I’ve been playing computer RPGs for as long as I’ve owned a computer, which dates back to about 1985, or before that if you count the Intellivision. But I’ve only recently really started playing games with the modern consoles, namely the PS3 since so many of our reviewers have 360s it seems. Having played hundreds of RPGs (really my favorite genre of game) on the PC, I was kind of missing out on that type of action for the PS3.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope International is basically the PlayStation 3 version of the game with the same name (minus the International part) that came out for the Xbox 360. Kelly Adams did an excellent review of the game on the Xbox 360 for us, so be sure to check that out if you want to know how it handles there. Interestingly enough, one of her major criticisms of the game (she did really like it overall though) was the lack of the original Japanese voice track, with English subtitles. That’s one of the biggest selling features here on the PS3, though I mostly played with everyone talking in English and didn’t have a problem with it. In fact, I thought all the voice acting was pretty good. It’s over the top and silly at times, but so are the characters you interact with in the game.
There seems to be a large number of people who are not familiar with the Star Ocean Series (this should be the fourth title if you’re counting them in order.) Many people want to know if they can "jump in" with Last Hope on the PS3 and know what’s going on. The quick answer is yes. The Star Ocean games are all mostly independent of one another in terms of their storyline, taking place in space with billions of planets and all that, so you don’t have to know anything about the series to enjoy this game. I’ve never played a Star Ocean title and had a great time with this one, and never felt lost or out of place. It’s a perfectly good standalone title.
The other two things that the series is known for are long cut-scenes and real-time battles. Here Star Ocean follows that trend. Some of the cut-scenes are practically movies, lasting up to 15-minutes each. And sometimes when they end, another one starts up almost immediately. Apparently on the 360 this forced you to actually switch disks at some points, though all the content fits on one disk for the PS3, probably because of the blu-ray format holding much more data. And all the battles are done in real time, which can be exciting or tedious, depending on your play preferences.
Kelly did an excellent job of going over the plot in her review, so I will only quickly gloss over it here. Earth practically destroyed itself in a World War III type of event. The planet is toast, and everyone lives underground. This near-Armageddon brought about world peace, for the few survivors anyway, and now everyone is like "gee, we really ruined this planet good, so let’s go out into space and find some new place that we can screw up from scratch." To that end, they form the USF, which is kind of like NASA only it’s a military organization whose main goal is to explore space and find suitable colony worlds.
You play as Edge Maverick, a crewmen of the Calnus, one of several ships that take off from Earth on the colony finding mission. Reimi Saionji, one of your best childhood friends, is also on the bridge crew. Edge is supposed to be twenty years old, though he looks about 15 if you ask me. Anyway, the first mission goes horribly wrong, and most of the ships crash. Eventually the Calnus is repaired and has to continue the mission alone, though without most of the crew. For the first part of the game, it’s just you, Reimi and an Eldarian (sort of like a space elf, or Vulcan if you will) populating the entire ship. Slowly you will accumulate more crew, and can have eight people (or beings) in your group at any one time. The game handles the switching of crew for you, so there are no "should I take him or her" moments where you have to leave someone behind. If someone does stay behind, it’s scripted as part of the story.
You can pilot the Calnus to any planet that you have previously visited, though you are more or less lead by the nose and told where to go 90 percent of the time. While in space, you can interact with your crew, which leads to lots of really funny cutscenes. Once you arrive at a planet, you leave the ship to explore. This is where you will spend most of your game.
Your group is represented by Edge walking around. Groups of monsters can be seen wandering around as well, each represented by whatever creature is the dominant one in their group. If you touch another group, a battle begins. There are special battle conditions that can happen, like if you run into the back of them you can gain a few surprise seconds to act before they start moving, or you can be surprised yourself until you find an amulet for your leader that will nullify that. And all the monsters are there on the map (other than a very few scripted encounters) so there are no random battles. You can avoid the monsters if you want, though that means you wont level, and you sure will need to if you want to progress in the game.
On your team, there are basically two types of characters. There are strikers like Edge who run up and hit things with swords and other weapons. And there are support members like Reimi who shoot arrows or, depending on the character, artillery and magic. A few characters are hybrids, though they seem to use more magic. You can swap characters on the fly, even in the middle of a battle. So if you want to control a different character, you just tab over to them using the hat buttons. You can only have four characters fighting at the same time, but can move people in from your reserve pool at will too. And you can pause the battle to dig around in your inventory if you need healing or a powerful bomb to get you through a tough fight.
On the easy difficulty levels, winning the battles does not take too much skill. The exception to this rule is boss battles, which are insanely difficult. I think the bosses are put really far above the average level of the dungeon to encourage people to grind up enough to face them.
In truth, there is a little too much grinding for my taste in this game. Constant battles of the same or similar creatures gets to be a real drag. But you can’t really avoid this if you want to be ready for the bosses.
The thing that saved this game for me was the storyline. There is a really deep story told through the cut scenes, and I kept playing for hours on end because I wanted to know what happened. The characters are all really diverse to the point of almost being wacky, and having them interact with one another while flying between planets was a real blast. The main quests were really interesting too, though most of the side quests were completely dull and not even rewarding. It got to the point where I ignored most of them unless I thought I could get a new weapon or something tangible for all my "Go FedEx" efforts.
The biggest problem (along with the joy) most people will have with the game however, is probably going to be the storyline. This is a game made for an Asian culture, and it shows. There is so much talk about who is "the superior" and who is "the inferior" that it must be a national obsession in Japan figuring out who is in charge at work. But the game also doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be a serious space opera or a wacky comedy. Every five minutes one of the characters is having a profound personal crisis, though these are so over the top that they come off as a little (or a lot) silly. And then all of a sudden you go from that deep personal terror to riding a fat pink bunny rabbit across the desert, and having your catwoman crewmember chase it comically with a knife and fork. My advice to the developers is to pick one or the other and stick with it. Thankfully, the overall story is good enough to keep you coming back for more.
If you do all the side quests, there is about 70+ hours of gameplay here, but only because the side quests purposely send you back and forth over long distances to deliver dolls or to collect grape juice, with hundreds of monster battles in the middle. If you mostly do the main quest, it’s more like 35 to 40 hours, which is still respectable.
My biggest complaint with the game mirrors a concern Kelly had with the 360 version. There are very few save points. One night I was in a really large dungeon and had been playing for over two hours without being able to save. The risk there is that if I died, I would have to retrace my steps, and I was not about to do that. Thankfully I found a save point and could go to bed, but come on, we’ve had "save anytime" games for about twenty years now. It’s time Star Ocean got with the program.
In the end, I did very much enjoy the game, but it’s more like Japanese green tea than chocolate ice cream. You might learn to like it, but it’s probably going to be an acquired taste, especially for American players. That you can acquire that taste while playing speaks volume for this space-based RPG.