Series fans, RPG enthusiasts and anime fans will be right at home here.

User Rating: 7 | Star Ocean: The Last Hope International PS3
Star Ocean is a series of meaty JRPGs, and this is the 3rd installment I've played (I consider myself a series fan, having played both SO2 on PS1 and SO3 on PS2). Star Ocean: The Last Hope (SO4) carries forward everything that makes the series noteworthy, both good and bad. Star Ocean games have never been perfect, and sometimes overlooked... but people who like anime, and are in the mood for a classic JRPG, should check this series out.

In SO4, you take on the role of Edge, a snot-nosed teenage pilot on an exploratory space vessel. When the mission goes awry and the ship crash-lands on a lush green planet, all hell breaks loose with swords, lasers, spells and aliens. SO games genre-bend between space opera and medieval fantasy, and this game is no exception. Characters with tech weapons will fight alongside those with swords and magic. The plot of this game, like others in the SO series, is serviceable but not noteworthy... and stiffly delivered. The characters are archetypal and generic, and the writing and VA work is a little off. The English voice track is particularly bad, thankfully this package includes Japanese dialog and subtitles.

Gameplay is the typical RPG fare of yesteryear... navigating a series of areas and dungeons, taking detours to gather treasure, and lots of combat. In between these exploration segments, it's back to town/base to refill items, bring up new equipment, and heal. SO's twist on the formula is real-time battles, where you control a single member of the party. The fights are frantic, and there are complex systems that are rewarding to master. As with most JRPGs, I was a little disappointed that characters who relied on magic attacks weren't as useful as the melee fighters, but this always seems to be the case. Also in typical JRPG fare, the vast majority of battles are way too easy, punctuated (thankfully) by rather punishing bosses. The game's difficulty does ramp up rather sharply, which is nice, but it also sometimes necessitates some grinding to gain levels, skill points, and ingredients for synthesis.

Item creation returns in SO4, and is just as much a time-sink as ever. Being well-equipped is the best way to succeed in a SO game, so expect to spend a lot of time gathering ingredients and learning recipes before moving between areas.

The graphics and sound are nice, but sadly (another SO trope) is that the character and monster models are quite generic. Stiff and action-figure like, they really don't convey any sense of emotion or dread, which is something of a minus in my book.

The story is largely told via cutscenes, which are mercifully skippable. Some can run rather long, and this doesn't bother me, but as I said, the story isn't anything to write home about. This game is definitely catered to those who like the JRPG mechanics and gameplay over JPRG storytelling. I happen to be in that category, so I'm able to get mileage... but if you absolutely need a plot to go with your monster-killing and dungeon-looting, don't expect to be impressed.

The game is fairly challenging for a JRPG, with limited healing capacity, infrequent save points, and plenty of encounters to wear down the party before a boss fight. Without being well-prepared, a new area can sometimes be quite challenging, so be sure to maintain multiple save files, just in case. One of the reasons I like SO games more than I should is that they are relatively complex and challenging, which is something the genre sorely needs. Also, be sure to reserve a few hours to play, since it's unlikely that save points will be terribly close. A lot of compulsive savers won't like this, but it doesn't bother me.

The game will probably take you at least 40 hours to finish the first time around, but could just as easily take you 200. SO games always have tons of collections, sidequests and item crafting that will keep completionists busy for weeks. There are extensive in-game trophies, postgame dungeons, two unlockable difficulty levels, a multitude of collection quests, and multiple branching story paths to keep players busy. It's a BIG game, SO games always are.

The Verdict:

Star Ocean 4 is a worthy entry in the series. With the exception of the poor character designs and voice acting, the game was everything I wanted: the classic JRPG experience of yesteryear on Xbox/PS3. The PS3 version has extra features, which means players with both systems should choose it.

This is not a game for everyone, obviously. Only those who can tolerate a truly Japanese/anime style RPG will be able to get into this game... but if that's the niche you belong to, then this game should have a spot in your collection.

+Fun real-time action battles
+Makes no mis-steps with the classic JRPG formula
+More collection/postgame/replay content than you could ever need
-Bland story with long cutscenes
-Characters are stiff and not always appealing
-Will turn off those without a high tolerance to anime