I can only recommend the fourth installment to people who have knowledge on the franchise.

User Rating: 8.5 | Star Ocean: The Last Hope X360
Star Ocean: The Last Hope on the Xbox 360 to me is like a box of chocolates This has nothing to do with Forrest Gump when I say this, but bear with me. You may find some really delicious flavours, but then there are also the revolting flavours which lurk around in the box. This is relevant, because there are some really good aspects in the latest installment, which are followed by some rather absurd ones which leave me asking myself why they're there. Join me, as we travel through the star ocean during the space date, for the fourth time.

In short, Star Ocean 4 (I will nickname it that from here on) is a solid JRPG, which is an enjoyable 3-disc adventure. Sure, it isn't quite as enjoyable as some of the other Xbox 360 games from the RPG genre, (Tales of Vesperia, Mass Effect and Fallout 3 as a few examples) but it's definitely worth picking up if you're a fan of the franchise and/or other tri-Ace titles. I am still really confused why it's exclusive to Microsoft's console, especially with the first two games recently released on PSP and the third on PS2. But I won't go on ranting about that.

The story is heavily detailed, much more so than the previous three games. Star Ocean 4 gives me the impression of "Metal Gear Solid 4 on the Xbox 360". Why's that you ask? There are literally hours of cutscenes, with a small portion that I thought they could've gotten away without. There were many times when I was watching cutscenes for up to 40 minutes + at once. Sounds a little like MGS4, I reckon. For those who are impatient, you are able to skip these cutscenes, and view the plot summary which is available to view in-game. The plot in the fourth game isn't too bad. There are a few dull moments here and there, especially with some of the corny characters in this game, but it's overall a fairly good plot with a few surprises here and there. Just a few slight complications along with it. Despite that this is the fourth game in the series, it is actually first in chronological order, taking place a few centuries prior to the original. It is set not too long after World War III, which in the story of Star Ocean, takes place in A.D. 2064. The third World War was a very costly mistake, and nearly destroyed the world. So humans tried to find another home, in space. It is said that World War III ended in 2064, but the effects of the war remained. When humanity began to search for a new home in space, the USTA was established. In AD 2087, Professor Trillias Bachtein succeeded with his space warp experiments. This was the last day of the AD calendar and first day of the SD calendar. After the success of Professor Trillas Bachtein, the USTA began to secretly implement it's SRF project. In SD 0010, the first official SRF mission began. The story is very complex, but it gets more interesting as you progress. The ending was very good too.

Star Ocean 4's cast is very different from previous installments, alas in a bad way. The two main characters are both humans. Edge Maverick is the lead male, who starts off as a confident leader, who turns a bit "emo" at times. Reimi Saionji is the lead female, and to me is barely passable. Faize is Eldarian, and is one of the more serious characters. One ally that is worth talking about is Lymle. She's a little girl who is an expert symbologist, who tends to use "'kay" at the end of sentences (eg: "I'm even stronger than Faize, 'kay?"). She's quite cute, and funny at times. Meracle and Sarah are two other female allies who add to the comic relief. My two favourite characters come in a bit later, Myuria and Arumat, who have the more fascinating back-stories and more acceptable personalities. Welch Vineyard makes a return too. She made her first appearance in the third game, who then appeared in the PSP remakes of the first and the second. In The Last Hope, Welch is much naughtier and playful of a teenage girl than in previous games...with purple hair and a purple outfit. To be honest, I don't like this Welch. Overall, while not too terrible of a cast, they definitely aren't the best in the franchise.

