thoroughly enjoy the game.