Video Game Review - Star Ocean: The Last Hope
It's historically been eclipsed by Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and the Tales games, but Tri-Ace's Star Ocean series has somehow managed to trek along. The sci-fi-themed Japanese RPG is taking one more shot at mainstream success with the appropriately-titled Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Can this Xbox 360 exclusive help the series climb out of the shadows and achieve star status?Last Hope is a step above the storytelling found in its predecessors, featuring a richer story focusing on exploration and discovery. Earth has been devastated by a third world war, and mankind's only hope rests in the deep reaches of space. As Edge Maverick, you're part of the SRF mission to find a new haven for humanity. Edge amasses a wacky bunch of companions who must save not only Earth, but the entire galaxy from annihilation at the hands of a mysterious force known as the phantoms.
The plot initially follows a pattern all too familiar to series veterans, but it quickly heads for new territory. Rather than focusing on a central plot throughout the entire game, Last Hope is comprised of several shorter plot arcs that eventually tie into a larger thread. As a result, the pacing is a bit slow early on but significantly improves after a few hours, even if hit-or-miss writing keeps the prose from truly shining.
Character development is a strong point, but the same can't be said for originality. Last Hope features a slightly clichéd anime cast including the hulking robotic Bacchus, cat-girl Meracle, the winged angel Sarah, and underage Loli Lymle. Despite their derivative nature, they end up being a capable crew. With the return of personal actions as well as the introduction of a new roommate system, players can discover hidden affinities between certain characters and unlock hidden character endings.
The Star Ocean series has always delivered solid action RPG experiences, and Last Hope is no different. It follows the typical JRPG formula, with a heavy focus on exploration, character interaction, and combat. What sets Last Hope apart from the rest is the sci-fi element.
Players eventually take command of a spacecraft known as the Calnus and freely travel from planet to planet. Each planet contains a massive overworld, complete with towns, dungeons, and lots of nasty monsters. There's plenty of hidden treasure as well, and you'll need to occasionally return to a previous planet with a new ability in order to unearth some of the better loot.
You're free to explore, but there's actually very little backtracking required, and most of it's strictly for optional content. The emphasis is on pushing forward, and the game's filled with action. Enemies become increasingly difficult, but with enough skill and strategy, you'll be able to come out on top. The numerous boss battles also present significant challenges, with some of the later encounters taking upwards of 30 minutes to finish. It's tough, but emerging victorious truly feels rewarding.
The dungeons are plagued by several issues. Some are just too linear, while others are colossal mazes. It never finds a happy medium. Grinding through remedial battles becomes flat-out frustrating, especially when you're trying to get your bearings. Few puzzles means there's little to do outside combat, and most of the challenge in the more complex dungeons is simply figuring out which way to go.
Towns and villages fill their expected role. It's crucial to spend time purchasing new skills, new weapons, and raw materials for item creation. Players can also accept side quests from various townsfolk to earn precious experience points, money, and sometimes, rare items. Aside from offering a reprieve from arduous exploration and combat, towns are typically the best place to advance the story or find a clue to your next objective.
Last Hope has some impressive moments, but the numerous dungeon segments really drag the experience down. There's also a disappointing lack of co-op multiplayer. The game will easily take 30-40 hours to complete, and if you like a challenge, Last Hope delivers even on the easiest difficulty setting.