Alright, on to a better aspect. The battle system in Star Ocean 4 is definitely part of the delicious chocolates. Battles are as enjoyable as always, maybe even more so in this one. It is real-time-based, like the other games. To me it feels like Till the End of Time's battles, except adding just a pinch of The Second Story. You take control of one character in the party, while the other allies in your active party are AI controlled. Newly learned abilities can be assigned to the shoulder triggers, and you'll get a bigger range of these when you progress in combat level. Up to four allies can fight at one time, which is great, as previous installments only allowed up to three party members at a time. One great thing to definitely mention: ZERO MP DOESN'T KILL YOU THIS TIME! Encounters in the fourth game are very fast-paced and sometimes really enjoyable. I've always been impressed with Star Ocean's battle systems, and tri-Ace have managed to keep that entertainment with the fourth game.

Several new features, or additions to features have debuted in the battles of Star Ocean 4. First off is "Rush Mode". Under the Health and Magic meters, you will find one other gauge which goes up every time you hit something, or when you get hit. When you see it at 100, you press X, and you have temporary enhancements, including resistance against attacks, and a higher ratio of critical hits. The bonus battle system isn't new to the series, but it has definitely improved since I last saw it in Star Ocean 3. It's more or less the same, but a lot easier to understand, and it's a lot easier to use. Sadly, the bonus gauge disappears when you quit the game after saving, but it's still good for level grinding when playing for a fair bit of time in one sitting. Battle trophies are back too, and have better and worse changes. Every ally now has their own set of trophies, and the more challenge-like trophies don't exist in the fourth game (like beating a boss within 30 seconds wouldn't be included). Examples of Star Ocean 4's trophies include "Dealing over 1000 damage" or "Defeating an enemy with a special attack" and other several bizarre trophies which vary across the characters. One other feature which debuted in this game are the Blindside attacks. When an enemy (usually a bigger one, like a boss) attacks, you can dodge it with B and a directional analog button. Your character may automatically run behind the enemy, and you are able to attack it's weakspot. Quite useful actually.

But then there's the difficulty. I found this one to be much harder than previous games. I'm mainly talking about some of the bosses in this game. Most bosses can be outrageously cheap, and require a lot of grinding in order to barely defeat one. Well, I guess that isn't the case with the earlier bosses, but I found them to be much more annoying once I popped in the second disc. This applies for the Galaxy difficulty, but I can only assume that it's worse on higher difficulty levels. As for the length, it's fairly lengthy when aiming for 1000/1000 gamerscore points (100%). However, if you are not a side-quest or second playthrough person, then expect a main story of roughly 35-40 hours.

The ability system in this installment I also find bit better than previous games. AP is used to increase the level of your abilities. This includes your abilities used in battles, and also abilities which are used outside of battle, such as mining and harvesting. You can also find skill manuals (and purchase them) which you can use to teach characters new abilities, whether they're battle support, or field support.

Then there's the exploring, outside encounters. Treated with beautiful visuals, and lush environments on the different planets that you visit, the exploration feels a lot different in this installment. The slight overhead view from the previous games are completely obliterated, and you get more of a wilderness which gives me a tiny Dragon Quest VIII feeling. While I didn't think it was the best change that tri-Ace have ever made, it was still a fairly good exploration system. Towns are great in this one. If only there were a few more of them. Dungeons aren't all that impressive, as some of the future areas get slightly tedious, let alone confusing. The exploration starts becoming a hit or a miss when progressing further. Mostly hits, but with the odd misses. What could've been improved on was the quantity of landscape on the planets. As much as there's the saying "quality over quantity", I thought a bit more landscape (and more towns) would've made this game a bit more enjoyable in the adventuring department.

What's really weird (but generously awesome) is that opening any treasure chest and mining/harvesting any items give the whole party a pop of EXP.

When it comes to side-quests in this game, there are many of them. They are simply known as "Quests", and are much like quests that you take in certain WRPGs. Rewards for beating quests include items, Fol and EXP for your entire party. I believe there are also Quest-related achievements, for those who aim to complete them all. There are also the bonus dungeons to beat, as well as the infamous Ethereal Queen, who lurks all tri-Ace titles (I'm not sure about the first Star Ocean).

