That felt pretty good, 'kay?

User Rating: 7.5 | Star Ocean: The Last Hope X360
The year is 2065 and the Earth is a barren wasteland, its surface pocked and scarred by the ravages of a terrible war. Unable to thrive on a world so badly tormented by the dogs of war, mankind has no choice but to set out upon the vast and wondrous star ocean in search of a new planet to call home. And thus begins Star Ocean: The Last Hope. You assume the role of Edge Maverick, a young man on his very first mission into deep space. Edge is assigned to the SRF-003 Calnus, one of several Space Reconnaissance Force starships en route to investigate the planet Aeos--but disaster soon strikes. Much of the fleet is lost, and the Calnus crash lands on Aeos, sustaining heavy damage in the process. Seemingly stranded on this strange new world, Edge and his friends set out into the jungles of Aeos in search of survivors from the other starships…

The foundation upon which Star Ocean: The Last Hope is built is a fascinating one, brimming with all sorts of exciting possibilities. Alas, most of those fascinating possibilities are jettisoned the moment the Calnus eventually leaves planet Aeos. Edge and his crew soon land on the planet Lemuris, a frozen world with some unique problems of its own. It is here that the game begins to weave a fairly generic alien invasion plot into the tapestry of the great star ocean. These aliens, the Grigori, are supposedly a constant threat, but they show themselves infrequently, instead taking a backseat to the mostly unrelated stories that unfold on each planet. When the plot finally turns its focus upon the Grigori near the game's climax, longwinded expository cut scenes in excess of forty minutes are required to explain their dastardly plans--which is unfortunate, because much of what the Grigori are trying to accomplish is actually quite fascinating, but coming in such large chunks near endgame, it just serves to bog everything down.

Making matters worse, the characters that populate the Calnus are horribly generic. Edge is an eager explorer, Reimi serves as his eternally loyal first officer, Faize is the dutiful scientist…and then there's Lymle, 'kay? She is a young girl, 'kay? And she finishes almost every single sentence with her favorite word, 'kay? No… that's not annoying… In all, there are nine playable characters, and while they might be generic, most of them eventually become likable thanks to the game's Private Action System, which allows you to interact with and learn more about the Calnus crew. Many of these Private Actions are little more than brief cut scenes that give you a glimpse into the characters' lives. Some of them are funny, some of them are thoughtful, and two of them involve Reimi in the shower. On rare occasions, some of them present choices that can dramatically alter the game's ending. These Private Actions are mostly optional, but are well worth viewing, because the character development that the main story offers is nominal at best, often comes completely out-of-the-blue, and usually has some annoying ramifications.

While the story and characters in Star Ocean: The Last Hope might be less than perfect, the game's battle system is absolutely phenomenal. Combat is initiated by coming into contact with an enemy unit roaming the map. These enemies are incredibly stupid. Most will completely ignore Edge, and the few that do give chase will typically give up after taking three or four steps. Once in battle, however, things can become quite challenging, especially when challenging bosses. The enemies are intelligent; they can and will block your attacks and strike at you when you're most vulnerable. Thankfully, your computer-controlled allies are proficient fighters themselves, making for battles that are both fast and fun.

There is a lot to the battle system, too. Battles take place in real time, and you can easily swap between characters as you race around the battlefield in pursuit of your enemies. Blindsides enable you to swoop around your foes and unleash a series of destructive critical attacks from behind; this is the only way to strike at some enemies' weak points, especially the game's impressive bosses. Entering into Rush Mode makes your character faster, immune to enemy knockdowns, and decreases the cost of using special arts; you can also use Rush Mode to execute a Rush Combo, a series of devastating attacks that can be chained together to dole out some seriously impressive amounts of damage. There is also an omnipresent Bonus Board that grants special rewards--such as more experience points, more skill points, HP restoration, or additional money--when you perform certain tasks during battle. There are 14 tiles on the Bonus Board, and it is preserved--even between battles--until your character takes a critical hit or dies, so careful manipulation of the Bonus Board could potentially yield some impressive rewards. In addition to all of that, each character has 100 Battle Trophies that can be acquired for meeting certain criteria during battle, such as never moving or only using special arts. Acquiring these trophies can be difficult, but the rewards, such as the removal of the level cap, are well worth it.

Exploring the great Star Ocean and its many worlds is also an enjoyable experience. For the most part, the planets are fairly straightforward-get from Point A to Point B. There is occasionally some minor puzzle solving required, but nothing that is going to leave you scratching your head wondering what to do next. The camera can be a little fickle at times. It works wonderfully in wide, open spaces, where it can be pulled back and manipulated with ease. Indoors, however, it's much less cooperative, often getting too close to Edge, or caught up in doorways. Thankfully, you are outdoors more often than not, so the camera is never a major issue.

And being outdoors is a good thing, because the worlds that the Calnus and its crew visit are absolutely gorgeous. The graphics in Star Ocean: The Last Hope are simply outstanding. Each and every planet has its own unique look and feel--jungles, tundra, deserts--and they are all of them lavishly detailed. The character designs are, much like the characters themselves, fairly generic, but they look okay. Their movements are a little stiff sometimes, but it's the facial animations--or lack thereof--that is the worst offender. It doesn't really matter how happy or upset Edge gets, his face is almost always in same neutral position--and the lip-syncing is absolutely terrible. If Edge were to read aloud this paragraph, his lips might move three times. He would make an excellent ventriloquist, though.

For the most part, the sound is impressive. Motoi Sakuraba provides an appropriately energetic musical score. It's not his best work, but it certainly gets the job done. The voice acting, however, is a fairly mixed bag. There is certainly an impressive amount of voice work present and for the most part, it's acceptable. Edge's voice is a little shaky at first, but seems to get better as the game progresses. The worst offender, by far, is Lymle. She is a loathsome character to begin with, and her voice is whiney, monotone, and… well, it's just bad. There's no other way to put it, 'kay?

Another thing that's just bad is disc swapping. This is more of a nuisance than anything else, but when you finally reach Disc 3 and you want to go back and visit one of the planets from Disc 1… disc swapping is required.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope is far from a perfect game, but it boasts enough virtues to make it worth a try. The battle system is excellent, the main quest is extensive, and there are enough sidequests and bonus dungeons to keep you busy for more than 100 hours. If you're willing to overlook the generic characters and the story's poor pacing, and can find it within yourself to tolerate Lymle, there is much enjoyment to be had, 'kay?