Star Ocean: The Last Hope Xbox 360
Published by: Square-Enix
Developed by: Tri-Ace
Star Ocean: The Last Hope, like most of the RPG's I've seen on the Xbox 360, is a game that's slow to get going. It seems to be the current trend with the genre to put gamers through a few hours of borderline tedium before the action really gets going. This happened most notably with Lost Odyssey and Infinite Undiscovery and unfortunately it's happened with Star Ocean: The Last Hope. The good news is that the game does throw off its early lethargy after a few hours and proves itself to be one of the better RPG titles on the Xbox 360.
With The Last Hope being a prequel to the previous Star Ocean titles, meaning no knowledge of the previous games is required, you'll get to see the humans taking their first major steps into exploring the galaxy. To cut a long story short there was a massive world war that did catastrophic damage to the Earth. Eventually peace was achieved and countries joined together to create the Greater United Nations. The Universal Science and Technology Administration (USTA) was formed with the primary goal of exploring space to find new worlds to inhabit. Late in the twenty-first century new warp drive technology made exploring the galaxy a realistic proposition and the Space Reconnaissance Force (SRF) was formed. In The Lost Hope you'll play as Edge Maverick, a young member of the SRF, who's part of the first official exploration mission and unfortunately, it goes horribly wrong.
The game's storyline is actually quite good but the way it's delivered could have been much better. At times the pace feels too laboured and the dialogue feels like it's needlessly longwinded far too frequently. This problem is exacerbated by the length of some of the cutscenes. Now long cutscenes aren't a problem in my book as long as they are compelling viewing but most of the time that's not the case here. Quite a few of the cutscenes could have been edited to give them more punch and make them less laboured. Yes it may have shortened the length of the game a little but there's a lot to do in The Last Hope and losing a few hours' worth of cutscenes wouldn't have hurt the game in any way.
If the laboured nature of the game's story is its weak spot, The Last Hope's combat system is definitely its strong point. Up to four characters from your party (which can contain up to a maximum of eight characters) can take part in a battle although you'll only control one of these at any one time (you can change the character you're controlling at any time however). Each character in your party will be assigned to a BEAT system. There are three different systems they can be assigned to and this will determine their battle style. Strike allows the character to focus on attacks whilst Burst enables the character to focus on defence and Rush mode (characters and enemies have Rush bars that fill during the course of a battle and once a Rush bar has been filled, it can be activated to temporarily boost a characters attacks and defence). Neutral offers a balance between the two but whereas a character who uses either the Strike or Burst style will rank up in that style and gain special bonuses for doing so, the Neutral style offers no bonuses or ranks making it a less appealing option. You can also set tactics for each party member. You can tell them to "Gang up on foes with full force!" or "Stay out of trouble!" amongst other things. Surprisingly there are no options to set a party member as a healer. At least you can pause the action at any time and use items to heal your party members. On the whole I found the tactical options very limited, especially when compared to the gambit system that featured in Final Fantasy XII.
During a battle you now have the ability to jump to avoid attacks. There's also a new blindside feature which allows you to evade an oncoming enemy attack and dash around them to attack their blindside. It's a solid addition but it's not a manoeuvre that's easy to pull off in the more difficult battles, which is probably a good thing otherwise it would be overused. During battles you'll notice a Bonus Board on the right side of the screen. You can fill the board up with blue, pink, yellow and green pieces depending on your actions in battle. Blue pieces offer increased experience bonuses, yellow offer money bonuses (or Fol as the game's currency is known) whilst pink offer HP and MP and green will give you SP bonuses. The effects of these pieces is cumulative. For instance, one yellow piece will give you 10% extra Fol from a battle whilst having two yellow pieces will give you 20% extra. The Bonus Board can be broken during a battle thus causing you to lose your bonuses. The Bonus Board system is a fine addition to the game and one that should remain in future titles.
This wouldn't be a Star Ocean game if you didn't have plenty of replay value and lots of other things to do besides following the main thread of the storyline. There are many side quests to complete and in-game trophies to obtain to achieving various goals (with each character). You'll have access to an elaborate item creation system. Character development is as satisfying as ever and there are even multiple endings encouraging you to play through the game multiple times.
I don't think anyone is surprised that The Last Hope is the best looking Star Ocean game to date due to it being created for a more advanced console. On the whole it's an impressive looking game. There are some ugly aspects with some objects looking far too angular for instance and the LEGO-like blocky character shadows you can see. The camera can be a pain at times when in confined areas which can makes things momentarily disorientating. It's also disappointing to see numerous objects, including save points, just pop into view. The character's have retained the anime-style appearance found in previous Star Ocean titles but it has to be said that the character models look a little too much like Barbie dolls with their plastic complexions and nylon-like hair. Their animations could have been better too. There are some frame rate dips but they aren't detrimental to the experience in any way.
The Last Hope is subtitled and deaf gamers will be able to enjoy the game with very few problems. Cutscene dialogue is basically subtitled with no character names or portraits to make it crystal clear who is saying what, unfortunately. Thankfully this rarely causes any problems. The other dialogue in the game is accompanied by character names with dialogue from the game's main characters also being accompanied by some impressive looking character portraits. Character comments made during and after a battle are not subtitled. This is hardly a problem however and hearing gamers will find the comments are recycled over and over again during the course of the game. The game's tutorial messages are in text. All quest details are in text and can be recalled at any time. You're also notified when trophies have been earned during and after a battle.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope isn't the absolute classic that fans of the series might have hoped for but it's still a great RPG and one of the best in the genre on the Xbox 360. As we mentioned earlier, it does take a while to become interesting and whilst this probably won't be a problem for seasoned RPG gamers, as they are prepared to invest many hours into the game, you really shouldn't have to wade through several hours of dull play time to get to the point where the game really becomes enjoyable. That said, there's a lot of play time to be had here and a lot of replay value thanks to all of the trophies and quests to complete amongst other things. Star Ocean fans will enjoy the game but they probably would have wanted the game to have evolved more than it has. The battle system is great however and it really does help to make this an RPG that fans of the genre should definitely purchase.