Star Ocean: The Last Hope International Preview
Now that I’ve rekindled my age-old love of RPGs with Dragon Age: Origins, I’m more inclined to think about future role-playing adventures. And while my eyes are firmly fixed on Final Fantasy XIII, I’m also quite interested in both White Knight Chronicles and Resonance of Fate; I’m hoping 2010 will be the year of the RPG. Furthermore, for those of you who are fans of the critically acclaimed Star Ocean franchise, you’ll be happy to know that The Last Hope is finally headed to the PlayStation 3. Like other early RPGs of this generation – Eternal Sonata, Tales of Vesperia, etc. – Tri-Ace’s effort debuted on the Xbox 360 and PS3 owners had to wait a while for an announcement. But now that it’s confirmed for February 9 in the US, I figured I’d give my fellow role-playing aficionados a look at this solid title.
If you’re not familiar with the series, these are games that utilize what may be best known as a “hybrid” form of combat; i.e., a cross between turn-based and real-time. You will see enemies out in the fields when you explore and rather than simply attacking them flat-out – as you would in a typical action/adventure quest – touching a foe triggers a separate battle screen, similar to what we’ve seen in turn-based RPGs. But on the other hand, the battle starts instantly and plays out in a real-time format; you control one character at a time while your party members utilize AI settings, and you can switch between characters with the simple press of a button. You can also pause the action at any time to administer new orders and this becomes especially crucial during intense encounters when you need extra time to evaluate. Actually, it’s a little like Origins, only with the addition of those separate battlefields that exist outside of the realm of exploration.
The game is surprisingly deep. The combat is fairly intricate and off-the-field actions can take up a great deal of time; a fact you Star Ocean vets won’t deny. There are special quests you can fulfill for vendors, you can create/invent everything from new items to weapons and armor, and the learning curve can be a little steep for those unfamiliar with the genre. But if you’re accustomed to it, the entire adventure will feel absorbing and even addictive from start to finish. There’s a little more freedom involved here than in past entries in the series, but you have to play for quite a while before you’ll feel truly “free.” For the most part, you progress along a linear storyline and tackle the plot-advancing areas and quests in a mostly straightforward manner. The universe is colorful and loaded with all sorts of creatures, environments, and secret locations where you will have to solve a few puzzles. But more often than not, you’ll be fighting. Like crazy.
This leads me to my major complaints when I played the 360 version: firstly, it seems like I spent the vast majority of my time fighting. There just seemed to be far too many enemies and not enough in the way of story, and on top of which, the combat suffered from balance and AI issues later on. The enemy almost always seemed to have the distinct edge; capable of doing things you’d never be able to do in normal situations. You just always started to feel outnumbered and overmatched, even after participating in some power-leveling and Synthesis (that’s the invention process). But I know plenty of people who didn’t complain about this and pumped many, many hours into The Last Hope. And from what I’ve heard, it’s basically an identical experience on the PS3, with the added option of the original Japanese language (with English subtitles, of course), and the little bonus of switching back and forth between 2D and 3D character art, which only applies to the avatars. If any of you stumble on other upgrades in the PS3 version, feel free to drop it in the Comments below.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope International will be here on February 9 and with so many action games on tap for Q1 2010, this should be a breath of fresh air for RPG fans. It’s definitely worth a look, especially if you’ve enjoyed previous series installments.
11/28/2009 Ben Dutka