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This game is the continuation of the Star Ocean series (the previous being Star Ocean Till The End Of Time on PS2) and takes the series to a whole new level of excellance.The game is created by Japanese producers Tri Ace who have published through square enix and is available on both PS3 and Xbox 360.
This is a prequal to the earlier PS2 game and explains the turn of events that lead mankind to destroy our own planet. You take the role of Edge & Reimi who are part of mankind's first exploration missions to space in order to locate a new home planet to colonize after the nuclear war that destroyed the surface of Earth.
During initial parts of the mission problems occur with many of Earth's spaceships lost during warp transfer. The Calnus (ship piloted by Edge) arrives on the destination planet and begins a search for the missing ships. During the search Reimi & Edge come across a new friend in Faize (an alien being sent to investigate the missing ships). While returning to the Calnus the team are attacked by the Mysterious Grigori!
Their mission begins now, search the universe for their missing comrades while trying to locate a new planet for the human race and information on the Grigori.
There really can be no complaints as far as graphics are concerned, the battles look beautiful as well as the FMV sequences which will have you on the edge of your seat. This alongside huge arrays of music from renown japanese producers Tri-Ace really sets a tone which matches the game and genuinly improves the gameplay.
This is a simpe battle system (anyone familiar with previous titles in the series will be right at home), asking you to take control of a single character while 3 are CPU controlled. The CPU can be adjusted to suit any occasion and battle scenario. There is a good learning curve with access on the menu to tips on how to succeed.
This is a perfect addition to the Star Ocean Series and also a stand alone title as no prior knowledge is required as all is explained. The level of customisation in game and amount of extras included are truly astounding warrenting multiple playthroughs and intense fun. This game feels endless in the best possible way
To call The Last Hope underrated isn't quite accurate; perhaps 'under appreciated' is a more apt description. Six or seven years ago traditional Japanese role-playing games were a common fixture, but due to the rapid rise in production costs in the 'HD' era, the genre has been largely sidelined, to the point where even Final Fantasy XIII has had to compromise on certain design decisions. So whilst The Last Hope isn't a world-beater, it does a fine job of reminding us what we've been missing.
The fourth entry in the Star Ocean series retains many of the innovations and frailties that characterised its direct PS2 forerunner Till The End Of Time. It's ambitious enough to deliver large, detailed environments, towns and villages with plenty of characters to converse with, and a distinctive battle-system. An intergalactic setting is merely the icing on the cake.
Unfortunately, it inherits its predecessor's horribly inarticulate storytelling. On paper, there's potential; plenty of written content relating to the game's universe helps things along, and at least some of the characters are likeable enough. It is however intent on adhering to almost every cinematic cliché in the book. You play as generic, wet-behind-the-ears pin-up Edge Maverick as he fulfils a dream of travelling uncharted space with his frigid, dishwasher-dull love interest Reimi (though it would be a stretch to describe what they have as 'love', or for that matter 'interesting'). As is par for the course, they encounter various individuals along the way who assimilate themselves into the party setup. There's part-cat, part-nutcase Meracle; cyborg-dude Bacchus (I mistook him for a robot; blame the voice actor for that); walking implant-advertisement Myuria and a few others too dull to waste any more space over.
The cut-scenes are fine at least from a visual standpoint, highlighting decent character models and rich, striking and detailed locales. Unfortunately, it all goes a bit pear-shaped when the cast start opening their mouths. A lot of blame, justifiably, has been levelled at the excruciatingly poor English voice-acting - something the PS3 'International' version lets you bypass via the original Japanese dub and subtitles - but in reality, its problems are far more ingrained. Conversations that relay two minutes of relevant information have a nasty habit of dragging over twenty minutes or more. Every single sentence seems to take forever and lines are punctuated by endless, irritating pauses and words/names are repeated 'for emotional effect' with such astounding regularity, you'll swear the cast has a contagious stammer. With a frankly nauseating frequency, the bunch refer to their friendship as the chief reason for overcoming massive space monsters and other hazardous situations. Luckily, cut-scenes can be skipped, as with no sense of irony, you're given a helpful synopsis in eight or nine lines as to what the characters often struggle to express in half an hour's worth of cinematics.
