Genre: Role Playing Developer: Tri-Ace Publisher: Square Enix USA Classification: PG Release Date: 5th Jun 2009 Platforms:XBOX360
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The Star Ocean series has been around since the SNES. The first game had eleven playable characters and a story which changed depending on how those characters all got along. Also innovative were the battles which took place in real time as you ran around and beat your enemies senseless. It was an impressive achievement, and the game pushed the Super Nintendo beyond what it was capable of, requiring extra hardware built into each cartridge just to fit it all in. Thirteen years after its release, The Last Hope has taken that ideal of gaming innovation and thrown a bottle at it from a moving vehicle.
The Last Hope is not about innovation - TLH is about shoving every anime and jrpg cliche ever known to man in to 3 discs with pretty graphics (See Breakout Box). You then walk from one cliche to another for hours on end, all through maps containing nothing but enemies you've already fought eight hundred times already. It is a blessing then that the battles are in real time, a welcome change from staring at a menu and pressing A to choose your attack. Instead, when you enter a battle in TLH, you run at the enemy and press A several times, maybe changing direction with the thumbstick to randomly change up the kind of attack you do. Sometimes if you press Up while you are pressing A you will hit your enemy into the air! If you follow that up by pressing A while your character is rampant and the thumbstick tilts towards the waxing of the moon (Astrology jokes in a Star Ocean review? How delightfully decadent - Ed) you could follow your uppercut with an air attack! As a veteran jrpg player, I can say with some authority - it is a lot more fun pressing Up and A over and over again than it is pressing just A over and over again.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope For Clichés
At one point you are escaping from a collapsing building by sliding down a banister or something stupid like that. Reimi, the perpetually teary eyed love interest gets incredibly upset with the main character for his insistence on going down first to make sure it is safe. She knows that he only wants to do it so he can look up her bike pants, and spends half a minute in the crumbling building getting upset while your eyes threaten to roll out of your head.
Edge Maverick. The main character is named Edge Maverick. Step aside Cloud, out of the way Squall, Ash and Duran. Admittedly, the Maverick family probably come from a long line of pretty cool people - their unconventional methods might not go over so well with the higher ups, but they get the job done damn it.
It's hard to call The Last Hope on Catgirls, since the race has been around since the first game. Meracle - TLH's playable catgirl character, also manages to squeeze in getting overly excited about food and producing over-sized novelty utensils out of nowhere, like a cartoon.
Two of the playable characters hate each other. They can't stand each other! Oh man, any time they are in the room together you practically have to step between them to stop a brawl from breaking out! Naturally, the hatred all stems from the sexual tension because they are both in love with each other. It does lose points in the cliché department though, since the two characters in question are an 18 year old boy and a developmentally challenged 15 year old girl on tranquillisers. I honestly admit I wasn't expecting outright paedophilia, although considering the source I'm not sure why.
Bacchus is a giant robot man. In most of these kinds of games this means he has to take everything seriously, and if someone asks a joke question he must answer it scientifically and in great detail. Naturally, that is exactly what Bacchus does.
Not every battle has to be the same however, as you can choose to fight as different members of your party. This has the added benefit of possibly winning you battle trophies - useless awards for ridiculous achievements like 'Land 30 consecutive long range hits' or 'Land 39 consecutive long range hits' or my personal favourite 'Land 49 consecutive long range hits.' Square-Enix has packed TLH full of meaningless filler objectives like battle trophies, allowing players the chance to collect information on every different penguin palette swap, every weapon and every ship in the game. Like the battle trophies these are useless, but you need them for the 100%, if you care that much.
I should clarify here, you do actually get rewards for completing the battle trophies. Unlocking half of them gets rid of the level cap - totally unnecessary unless you are planning on playing again on Hard or Chaos mode (you aren't), and unlocking a third of them gives you a new set of character voices to listen to - just in case you are the mother of one of the voice actors, since nobody else can say anything nice about the voice acting.
The voice acting in TLH is preposterous. At it's best it is still below mediocre, and it is rarely anywhere near its best. The male and female lead sound generic, as does Faize, your elfeldar eldarian friend. The only really bad voice acting comes from Welch, the single most annoying person in the Star Ocean universe, and the person you have to talk to to start item creation. In fact, staying on the first planet you start to forget there is any truly bad voice acting - you don't have the materials to put item creation to any significant use at this point anyway. But then you get to the ice planet Lemuris. And then you meet Lymle.
Lymle is a fifteen year old girl who looks and acts like an eight year old with zero people skills. She adds the word 'kay' to the end of every god damned sentence. Oh, and she is on xanax, or valium or some sort of mood stabiliser, so that when she speaks she says everything like she is even more bored than you are. And she speaks constantly. I listened to about half a sentence of her first line before I exercised the single best feature of the game - I skipped the scene.
You can skip cutscenes by pressing start, and when you do it even gives you a little summary of the events that occured in that cutscene. And skip them I did. You can't skip all the cut scenes - Scenes that take place on the ship between characters are both mandatory and the most painful, but you can skip any scene which has actual plot in it. Of course, as I found out, the little summary of events doesn't contain all the information you would get from the cut scene. One scene, where you find out the terrible secret the female lead has been hiding, is summarised as 'Reimi reveals the terrible secret she has been hiding.' Thanks for that.
That's pretty much all there is to the game. I could talk about the item creation process, which gives you the chance to see all the items you won't be able to touch for another two planets, or the BEAT system and bonus board which attempt to take the tedium out of the fights by making them much more frustrating, but in the end it doesn't matter. You run from your ship to a town, run into an enemy, mash A several times and maybe hold down B, wash, rinse, repeat. Sometimes the characters you actively hate will chat about something you don't care about, and then you will run into an enemy and mash A some more.
Of course, almost every game can be boiled down to this same formula - run over there, fight something, advance the story, repeat. A passable gaming experience allows you to forget this - you push it to the back of your mind as you are engrossed in the game's features - be it the story, the gameplay or the graphics. A great gaming experience does the pushing for you while you find yourself enveloped in the universe the creators have made for you. A poor gaming experience reminds you constantly - Star Ocean does it at every turn.
The clichéd characters, the abysmal voice acting and the repetitive, unrewarding gameplay all reinforce this idea that you are playing a video game - a poorly written, poorly made one at that. If you really want to play Star Ocean, grab the infinitely better first two on the psp. If you just want a jrpg on the 360, I would even suggest Infinite Undiscovery over Star Ocean: The Last Hope.