Star Ocean has always been a series overlooked by western gamers - particularly with standout titles such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest around and stealing the spotlight. However, Star Ocean has always managed to just about do enough to keep itself going with its particular audience. First off, this is a game developed by Tri-Ace (Infinite Undiscovery, Valkyrie Profile), and as most veteran RPG players know, they are a company swimming in Japanese tradition - whether it's the clichéd anime style characters, or the typical "end of the world" scenario as you play your way through a seemingly endless journey to save the world - or in this case, find a new world for humanity to start all over again. It's easy to point out from the outset that The Last Hope has been rather hyped up by publisher Square Enix - perhaps they really do see this as Star Ocean's LAST HOPE at hitting the nail on the head.
It is instantly obvious that the game has been given a rather robust budget, noting the beautiful FMV sequences and, for the most part, stunning in game visuals. The story takes place in the year SD 10 (Space Date), after World War 3 rendered Earth useless and unable to support human life to the full - and so humanity moves to the stars to start a new life. Unfortunately, this concept doesn't develop enough to keep the player engaged. You will find yourself moving from planet to planet for reasons clouded in mystery at times, which starts to grate with the games slow pace. The story doesn't seem to have enough depth (not even up to Infinite Undiscovery standard), and if it weren't for the lively, memorable cast of characters, this game would be a big nono for most RPG players. You play as Edge Maverick, a strong minded young individual who works alongside Childhood friend Reimi Saionji as a part of the Space Reconnaissance Force (SRF). It is your job as part of the SRF project to search habitable planets in the great star ocean to find a new home for humanity to start anew.
Although you play as Edge Maverick you will gain control of a number of characters who all have their own individual talents and skills, whether they're in the battle or outside on the field. Each character has both field skills and battle skills that can be used for battling and field searching for items on the different planets. For example, Reimi has the ability to harvest certain areas where she can find hidden items buried in the ground. The areas that you can harvest are highlighted by glowing hotspots on the field, and depending on how far you have developed her technique she can find special items that can be used to heal, combine with other items to make new items, or even combined to create OTHER weapons and armour using Edge's personal skill of Smithery. The same applies to each of the different characters as they can all combine each individual skill to create really impressive items that are of better quality and much cheaper than the stores riddles throughout the universe. This has been a welcome inclusion into the Star Ocean series since its original release, but they have done it to perfection this time around. Many of the items you will need to create can only be found on specific planets, so you will need to travel from planet to planet (when you gain control of your space ship) to create the next weapon, armour, spell, etc.
This brings us to battle skills. Battle skills can be purchased as scrolls from stores around the different planets, and can be read by certain characters throughout the game to teach them new skills for battle. These can include summons, such as the legendary Cerberus, to fire spells, wind spells, and even healing spells. Again, not all skills can be taught to the same characters, so each of the characters you encounter throughout the game will have their own unique skills and battle style.
The battle system is the real treat here. For the first time in a Japanese style RPG, players will ACTUALLY look forward to their next battle due to its incredible depth and tactical necessity. Each character has different styles of attack, such as ranged using a bow, to short using a sword, and you move freely around the battle field using the left analogue stick. You can switch players easily by using the left and right bumper, and the rest of the character will take control themselves as the battle takes place. Simply, you use the A button to use your standard attack and can press it timely to get a series of attacks to produce a combo. But where you really need to develop your skills is using the "blindside" technique and building up your bonus board. Blindsiding an enemy entails defending yourself using the B button until the enemy is just about to attack. If you time this right and quickly flick the left analogue stick you will move out of the way and quickly run behind the enemy to get a critical attack from behind. Doing this successfully is on of the most important parts of the game as it gives you added bonuses which are added to your bonus board. Different ways of killing add different tiles to your board. For example, killing an enemy with a critical attack using the blindside technique will give you a blue tile which gives you an extra 10% experience at the end of the battle. You gain different tiles depending on the different circumstances, from increasing money to Skill points, and it's a really fun and rewarding way to make battles seem much less arduous. Overall you can develop a huge number of these tiles and as you build them up you will be getting more than double the overall EXP at the end of battles (Or money, etc, depending on the tiles you gave garnered). If you can master the blindside technique and get the bonus board to it's full potential, there's no need to grind levels at all, as you will be gaining levels at an incredible pace.
Battles are NOT random, and enemies can be seen on the map. Coming into contact with them will get the battle started and you will be put onto a battle map. If you don't want to do any battling at that moment in time you can quickly run pass them using Edge's Sprint technique - which is nice because it means you won't have to get all wound up as you travel from place to place. The worlds are incredibly detailed, each with its own terrain and life support, and its own history. The depth may not be up to the historical standard of Mass Effect, but the game itself is a lot bigger - with overall gameplay time coming between 50-60 hours. There are numerous side quests, shop orders and deliveries that can be done on the side of your main journey to gain extra exp, money and Xbox achievements, and the hidden affinities between characters make up with LOTS of different endings. There are certain scenarios that you can find and make different decisions which affect the different relationships between characters which inevitably change the ending of the game quite drastically. This coupled with room placement, where you can put different people in different rooms together to get other hidden affinities you may just find certain love interests bloom and friendships developed further than they would otherwise. It all adds up to a lot of replay value on a game that is already of incredible value for money.
This is game which you will love if you already love Japanese style RPG's. The voice acting, on the whole is quite good - much better than Infinite Undiscovery, but still there is the odd character which makes you go "DOH!" and with no Japanese voice option available, some people may get a little frustrated, particularly if you prefer playing in it's native form. The graphics on the whole are excellent. The worlds are incredibly detailed, and the lighting and facial expressions are absolutely wonderful. But then, on occasions, particularly the parts in space, the graphics quality drops quite low, but this is too be expected coming from a game that is ram packed full of content spanning over 3 discs.
This game comes highly recommended for people who have a love for Japanese RPGs, but recommended as a "try it and see what you think first" for everyone else. If only the story had been deeper and more engaging, this could well have been an excellent game. That said, it's definitely not "bad", and people will get a lot of enjoyment out of it. It is a slow burner, but give it a chance and you may find yourself open to a hidden affinity with this game which you never thought possible...