Star Ocean: The Last Hope

In early 2009, Tri-Ace released their newest installment of Star Ocean, dubbed The Last Hope, through Square-Enix. The Star Ocean series has been known for it’s vast dungeons, the affection system, and real-time battle systems, and The Last Hope works to take it one step further.

This time, instead of a sequel based several hundred, even thousands of years ahead of the predecessor, The Last Hope is more of a prequel, and covers Earth’s initial attempt at exploring the galaxy in S.D. 0010. Several years prior to the plot within the game, in A.D. 2064, Earth is left barren due to the nuclear destruction of World War III, scarring the sky with clouds and making the surface uninhabitable. The U.S. and Japan sign a peace treaty, ending the war, and together they try rebuilding their race and hope to find a new home among the stars. With that they begun building their space program, the Universal Science and Technology Administration, which eventually set up the Space Reconnaissance Force, which we will became all too familiar with. The SRF’s mission is to set out and explore the galaxy, locating suitable planets for human colonization so that the people of Earth may once again have a home.

The game starts off with the first launching of the SRF Fleet. However, during the warp phase, an anomaly occurs and the entire fleet ends up crashing (somewhat safely) onto the planet of Aeos, identified as a planet similar to Earth’s prehistoric and Jurassic period, with the exception of Dinosaurs. Initially, it seemed like the planet only housed plant life, until an sudden attack by the locals, giant bugs with tough shells that appear to be immune to the SRF’s standard rifles. This is where you come in: Edge Maverick (which I will get in to more depth with the characters soon).

Once off planet Aeos, you’re made captain of the SRF 003 Calnus, and you embark on your mission to find a habitable planet. As far as what that means for you as the play, you get to visit a multitude of planets, each containing a sort of “mini-sode” in the game, but each contributing to the overarching plot of the entire story. You meet many interesting people, and all the characters go through good times, as well as bad, as they grow into stronger individuals.

Edge Maverick: A young crewman on the SRF 003 Calnus. Edge is headstrong and optimistic, always following his gut and doing what he feels is right. When addressed by his superiors, Edge can appear very formal and attentive to his mission, otherwise, when he is with his crew, he is very comfortable and relaxed, never afraid to speak his mind. Due to his accomplishments on Aeos, he is appointed captain of the repaired SRF 003 Calnus and given the task of exploring the galaxy for inhabitable planets, and of searching for his rival, best friend and captain of the SRF 001 Aquila, Crowe F. Alemdio. He is strongly supported by his First Mate, another childhood friend, Reimi Saonji. Edge also holds within him a hidden power, not yet revealed, even to himself. Edge is essentially the Captain Kirk of Star Ocean.

Reimi Saonji: Another young crewman of the SRF 003 Calnus, and dear friend of Edge Maverick, Reimi Saonji is strong, caring, and at times stubborn. She never likes to put the burden of responsibility on anybody else, so she puts it all onto herself instead. At a young age she began training with a bow, and it soon became her weapon of choice, for reasons not made clear. She seems to be a lot more aware of her own hidden power than Edge does, but keeps it a secret from Edge and the others. She, at times, seems a little protective of Edge and even get jealous at some of the actions he makes. Otherwise, she is a strong-hearted asset to the SRF crew she accompanies.

Faize Sheifa Beleth: A young Eldarian student of Symbology, Faize is a soft-spoken and kind person who speaks politely and thinks logically. He greatly admires Edge for his leadership and swordsmanship, and claims to even study him in hopes of becoming more like Edge. If anything, Faize is the Spock of The Last Hope to Edge’s Captain Kirk. He soon develops a sort of love/hate relationship with Lymle. He always holds the people he cares for in high regard, and believes in paying back two fold for the good deeds done to him. As the story progresses, Faize becomes an emotionally deep character and starts to become the leader he has always wanted to be.

There are several more characters you get to meet in the game, so many, in fact, I’m not going to cover all of them. However, each character does play a valuable role in the story, and you slowly grow to love each and every one of them. Some more than others, though.

