Developer: tri-Ace / Publisher: Square Enix / ESRB: Teen (Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes) / Played on: PS3 / Price: $59.99
It’s after World War III and things aren’t going as well as they could be. You’ve been promoted to the captain of your very own high-tech space ship on a quest to discover not only your stranded crewmates from a previous crash but the reasons behind the Phantom’s yearning to destroy the entire universe, as well. This is the story of Star Ocean: The Last Hope International a role-playing game published previously exclusively for the Xbox 360 by RPG giants Square Enix and developed by tri-Ace but recently re-released with bonus content for the PlayStation 3. For a company renowned for their quality role playing experiences and a series well-known among fans of the genre, The Last Hope International hopes to be the same caliber as previous entries.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope International looks almost identical to the Xbox 360 version released early last year. This actually isn’t a bad thing as the game looks spectacular from a graphical standpoint. Characters look authentic and colorful with the same going for monsters and bosses seen throughout the game. Though the designs of some characters may seem a bit farfetched, the overall look fits the style of the game. Backgrounds look just as gorgeous with truly awe-inspiring landscapes and views. From a lush and vibrant forest to the snow covered hills high in the mountains, The Last Hope is a visually fantastic game. The amount of detail paid to the characters and backgrounds during gameplay is very pleasing to the eyes and makes for a fantastic visual experience. Even more impressive are the game’s cinematic cut scenes. From the introduction video to the major plot elements seen in the middle and end of the game, the cut scenes are visual bliss and extremely well done. As good as the game looks, though, there are some instances of bland and unimaginative environments. Dungeons come across weak for RPGs with dull backgrounds and a monotone color scheme. Much of the graphics seem derivative from other RPGs and do not offer anything to set them apart from what we’ve already seen in other games. Some slowdown can be seen too, especially in battles with multiple enemies and attacks occurring at once. These graphical issues can hamper the overall experience and they persist throughout the game.
You play as the peculiarly named Edge Maverick in his quest to make a name for himself. With your unlikely, if not cliché, band of heroes trying to save the world it becomes essential to upgrade weapons and equipment at every town or junction point in the game. Navigating menus, comparing statistics, and burying items are all in the mix with little outside of what you would expect from the genre. The whole game does an average job of what you’d expect to see from a Japanese RPG when it comes to overall gameplay: moving from town to town and speaking to people to gain new quests and advance the story, partaking in battles to gain strength, and moving onto tougher enemies as the game progresses.
Following in the footsteps of previous entries in the Star Ocean series, The Last Hope International is an action-RPG utilizing four-person battles with basic attacks, magic, and combo moves. Definitely coming off as the biggest part of the game, battles are what push The Last Hope International forward. All battles take place in an enclosed field you are free to maneuver in and can get quite hectic with so much going on at one time. Timing of basic attacks and combo moves can make quite a difference as enemies will move around your attacks and take advantage of your openings. You are also able to quickly dodge and sneak around enemy’s attacks to deal devastating damage from behind in what is called a backside attack. Your teammates run on different BEATs which are different play styles that are upgradable the longer you play with them on. You can also take control of any character at any time to take control of their moves and special attacks manually, which will become essential in the later parts of the game to get through the tougher battles with as little damage as possible. A slotted bar rests at the right-hand side of the battle screen and fills with different colored jewels as you perform specific actions in battle, such as defeating an enemy with special skills only or defeating an enemy using the backside attack. These jewels add to your rewards given at the end of battle resulting in more experience, money (known as Fol), or even a small percentage of health and MP being recovered. All of this adds up to an engaging battle experience that keeps things interesting and fun.
As RPGs usually focus on the story, it is pleasing to see such involvement in the actual gameplay. While the game is not particularly bad in any sense of the word, however, it also does not do anything special for the genre. There are lots of RPG clichés and stereotypes present: a big-haired lead character, a quirky and derivative supporting cast, and an overly epic story with plot twists, tons of character development, and some melodramatic moments. While the game starts off excruciatingly slow with the pacing and action, it picks up quite well in the latter half of the game. While it doesn’t take any risks and sticks to the tried-and-true formula, fans of the genre will feel right at home with The Last Hope International.
The Last Hope International handles pretty much as you’d expect for any action RPG. Maneuvering through towns and menus is as simple as using the d-pad and analog stick. The battles are where you’ll be in full control of the characters. You can eventually assign different special moves and magic to the L2 and R2 buttons and basic attacks and moves are done with the controller buttons. It all works out very well and feels fluid and natural to delve right into battle and take on the massive bosses in the game. The only real issue with the control is the fidgety camera. While you can control the camera with the right analog stick you’ll sometimes find yourself in an awkward corner with the camera angled in such a way you can’t see where you’re going at all. It is also a problem when in battle as enemies will launch brutal attacks that you won’t even see coming due to poor camera location. This can become particularly frustrating during some of the game’s bigger battles as some of these attacks can result in your characters being immediately knocked out and lead to your defeat. Aside from the uncooperative camera the game handles well enough.
A satisfying musical score can add a lot to the game experience and Star Ocean: The Last Hope International does a fair job of producing musical pieces that enhance the game experience. Aside from some places where music is completely omitted the sound fits every scene it is in. Epic music accompanies huge boss battles, an ambient piece plays when in deep space, and a more upbeat tune is heard when in ships and towns. Most of the pieces are done well enough but are ultimately forgettable in the long run. This lack of memorable material is further accentuated during the game’s cut scenes where there is a peculiar lack of music entirely. Not helping the problem is the dreadful voice acting in English. While the PlayStation 3 version of the game offers an option to change voices to the original Japanese ones, the English voice acting is still incredibly annoying and obnoxious. Characters will frequently repeat the same phrases in battle over and over and the delivered lines sound as if no emotion went into them at all. Playable characters like the young child Lymle and the off-beat Miracle come off as just plain annoying. Along with the lousy camera and risk-free approach to gameplay and story, the VO is one of the biggest flaws in the game.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope International for the PlayStation 3 is an action RPG that does little to add to the genre. Coming in as a prequel to a well-known series that has always been on the lower end of the RPG chain, it is too bad the fourth entry in the series didn’t do anything to the standard formula laid out by other games in the genre. While the game is not bad by any means it just doesn’t do anything to stand out. That said, fans of the genre looking for a decent game with a fun battle system and interesting-yet-familiar story should definitely check out The Last Hope International. Square Enix and tri-Ace have produced an average RPG experience that doesn’t take many risks to expand the genre but should feel familiar to fans of the Star Ocean series.