Moments of brilliance overcome several flaws. Here's my review of Star Ocean: The Last Hope on Xbox 360.
Star Ocean is the space opera of the RPG genre. While still awash with many aspects related to typical epic fantasy, this series blends in many elements of traditional science fiction. But, like its predecessor's, Star Ocean: The Last Hope focuses on its characters and the developing story more than on the science elements within the game. Does this game deliver not only on the characters and the story, but also the technical aspects such as graphics and game-play? For the most part, yes. There are some minor issues that pop up through-out the massive game, but they are minor and don't ruin the experience that The Last Hope has to offer.
First, the most important component to any game (for me at least), but especially a RPG, are the characters and the story that connects them. If the game doesn't offer fully formed characters or any semblance of a story, then the technical aspects become pointless. Thankfully, in this, Star Ocean delivers quite nicely.
- Characters: the playable characters are well developed and unique personalities. Through-out the game, the history behind each of these characters is slowly revealed as well as several layers of their personality being peeled back to show a complex being. Each character is distinct and clearly has a reason for the actions that they take. By the end of the game it is amazing to see the changes in each of these characters. There is also a wonderful set of characters that populate the many worlds of Star Ocean. From a quirky liaison between the ship and HQ to the two dueling superiors, and to the myriad of fellow soldiers or townsfolk... all of these help to create a sense of depth to the universe. They seem as if they are real people with real strengths and flaws.
- Story: a mix of science fiction and traditional epic fantasy, the story is vivid and emotional. While there is a great deal of technology and the required techno babble, the overriding tone of the game is emotional and spiritual (not religious). What at first seems to be a rather shallow glance into a futuristic problem will eventually evolve into a massive foray into an epic struggle that is often steeped in discussions of compassion, responsibility, and the nature of living. While the game does sometimes become bogged down by the heady topics, it offers several moments of sheer brilliance and intense emotion.
Now to the technical aspects behind Star Ocean: The Last Hope. These components do much to enrich the experience of the game, but this is where several of the issues do pop up.
- Music: while having few memorable tracks, the music is appropriate and fits the events occurring on screen. Most of th songs are a mix of rock and epic fanfare, but there is a wonderful ocarina tune that features heavily in the story and is quite beautiful. But beware, unless you switch from the defaulted settings the music will be several levels lower in volume from voices and effects. It is almost impossible to hear the music with the default levels set.
- Graphics: outstanding. The graphics, both normal game-play graphics and the sparse cutscenes are fantastic. The scenes in space are absolutely gorgeous and display the vastness of the "Star Ocean" while the vistas on the different planets are amazing detailed. The art design for the characters, objects, cities, and the late game elements are wonderful. They are either nice to look at or instill the appropriate amount of uneasiness. There is also a distinct atmospheric shift from the futuristic technological dominated civilizations to the medieval-like worlds. The medieval worlds offer the vibrant, earthy tones that are more subtle and subdued than the still vibrant but more shining and sterile tones of the technological worlds.
- Voice Work: Now, despite the bashing of the voice-overs in this game, I found it good. There are moments of grimacing melodrama that the script forces on the dialog, but I found the acting to be superb. The reactions were realistic and even the odd use of language and inflection by one of the cast members was believable (once I learned her history, the acting for that character instantly became classic). There is the typical issue of lip syncing not being perfect, but it is easier to ignore that in this game as compared to Infinite Undiscovery.
- Pacing: this is the only area of the design that impedes in any respect to the other elements. There are several long cutscenes, especially on the final disc, that easily could have been shortened. There is also an issue of pacing indirectly in regards to save points... they are few and far between. There are some long dungeons that are riddled with long cutscenes and the infrequent nature of the save points can sometimes lead to having to retread hours if the game freezes or you die. The last sequence of the game can really cause problems here since it offers no breaks: it goes long cutscene-battle-cutscene-multiple possible battles-cutscene-battle.
Game-play: the battle system takes place in real time. The characters can free-run and attack at any time as well as access various skills and items. Characters can also be switched in and out of battle, although there will be a small wait until you can switch again. The normal in town actions are governed by talking to characters and the environment is limited in its interactive capability. The biggest factor to game-play is the trademark PA scenes that can be viewed. Once certain requirements are met, a special scene can be initiated with other characters. Some of these PA scenes have choices that effect affection levels between character. These scenes are what allows for the special endings to be achieved.
- Length and Replay Value: The game is long. Without digging deep into side-quests or achievement grinding, it will take about 40 hours to progress through the story. With all the quests and achievements that length can easily pass 200 hours. There are several bonuses that open up after the game is beaten, so the immediate replay value is instantly boosted. Also, there are 8 special endings that can be missed in one play-through, so if all endings are not viewed in the first go around, there is another reason to play from the beginning again.
Overall, Star Ocean: The Last Hope is a good game that offers wonderful characters and a decent story. The game does deserve its T rating since there are several moments in the story that are dark. Younger teens and children might have a difficult time dealing with the mature themes that occur and are discussed within this story. But, if you loved the previous Star Ocean games or are a fan of RPG's in general... you should enjoy this game.
Final verdict: Buy It
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