Star Ocean: The Last Hope

I’ve been playing versions of this game for months now. Having now played the final code, all buffed up and smoothed out, Star Ocean has managed to bring together all it’s fine elements into one superb Japanese, role playing experience. I emphasis the ‘J’ element of this JRPG because this is nothing like your ‘east meets west’ attempts to capture a broad market of RPG fans, old and new. This is classic customising the crap out of everything and stat managing to the max, making a solid foundation for a truly masterful combat system. Yes it’s that good. It’s not all big eyed, loveliness though. There are disappointing elements to The Last Hope. Let me just be clear though – the characters do all have quite big eyes. I’ll give them that. But you know what they say – big eyes, small personalities. Well ok they don’t say that but I do.

Star Ocean games have been kicking around for decades. This is only the fifth game in the series but each has been absolutely superb. Back when turn-based, random battles were the norm, Star Ocean featured real time battling with on screen enemies you could engage or avoid as you seen fit. Every Star Ocean starts out the same way. Off you pop into space, on a spaceship, crash land on a forest planet and then jump head long into some battles with big spiders. From there the combo of futuristic, sci fi characters and traditional fantasy style planet exploration weave a magic spell over you that will suck you into hundreds of hours of play.

The Last Hope doesn’t mess with the formula, rather it takes this time worn tradition and applies shiny graphics, strong skill building, customisation and a stonkingly deep battle system to bring the whole thing right up to date. Where the game isn’t shiny though is in the story. Given that this is a prequel to a tale that spans centuries, galaxies and even dimensions you’d expect a really solid tale and strong, memorable characters. You’ll find neither. Instead the plot is tepid and the characters squeaky and annoying, especially the ubiquitous ‘creepy child with a bobble head and a big stick’. No matter, let’s sweep that aside and look at the scrapping.

Battling, although real time and against visible enemies, will move you to a separate battle arena for the fight to play out. You can perform normal chaining attacks, defensive moves, dodges, counters and blindsides. There’s also a ‘rush’ meter for charged over-powered chaining attacks. For a long while you’ll probably just stick with normal attacks and try to pin down your blindside timing but as you move through the game you’ll master the pacing of your moves and targeting and discover the usefulness of your allies. You’re comrades at arms can be set to a variety of AI styles and you can switch to control them at any time. You won’t feel overwhelmed by the options because it’s clear this is going to be a long adventure and there’s plenty of time to uncover the variety in the combat system. Equally you shouldn’t expect to have a full handle on the customisation and skill system. It’s a slow builder but worth the wait. Once you’ve waded in up to knee height, you’ll be cooking, engineering, mining, painting and blacksmithing your way to some rare weapons items and accessories with massive stats

We have come to love the hand led, spoon fed baby goo that are the epic, western role players, like Fable 2 and Mass Effect, where setting and story have a high premium at a huge cost to the actual gameplay of combat. Star Ocean brings balance to the RPG universe with one of the best combat systems seen in years. The true RPG fan will not shy away from saving the universe one monster slaying battle at a time.







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