If you've played a previous game in the series before (I'm thinking mainly 1 and 2), then you most likely know about Private Actions. Here's a little explanation for those who are unaware of this running feature. You as the hero talk to your other allies in one-on-one conversations, with options you can pick to gain their respect, or lose it. This affects the end of the game, where you can view special endings of the allies if you choose the right things to say. In Star Ocean 4, these private actions take place on the Calnus, rather than in towns. They usually happen when travelling to new planets, or the next planet during the course of the story. Some of these private actions are rather humourous, while others are really absurd. But it's always good to have this unique feature in the series.

The inventing and creating returns too, hence having the mediocre new Welch concept. Like the Private Actions, the workshop is also done on the Calnus. The competitive side has been obliterated in Star Ocean 4. I was actually rather relieved, to be honest. I hated worsening my rank in the third game, due to caring about the main story. So anyway, the workshop works much like in the previous game. You assign your allies to different groups, while they come up with new ideas if items over the time you're in there working. Once the idea is invented, you can create the items. Items include smithery, alchemy, cooking, etc. Ideas vary on who you team your allies up with, so keep that in mind.

Undoubtedly, the graphics are outstanding. Throughout the entire adventure, you'll be treated with gorgeous locations, characters and cinematics. They really did a great job with the locations. They really add to the exploring. The characters also look pretty good, with the minor improvements needed. Obviously, characters would've been motion captured, otherwise movement wouldn't have looked so good. Mouthing definitely needed improvement. That aside, the rendering and detail of the characters were very impressive. Cinematics have some very nice visuals too. Colours were done very well. Not too bright, and no grey in sight (except for the technologies and such, of course). I found the third disc especially had such gorgeous visuals. Overall, I am very impressed with the HD upgrade for Star Ocean. They're definitely some of the best technical graphics i've seen in a 7th-gen JRPG, let alone game in general.

Motoi Sakuraba returns for the composition of The Last Hope's soundtrack. Motoi-san has been very loyal to the tri-Ace games ever since the first Star Ocean. In fact, there hasn't been a single game from them which he hasn't composed (excluding Radiata Stories). He's also composed a few soundtracks from the Tales series, along with several other RPGs. While I did rather enjoy this particular soundtrack, I didn't quite enjoy it as much as some of his previous works. Though this doesn't mean that it's a bad soundtrack. In fact, it's a moderately enjoyable soundtrack. As well as some of the really nice original pieces, they were followed by several familiar tunes from previous games in the series, such as the first two battle themes for example. This soundtrack also has a wide range of tunes. You won't be hearing any repetition when exploring, except for in battles and on the Calnus. While it isn't quite as memorable as his previous works, but I still enjoyed the soundtrack.

The English voice dubbing is disaster on three discs. While I haven't heard the Japanese voices (I hear they sound better), the English voices are pretty much rubbish. I won't go into very much detail on this matter, but if you haven't lost your remote down the couch like a typical lazy TV addict, then I don't blame you for muting cutscenes. While the cutscenes aren't particularly bad, the voices on the other hand are. It's a bit unfair when you mix good music in with absurd English dubbing. Here's hoping for a Director's Cut with the Japanese option (preferably on PS3).

While the battle system and graphics are both very impressive, and the story and cutscenes being in the middle, the characters and voice dub do not fall into the good list. That particular sentence is exactly why I think of a box of chocolates. Star Ocean: The Last Hope needed at least another half year of work to go down as an excellent, memorable JRPG. It is a rather good game for those who enjoy the genre, and especially for those who enjoy tri-Ace in general. Wait for the price to go down, and you should be happy with your purchase. I may have not enjoyed this one as much as the previous installments, but I still enjoyed my time with the fourth game. Though it isn't worth buying the system for, it's still good for those JRPG fans who already have the system. I can only recommend this game to people who have knowledge on the series. Otherwise, play another game in the series first, particularly the first two. Well, here's to Resonance of Fate. It should hopefully be a triumphant return of the awesome stuff from tri-Ace.