Nearly a year after it was released on the Xbox 360, Star Ocean: The Last Hope International finally makes its debut on the PlayStation 3. It was received fairly well on the 360, but how does the new version stack up?
For those unfamiliar with the Star Ocean games, The Last Hope is a prequel to the entire series, so there’s no need to have played any of the other games to enjoy this one. The game begins after a nuclear war has destroyed much of the habitable areas of Earth and humanity begins looking to space for survival. Upon developing a warp drive that will let them explore space at speeds faster than light, mankind embarks on an exploratory mission for new worlds to colonize, hopefully ensuring the survival of our race. You are Edge Maverick, a crewman on the Calnus, one of the ships set to begin the first manned exploration of planets outside our solar system. Unfortunately, things go wrong from the very beginning, resulting in your armada crash-landing on a planet inhabited by big, ferocious bugs. From here you’ll embark on a journey across the cosmos, attempting to make the galaxy a safer place for humanity to expand.
The story of Star Ocean is interesting and fairly unconventional for the JRPG genre. This adds to the game’s appeal, but the main reason to play Star Ocean: The Last Hope is the complex and enjoyable battle system that it employs.
Upon encountering an enemy, you will enter the battle screen with your party mixed in amongst the enemy’s party. All battles play out in real time, similar to the way Tales games work. It would seem at first that the way to victory is to simply mash the attack button until you beat the enemy. However, if you do this, you will die…a lot. I did this at first during the beginning of the game and I rarely survived for more than 9 or 10 battles before dying. The key to victory is to take advantage of two aspects of the battle system that will take time to utilize properly- Blindsides and Rush Mode. A blindside is performed by allowing an enemy to lock onto your character, then hitting the jump button to quickly move out of the line-of-sight of the enemy. This will allow you to perform a few critical hits on an enemy, greatly increasing the amount of damage you can do along with avoiding taking damage yourself. Rush Mode, on the other hand, is a result of taking and giving a lot of damage in battle. After giving and taking enough damage to fill up your Rush Mode meter, you’ll need to hit the square button to activate Rush Mode. Once you do, you’ll be immune to knockbacks from being attacked, benefit from increased critical hit chances, and you’ll also be able to chain together your special attacks and even combine your attacks with those of your other party members for even more damage. Learning to employ and take advantage of these benefits will make combat easier and more enjoyable.
In addition to Blindsides and Rush Mode, you’ll have a bonus board that you can fill with tiles by performing different action in battle, thus giving you bonuses to various areas. For instance, killing an enemy with a critical hit will net you a bonus of +10% to your experience and killing multiple enemies with a single attack will give you a bonus of +10% to the money you earn at the end of battles. These bonuses carry over from battle to battle, so it is possible to amass huge bonuses and keep them for long periods of time.
Unfortunately, the difficulty in The Last Hope International is very uneven. It starts off almost impossibly difficult, then becomes almost too easy for awhile, then gets impossibly difficult again. Additionally, in order for your party’s strength to keep pace with the increase in difficulty you’ll need to keep your bonus board almost entirely full of experience bonuses, doubling or more the amount of experience you get for each victory.
Graphically, The Last Hope International is a mixed bag. The environments and enemies all look great, but the characters look wooden and almost doll-like. They show almost no emotion and the character models just feel a little off.
As far as the audio is concerned, again the problem is with the characters. The sound effects and music sound great, but the voice-overs for the characters just don’t match with the rest of the game. They aren’t horrible, they just feel off.
Overall, Star Ocean: The Last Hope International is a worthwhile game for PS3 owners to pick up. If you’ve been waiting for a good action JRPG to play, this will definitely fit the bill. It does have some rough spots, but it is well worth a purchase for fans of the genre.
Plays Like: Tales games, previous Star Ocean games
Pros: Combat system is enjoyable, once you get the hang of it; Story is interesting and unconventional; Environments look great
Cons: Characters look like emotionless dolls; Voice over work needs some improvement; Difficulty needs smoothing out; Save points are few and far between