Star Ocean: The Last Hope International - Staff Review  

Star Ocean: Voyager
by Sam "Nyx" Marchello

20-40 Hours
+ Best iteration of the SO combat system to date.
+ Tons of sidequests and collectibles.
+ Extra subtitle and language options.
- Horrendous dialog.
- Graphics are unpleasent to the eye.
- English voice acting will make your ears bleed.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   When Star Ocean: The Last Hope came out on the Xbox 360 last year, it took a beating from critics. In fact, our very own Adriaan den Ouden gave the title a whopping 2.5/5. People who loved the Star Ocean series had high expectations for the last entry in the series, and when it didn't live up to its potential, people began to further question tri-Ace's quality with the games they had been releasing. Since Japan loves its enhanced ports, Star Ocean: The Last Hope International was born, and even with the numerous additions made by Square Enix and tri-Ace, the game's shortcomings are still so common as to render it barely mediocre.

   The premise of The Last Hope is fairly simple: in A.D. 2064, Earth is faced with the Third World War after several clashes between the World Republic Federation and its surrounding enemies. Both sides were harboring weapons of mass destruction, and the people of Earth came to fear total annihilation. When a ceasefire was finally announced by both factions, the population of Earth was dwindling, and the environment was declining at an alarming rate, forcing the surviving population to live underground. It became the mission of The Universal Science and Technology Administration (USTA) to find the last survivors of Earth a new planet to inhabit. Enter Edge Maverick, a rookie officer of the Space Reconnaissance Force (SRF) who volunteers to take part in the mission to save mankind. After his first mission on planet Aeos, he rises to the rank of captain of the SRF-003 Calnus, though not because he earned it.

   While the premise of The Last Hope seems fine, the main events of the game usually play second fiddle to often-trite developments unrelated to the central plot. Although Edge and his comrades are visiting planets in search of a habitable place for the wayfaring Earthlings, the game's over-ample exposition provides many opportunities to demonstrate just how thickheaded its cast is. The characters in this game come across as hollow, idiotic, and very unlikeable people who spout complete and utter nonsense when they speak. Part of the problem does come from the game's localization, since the dialog feels unnatural throughout the game. The already awkward dialog is played out with even more awkward English voice acting, which makes cutscenes difficult to stomach. It also doesn't help that many of the light-hearted cutscenes seem out of place, especially when the cutscenes are already far too long, and the plot being drowned out by pointless banter makes for a painful experience.

   To tri-Ace's credit, the skeleton of the game's story has a lot of promise, and although the dialog isn't up to par, it really did consider how The Last Hope ties into the previous games. Those who have played First Depature will see a few pleasant surprises throughout their journey. This is a game that truly encapsulates the game's name, as players will have a half-a-dozen planets to explore and an ending that actually wraps up the main game's events quite nicely.

Welch: Not As Tasty as Grape Juice. Welch: Not As Tasty as Grape Juice.

   With this enhanced edition, however, Square Enix has provided gamers with a few options to improve the voice acting experience, as a Japanese voice track is included. Even so, the Japanese voice acting is all right, but doesn't really stand out in any way. Another option added to the International version is the addition of different subtitles: English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish. These additions may help enhance one's experience with the plot, and will be welcomed by those who cannot stomach the English language track and dialog.

   The International version also includes the ability to change the game's interface. This is one of the positive features, as players can change from the Modern style with CG portraits and menu, to a Classic style with expressive anime-style portraits and an easily accessed menu. This addition, of course, is based on preference, though the Classic style makes menu navigation a breeze, and is all around easier on the eyes. Depending on which interface is used, players will see these enhancements in combat as well.

   The Last Hope's battle system is by far its greatest strength, and is easily the deepest combat experience to date in the Star Ocean series. The game has three systems working in perfect harmony with one another, allowing for lots of customization, speed and performance. The first to be introduced is the BEAT System, which allows players to choose their preferred fighting-style for each of the characters, including offense, defense, sneak attacks, and more. As combat experience increases the team can unlock advanced fighting techniques which enhance combat performance overall.

   The next system introduced is Rush Mode, which enhances combat performance for a very brief period of time. When the Rush gauge is filled, by holding down square and either L2 or R2, the character can unleash combos to inflict huge chunks of damage upon the enemy, as well as link with other nearby characters. While in Rush Mode characters receive a few bonuses that include an increase in speed and defense. These bonuses are crucial to success in battle, and are often life savers in do-or-die situations.

   Finally, there's the Blindside System, which truly makes the combat system shine. By holding down the circle button, the selected character will charge. Once that character is targeted by an enemy, by holding down the circle button and moving left on the analog stick, the target will successfully perform a Blindside, causing the enemy to slip into a blindsided condition, giving the player an upper hand and guaranteeing a critical hit. The Blindside System is by far the best aspect of the combat system, as it allows players to often avoid being targeted while also being able to execute multiple attacks to an enemy's weak spot. Add in the ability to perform chain combos, and one has a recipe for a rewarding combat experience.

Stampede Slash to the Face! Stampede Slash to the Face!

   Another positive aspect in The Last Hope is its large quantity of optional content, in the form of sidequests and collectibles. There are well over a hundred different quests to embark on, as well as data to collect and battle trophies to obtain. For those who are collectors, there's an ample amount of information and trophies to discover. Throughout the game there are also plenty of harvesting and mining points to gain materials for item creation. Each character is proficient in one of the eight skill types of crafting, and by placing characters in the production lines, they are able to craft new items using various recipes, allowing new items to be crafted. This would all be well and good, if it weren't plagued by the fact that Item Creation can only be done on the Calnus, and in most cases there's no way to quickly beat feet back to the ship to fulfill item orders. In fact, the game's environments are far too large, yet there's barely anything in them except treasure chests. No sidequests or extra characters, just treasure chests and monsters. The level design is abysmal, making it a dull slog moving from place to place. The lack of a fast-track makes moving around through the levels more torturous than enjoyable.

   It doesn't help that the graphics are eye-straining. They're definitely colourful and vibrant, but they're quite unattractive. Part of the problem comes from the character designs, which look far more like creepy mannequins instead of living, breathing beings. Tri-Ace was attempting to make the characters look realistic, but considering how over-exaggerated they are, it results in frightening facial expressions and body gestures that seem completely unnatural. Watching characters during the cutscenes gets distracting thanks to the hyper-realism gone wrong, and often it's easier to simply skip the cutscenes altogether to avoid further torment. The game's environments are also problematic, as they look too artificial, giving the appearance of a world that looks entirely made out of plastic.

   It's a shame that the (supposedly) final entry into the Star Ocean series is marred by so many cosmetic and localization problems, because the game does sport a great easy-to-use item creation system and a fast-paced rough-and-tumble combat system. Even the game's soundtrack doesn't stand out because it's being subsumed by the game's horrendous voice acting. Although the game can be completed in roughly forty hours, most of that time is spent watching half-an-hour long cutscenes that it would be wise to skip so that more of the gameplay can be enjoyed. It would seem with this last installment that tri-Ace has created the equivalent of Star Trek: Voyager and not Next Generation, with Edge Maverick as the game's captain Janeway. It'll be an acquired taste for some, but most diehard fans will know when to turn tail and run. Run while you still can.

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