Now Featuring Actual Space Travel
Fourteen years ago, developer tri-Ace released Star Ocean for the Super Famicom. Touting “Space is an ocean of stars” as a tagline, it achieved a cult following among RPG fans and put the dev on the map. Many years, several releases and ports later, we arrive at a re-release of the fourth installment, Star Ocean: The Last Hope International, which delivers an experience largely in line with the rest of the series.
Taking place before First Departure, the story follows Edge Maverick, a member of the Space Reconnaissance Force, which is charged with finding a new planet for Earthlings to inhabit after the near destruction of the world following World War III. What starts as a simple colonization mission escalates into a search and rescue, and an investigation into a malevolent alien force threatening the universe. The main plotline is at large solidly written and even includes a trip to Roak to help set up the events in the first game. The effect Edge’s adventure has on the formation of the UP3 is particularly well done. In typical series fashion though, it leaves numerous plot threads dangling and/or unexplained. Leaving the true nature of the big bad ambiguous is a particularly notable oversight, especially for those who played Till the End of Time.
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While every Star Ocean entrant up until now has included the option of allowing you to choose the majority of your party, The Last Hope International forgoes this in favor of better character development for the characters it does have. While it leaves several important character details to the in game dictionary, it does a solid job with the majority of the cast. The deceptively youthful Lymle steals the show, and her ever evolving relationship with the Eldarian Faize is genuinely touching. Private Actions, a series trademark that details what your characters are up to during downtime, also make their return. In addition to improving characterization, they build up affinity points between Edge and his crew. Get enough points with a particular crew member and you’ll get to see an additional ending scene for them.
The Last Hope International retains the franchise’s real-time battle system while adding some twists. Most notable is the addition of Blindside attacks, which let you quickly sneak around and attack the enemy’s flank. Up to six special attacks can now be selected by a single character, provided you have the necessary skill and CP total to support them. These can then be strung together in battle at the player’s whim. Also notable are Rush Mode (essentially Star Ocean’s take on limit breaks), Rush Combos (the chaining together of special attacks with another character for massive damage), and the ability to choose two passive skills per character. All of these make for a very enjoyable battle experience and what I consider the primary selling point of the game.
Outside of battle, Item Creation makes its return and is better than ever. This time around your characters have fixed stats in relation to every area of item expertise, and based on how they’re grouped together they pool their knowledge into creating recipes. Just get the required items and you can create your custom item without fail, no random chance involved. The requirement for these invention sessions are party SP, which can be gained by harvesting items, opening chests, or doing fetch quests for NPCs.
One of the legendary drawbacks to the Star Ocean series is the shoddy interaction, and while this iteration takes some good steps forward in a few places, it also stands still in others. The above mentioned Private Actions are much easier to encounter and activate this time around, but a certain number are still hard to find and some are required to activate certain character endings. Given that these character endings improve the quality of the game’s ending, it’s even more damning that these PAs are wholly unmarked. Cutscenes are now skippable right from the get-go, but are still not pausable. Many dungeons require backtracking all the way through due to there not being an escape item or spell available.
One point about this game that cannot be faulted however is the graphics, which are among the best seen for a game this generation. Areas are vast and distinct, and make use of great lighting. The level of detail is also impressive. From whales far off in the sea shooting up water spouts, to clouds and birds overhead occasionally casting their shadows over the land, this game pulls no punches in regards to graphical prowess.
Motoi Sakuraba as always lends his musical touch to the game. Being well known for using a musical style that heavily relies on synth instruments, he does not change his tune here. While the lack of originality is notable, the music itself is generally enjoyable. The theme for Lemuris in particular perfectly captures a land under the affects of a chilling winter. Voice acting is stellar, with only one character turning in a bad performance. The Japanese audio track, an addition to the International version, is available for those who prefer it.
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Speaking of additions, some other notable inclusions to said version are the menus and character portraits from the Japanese edition, as well as a wide variety of subtitle options. Those who complained about the former being taken out will be happy with this news, but I found that the color scheme made the text much harder to read.
There will be two schools of thought concerning Star Ocean The Last Hope International: one that lambasts the dangling plot threads and interaction issues that are seemingly a staple of the series, and one that will look past those and enjoy the game on the strengths of its gameplay and characterization. I happen to be of the latter preference, and I would recommend this game to anyone of similar mind.
This game was played to completion and reviewed using a retail copy.