Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Developer: Tri-Ace Inc., Publisher: Square-Enix North America
When veteran Enix producer Yoshinori Yamagishi stated that Star Ocean: The Last Hope, would be the last game in the series we were saddened. We had followed the series for nearly a decade, through its U.S. debut, subsequent conclusion five years later, and recently, in the form of two PSP remakes of the original games. Star Ocean remains one of our favorite role playing series, with its intricate composition of character relationships, and consistently engaging battle system.
Since Till the End of Time finalized Star Ocean’s winding narrative, The Last Hope acts as a preface to the series. Set after World War III devastates our fragile planet, young hero Edge Maverick embarks on a journey set aboard the newly constructed starship, Calnus. With the development of light speed travel by the Universal Science and Technology Administration (USTA), Maverick sets out on a expedition to restore hope to the devastated Terra Firma.
Arguably one of the most important elements of any RPG is its battle system. If combat is too simplistic or repetitive, leveling up becomes an irksome chore instead of a welcome reprieve from conversation. Fortunately, the Star Ocean series has always excelled, offering a real time diversion that is appreciably more compelling that its peers. The Last Hope continues that trend, offering manual control of your character, with the ability to easily switch to any party member. Conflict is sufficiently strategic, offering players the ability to strike with regular, special, cooperative attacks. Additionally, the player will learn to utilize the blindside tactic, which allows the player to dodge an incoming enemy assault, and then counterattack their unguarded backside.
Hidden within the Star Ocean series was the delightfully absorbing item creation system. In The Last Hope, players can create armor, accessories, weapons, and healing items using a combination of items found in weapon shops and also from combat victories. Gamers must decide which characters will participate in the creation of objects, based on each protagonist’s abilities. The result in a sufficiently intricate system that will likely be unique for each gamer. Luckily, players can save their favorite ‘recipes’ for future reference.
Although frequent Final Fantasy collaborators, Visual Works, were employed to develop The Last Hope’s CGI cutscenes, the in-game cinemas lack the polish and vibrancy found in Square-Enix’s premiere series. However, environmental and battle stages delight with color and fastidious texture use. Both monster and character designs are delicately rendered, and contribute to the beauty of the title.
Although the level of graphical richness has been amplified, some foundational elements remain unchanged. In an era when games like Fallout 3 and The Last Remnant allow the player to save nearly anywhere, The Last Hope’s reliance on save points seems needlessly archaic. As the adventures grinds through its final stirring hours, save points decrease in frequency, resulting in the occasional sixty minute play intervals.
Overall, Star Ocean: The Last Hope is a fitting finale for the beloved series. The title manages to fuse all the successful elements of the series, while integrating an attractive high-def aesthetic to the game. With a forty to fifty hour adventure designed around an intriguing sci-fi narrative, and a wealth of customization options, Yamagishi and company have created a commendable title that will entertain players for weeks.