However, poor scripting isn't enough to derail a game that is otherwise rich with engaging features. The battle-system is top-notch, with the player controlling one character and the A.I. taking the reigns of the other three; you can switch between them at any given point and there's a good, distinct mix of brawlers, sorcerers and healers. As well as having the ability to carry out magics and special moves, there is a Bonus Board which rewards the player for actions such as critical hits, killing two enemies at once or defeating a foe with special arts alone, by allowing them to build a succession of tiles, which in turn award more experience points and money from a battle. The greater the number of tiles in the board, the more potent the rewards. Bonuses become imperative in light of the gigantic amount of experience points needed to progress through the later levels, but they're a very positive feature that encourages the player to engage in each battle rather than button-bash. The whole setup has a lot of depth but is easy to follow, meaning there's a real feeling of progression attached to every 'level-up'.
As well as all of this, the characters can gain abilities such as harvesting and mining, where certain spots in the landscape allow foods and minerals to be gleaned. Perhaps the best feature is one that allows your party members to invent items and then create them through mixing items held in your inventory, the only small gripe being that only 20 of any item can be held at any of time, even the most populous, meaning inventions require constant restocking. Synthesising weapons is another great feature as you can add bolster the statistics of a weapon or armour, as finding a rare item to fuse it with can really give you the edge.
It's very attractive on the whole, travelling across deserts, icy tundras and through some fantastic towns, which stretch right across the technological spectrum, beginning with the more traditional style mountain villages before leading to the glorious-looking Centropolis, a futuristic city within a giant space-station, consisting of extravagant architecture and a utopian illusion created through its giant projection of a blue-sky. It's not without its niggles however; lag is particularly noticeable early on with the action appearing quite jerky due to the sheer size of the environments, and the odd character does look a bit botoxed and expressionless. A minor improvement 'International' is the option to use a 'classic', anime-style theme for the menus and dialogue-boxes, which contrary to what some of the developers have said, is more fitting and attractive than the 'modern' theme which seemed rather inexpressive.
As expected from a game falling under the Square-Enix umbrella, the music is high quality and comes with the obligatory, catchy battle anthems and hum-along village themes. It is tripped up in the audio department by the lacklustre voicing, which for the most part, completely fails to strike a balance, as characters alternatively come across as a overly-theatrical or completely wooden.
Whilst locations are less numerous than in the previous Star Ocean, The Last Hope makes up for it to a large degree through its myriad of activities that can be tackled outside of the main story. For starters, there's a huge number of 'quests'. A lot of these involve shopkeeper requests, which task you with attaining a certain number of specific items, weapons or armours, and in a nice touch, fulfilling an entire request list (typically between 3 and 5 requests) sees you granted a discount on the store holder's goods. Other quests see you searching for lost items, killing certain monsters or reuniting separated characters - there's a really good mix, and you can easily drift away from the main story for an afternoon doing these errands.
There are dozens of these, but the developers didn't stop there. There's a massively comprehensive and highly enjoyable Battle Colosseum that sees you working your way up a league of one hundred increasingly tough opponents, and this can be tackled either as an individual character or a party of four. Rewards for victories can spent on special equipment, and it's a good way of strengthening party members. There are also Bunny races which, in a similar vein to Final Fantasy's Chocobo races, involve you building up your bunny's various characteristics and then entering them into competitions - nothing overly brilliant, but another fun distraction.
Thus Star Ocean: The Last Hope International feels like a full-blooded, proper Japanese RPG that, from a gameplay perspective, delivers an absorbing and enjoyable adventure that offers up more than 60 hours worth of playing time which, all things considered, is pretty impressive. It's not the place to look if you're after an intelligent yarn due to its woeful scripting and trudging cut-scenes, but this isn't ultimately as harmful to the game as one might think. If you're after a rewarding RPG with lots of depth, plenty of longevity and some uncommonly-enjoyable level-grinding, you could certainly do a lot worse.