Star Ocean: The Last Hope Xbox 360 Review
Star Ocean: The Last Hope has more of a sci-fi exterior than most Japanese RPGs have, but still plenty in the way of modest, meek and cold characters, amongst other archetypes contained within. Even as a huge RPG devotee, I have got to admit that this has long been a problem for the genre.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope takes place before any of the previous games in the timeline and is an origin story. The Earth has been devastated by World War III and left uninhabitable, some survivors have escaped to safety underground, whilst the braver amongst them have set off up into space to discover habitable places for the human race to set up home on. All of this is explained through the impressive introduction, which sets up the story in spectacular fashion.
Sadly, the following storyline is occasionally a bit bland, falling back on clichés and consisting of an all too conventional cast of characters. Told through some lengthy cut scenes that aren’t always interesting and with voice acting that ranges from solid to downright awful. The story can feel rather bloated too, but at its best, it’s compulsive and ultimately well worth the effort that it sometimes takes to sit through. A rather welcome touch, for those who still want to follow the plot but skip through the fat, is the fact that when you skip cut scenes you get a less flashy but detailed text based account of the events in that scene.
The interactive side of things is thankfully a bit more even. A real strength is the scope of the world, which combined with the pulled back camera, fantastically epic music and beautiful visuals, gives one a good sense of heading off on a grand journey. It’s an absolute pleasure to explore, though some of the dungeons last hours and can outstay their welcome.
At least the high volume of battles you’ll have to contend with along the way are supported by a well crafted and enjoyable combat system. It’s as always real time, which isn’t going to be for the RPG fan who seeks only more considered battles. You can take up to four characters into battle at a time, but only have direct control over one of them, whilst the others are taken charge of by the capable AI. A new addition are blindsides, which when an enemy is targeting you, allows you to circle around to their backs to deal additional damage, by holding the B button and flicking the left stick. It’s satisfying and made all the more so by the accompanying ultra stylish slow motion animation.
A great feature is the bonus board, which is essentially a board with twelve slots, of which can be filled with various bonus tiles, the type of which is determined by your actions. Finishing enemies off with a critical attack, will grant you a blue tile, which upon victory will reward you 10% additional experience, taking out more than one enemy at a time will get you a yellow tile and 10% extra fol (it’s money for those not familiar with Star Ocean lore), whilst defeating an enemy with only special attacks, will get you a purple tile which allows you to recover a small portion of your health and magic points, and finally, being ambushed by enemies (triggered by running into an enemy before a battle, whilst others are in close vicinity) will get you a green tile, which gives you additional Sp, which can be spent on improving character skills.
The character growth system allows for a fair bit of freedom in how you want to develop your group. SP is gained from simply obtaining treasure or fighting battles and can be spent on improving skills. There’s also books to be obtained, which allows you to gain new skills.
The battle trophies introduced in Till the End of Time have returned in tweaked form. This time every one of your party members have 100 each of these rewards to obtain, 900 in total. Tasks to acquire them can be anything from just simply killing a certain number of enemies or defeating a poisoned enemy to more outlandish and challenging objectives such as winning with just a sliver of health remaining or winning so many battles without taking damage. They’re an excellent and addictive feature for a certain type of person, the type that becomes obsessed with collecting things. Such people will get more challenges to set their sights on, as well as a lot of additional hours to an already substantially sized game.
If that’s not enough for you, there’s also optional dungeons, a battle arena and bunny racing. There’s also an item crafting system, which rivals Gust’s games in its depth, and it can be very rewarding playing around with to magic up some uber weapons, armour and items for your party.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope features the best and most refined form of the series’ battle system yet, but the surrounding story can be boring for one minute and enthralling the next. With the battle system, obsessive item collection and side quests all taken into account, what we have here is a very good game, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the story, such a key point of the genre, is lacking in its execution.