Last year, 360 gamers got their
first taste of the long-running Star Ocean franchise with the first next-gen
entry in the franchise, Star Ocean: The Last Hope. The game was a solid RPG that
featured some good graphics and hours and hours of deep gameplay. Unfortunately,
even though the Star Ocean series had been exclusive to Sony systems leading up
to this iteration, PS3 owners were left in the dust. Luckily for them, the 360
exclusivity window has since been shut and now PlayStation 3 owners are able to
get in on the action with this comprehensive version of The Last Hope, titled
Star Ocean: The Last Hope International.
As the title would seem to indicate,
The Last Hope International is more than just a straight port of the 360
version, offering a full Japanese voice track, multilingual text options, and
other little extras like new character portraits and art. Aside from the new
additions, this is still by and large the same game that 360 owners have been
enjoying for the better part of a year, meaning if you already picked up that
version, you’re better off just sticking with what you’ve got. However, if you
are a PS3 owner and a fan who spent the last year in the dark, then this is your
chance to pick up this fine entry to the classic series.
Although this is the most recent
title in the Star Ocean series, The Last Hope is actually a prequel set at the
very beginning of Earth’s exploits into the galaxy. After the planet has been
nearly destroyed by nuclear wars and on the verge of collapse, the fighting
nations form a truce and decide to take to the galaxy in order to find new
worlds for humanity to colonize. The game closely follows the journey of two
childhood friends, Edge Maverick and Reimi Saionji, two soldiers for the Space
Reconnaissance Force, as they visit new worlds and meet up with new allies and
save planets from destruction.
The Last Hope features many of the
same mechanics as the other entries to the franchise. The Private Actions, which
allow you to interact with your party members and get more story elements, make
a return here. Additionally, the item creation from other games has returned,
allowing you to craft your own items from stuff you’ve found, which is a nice
touch and adds to the exploration element of the game.
Combat is a large factor in the Star
Ocean series, and it’s featured in prominence for this entry. The game has a
real-time combat system where you’ll control one member of your party (you can
switch control at any time), and allows you to perform attack combos, special
skills and spells (called symbols in the Star Ocean franchise), and use items
through a menu that pauses the on-screen action. A new element is the inclusion
of Blindsides, which allow you to perform specially timed counters and attack
your foes for critical damage. Your other team members will be controlled by the
AI, and you can set up their attack patterns to suit your play style.
Another big addition to the battle
system aside from Blindsides is the Bonus Board, which doles out special rewards
for completing battles depending on how you play. For example, if you defeat
your enemy using critical attacks like Blindsides, you’ll get an experience
bonus chip added to the bonus board, netting you more experience at the end of
the fight. You’ll also be able to get more money (called Fol here) by killing
more than one enemy with one hit, and so on. If you get substantially damaged
during the fight, you’ll lose pieces of your bonus board, meaning that you’ll
need to keep on your toes to keep the Bonus Board full.
As solid as the battle mechanics
are, The Last Hope is not quite a perfect RPG experience; there are some nagging
issues here. At times, the game can feel like a grind, relying on you to find
enemies and get into battles to level up for long periods and interrupting the
story flow. This is also pretty frustrating considering the dearth of save
points. There are long periods of the game where there are no save points, and
dying will put you back at your last save, making you have to replay all the
progress that you made, which is a pain.
The graphical presentation is pretty
solid, which some great looking character models that have a nice sense of
style. The art direction is also done very well, offering up some diverse
planets to explore and some cool looking ships and effects. The environments can
get a little washed out at times however, and the framerates can take a hit when
there is a lot going on.
The game’s soundtrack is very solid,
sporting great music and themes that keep with the game’s overall
atmosphere. However, the biggest inclusion in the PS3 version is the Japanese
audio track. While anyone who’s played the 360 version can tell you that the
voice work in that game was fairly lacking, the Japanese audio track is much
better acted and is definitely a fine bonus to have around.
With the inclusion of the Japanese
voice track, this is the definitive version of The Last Hope, and a worthy
purchase for Japanese-RPG fans. While the core game hasn’t changed from the
original 360 version and there are a couple frustrating issues, this is
definitely a solid RPG and a good investment of time.
The Last Hope boasts a great real-time combat system that is fun and
engaging, and there is a huge universe to explore. Series staples like item creation and
Private Actions have returned in fine form, while new elements like the Bonus
Board and Blindsides are great new features for the combat system. There are a
couple of issues, however, like long grind sequences and infrequent save points.
The character models and art direction are nicely done, but some of the
environments are lacking in detail, and there are some instances of overused
bloom lighting. The framerates can also take a big hit at times.
The game boasts a great soundtrack that does a fine job of creating a sense
of atmosphere. However, the real winner here is the Japanese voice track, which
is a great addition for those who aren’t feeling the English voice acting.
A solid story that serves as a prequel to the other entries of the
Star Ocean: The Last Hope International is a great addition to the Star
Ocean franchise, and a worthy purchase for fans of the series. While you might
not want to double dip if you’ve already purchased the 360 version, this is a
great one for PS3 owners who missed out when the game hit the 360 last year.