Star Ocean: The Last Hope
Game is legit.
It’s been a long time since I’ve played a good RPG where I’ve really felt good about the story. I was playing Eternal Sonata but the gamewas so unbelievably boring I sort of put that aside. FF13 was such a huge waste of potential that I can’t see anything but that. Dragon Age, despite how much I liked the gameplay, had a voiceless main character and overly serious storyline. You can’t actually beat Demon’s Souls, you just do a little better each time. Thinking back, the last time I really enjoyed an RPG’s story was FF9 back in like 2004.
The storyline for Star Ocean is solid and well put together. There’s enough twist and turns to surprise you, and important characters actually die. I have two pet peeves when it comes to people dying. Too many people sacrificing their lives and it starts to lose meaning (I’m looking at you Gurren Lagann). Nobody dying makes it seem meaningless and trivial. Star Ocean hits that magic number where all the deaths really feel like sacrifices.
Besides that, they really have a lot of character development. There are dozens of cutscenes where party members are just dicking around or doing stupid stuff. It develops their personalities so much more and makes them all more likable. Edge sort of grew on me after I got past his ridiculous name. The Edge/Reimi relationship was very touching, because they spent so much effort developing the tiny details that go on between them. Amazingly, I found Lymie to be absolutely adorable. It’s weird, because I normally hate little girl characters in anime. But for some reason, Lymie really struck a chord with me.
Animation and effects are top notch. It’s not FF13 1080p brilliance, but the backgrounds are crisp, battle animations are flashy and elaborate, and everything just looks nice.
The battle system is well designed. The blindside mechanic is interesting and the chain combos are neatly designed and flow naturally. Star Ocean allows 4 members in your active party, and I’m convinced that 4 or greater is the ideal number of party members in an RPG. Anything less and there isn’t enough action going on at once to keep my attention. It also allows you to switch between any 4 of those members and control them, while the AI controls the other 3. Looking back, I realized it is extremely similar to Dragon Age, which may be why I enjoyed it so much.
The number one thing that pisses me off is how I can’t customize what my AI party members do. All you can choose between is “Attack with MP, attack without MP, focus fire on 1 target, or do nothing”. Where is my system of commands to customize actions based on number of enemies, health, mana, etc. Half the time, I find my AI friends wasting mana on spells like silence when the last enemy is 1 hit away from dying. Or they’ll be shooting fireballs while 3/4 of the party is dead. Seriously, any game that has AI controlled needs to implement a system where you can customize their actions. FF12 and Dragon Age got the system right. Never deviate from it.
Secondly, the actual attacking in the game is kind of counter-intuitive. You have attacks that pop enemies up into the air, similar to FF13. However, while they are in the air, none of my attacks can hit them. I’d find myself chain combing an enemy, only to have my AI friends pop him into the air so I miss my finishing move. It completely baffles me how a blatant game flaw like this slips into the final product.
Finally, they really need to cut back on the cut scenes. In order to play this game, you have to devote at minimum 2 hour chunks. 1 hour to get from save point to save point, and another hour to watch the cut scene that happens when you reach that save point. It’s just mind blowing how long some of these things are.
Overall, this game is amazing. I got around 40 hours of gameplay for just the main storyline. There are a ridiculous number of mini quests and fetch quests from dozens of NPCs in towns, as well as a few bonus dungeons/bosses to go through. I could easily get another 10-20 hours out of this game, which I may inevitably decide to do. Given that it’s only $30 now, this game is a must buy.