Now for game play. As with most RPGs of this type, there are two distinct parts to the game play: Field/Dungeon and Battle.

When you’re in the field you control Edge. As expected, you’re able to find chest, and little trinkets in random spots. A new factor, however, is the ability to harvest herbs, and mine in rocks. Immediately you’re able to harvest herbs and stuff, with Reimi, however, you’ll need to wait until you get Bacchus on you team in order to mine rocks. This is extremely useful for finding materials for side quests, and the synthesis, which I shall cover in a bit. Enemies can be seen on the field, and avoided, so you don’t have to worry about the random battles getting in the way. One last thing, a dash button has been added when you’re on the field. Dashing is a great way to get across fields fast, and you don’t have to wait a certain amount of time to use it again. Just spam the dash button and you’ll find yourself across the field in no time.

As for battle, it’s very similar to that in Till the End of Time, in that it is face paced, exciting, and still highly strategic. You control one character, any of your choice, and use their attacks and abilities, in real time, to defeat the enemy. Other characters can be loosely controlled based on the setting you give them, which will direct how they fight in the battle. A new spin added to the battles that the prior games did not have is the ability to link special attacks together to form long chains, as well as linking them with your partners if you get your Rush to 100%. The bonus board is also a bit different, in that you get different colored badges based on what you do in battle to get special bonuses such as extra EXP, money, and other nifty things.

Just like in the prior game, and young girl named Welch helps you with synthesis (keep in mind that this is not the same cute, timid girl we got to know in TtEoT). Synthesis is bit different in this game; the only inventors you have are the members of your crew, each specializing in something different, and they all work together to make recipes and new items. I found it a bit more confusing, but that’s probably because I haven’t put a lot of time into it.

I suppose the next point to cover are the graphics. The Star Ocean series has never really been able to keep up with the graphics of the Final Fantasy series, and other RPGs of its kind, but the Last Hope really kicks it up a notch in the graphics department. The scenery is absolutely beautiful, and unexpected from Star Ocean. Everything is all shiny, and smooth. A lot unlike some of the blocky structures we got out of the prior game. However, this does not mean the graphics in The Last Hope are the best I’ve ever seen. The transfer over to the Xbox 360 was probably a great explanation for the sudden increase in graphic qualities, but there are still times when the faces of characters appear blank and expressionless, much like in the original Kingdom Hearts game.

Next we have the voice acting. RPGs have never really been known for breath-taking voice acting, the Star Ocean series especially. However, with this installment the acting isn’t horrible, and sounds smooth and natural enough not to get in the way of the actual game. In the other games, you would be so thankful for choosing the “Skip Cut Scene” option due to the acting alone. But in this game, it’s decent enough to get by.

Lastly, we have music. Now, normally I don’t care about music in a video game unless it’s music oriented, however Tri-Ace has always been known for there awesome music, especially in the Star Ocean series, as well as Radiata Stories. For lack of a better description, the music is just awesome. It’s exciting, appropriate, and with a touch of jazz, which is always a plus. I’ve played some RPGs where the music during battles was absolutely boring, and eventually became nerve racking. However, Tri-Ace keeps the music new and exciting, without being in the way.

My greatest disappointment with it would have to be the length of some of the dungeons, which Star Ocean has always been known for; they’re long as hell. When you’re running around in circles trying to get to the next cut scene, the last thing you want is to be stuck in a dungeon for hours due to how many rooms they put in, not even mentioning the puzzles they have you solve. On a plus note, some of the dungeons are very interesting and the puzzles quite intriguing, and to some, the length might not be a huge deal.

So, stick all of this together and we get the latest installment of the Star Ocean series. The Last Hope brings the best of the old and combines it with the best of the new to create an awesome game. Not perfect, but it might be the best yet in the series, even though I love Till the End of Time to death. Overall, I’ll give this game an 8/10 for great graphics, exciting game play, and a strong plot. The weak points being the dungeons, and maybe a bit of repetitiveness. Still, it’s a great game, and definitely deserves to be checked out by fans of the series, or just general fans of RPGs.