Speaking of things people don't like about traditional role-playing games, there are a lot of western gamers that, for whatever reason, feel that turn-based adventure games are a little too slow for their own good. That is certainly not the case with Star Ocean: The Last Hope. The combat in this Xbox 360 game is surprisingly close to that of the Super NES original (and its PSP remake
). This is not a turn-based affair; instead the battles are fought in real time. Even though your party can be as large as four people, you only have control over one person at a time. That means that while you control that one person, three other characters end up being controlled by the computer.
That doesn't mean that you can't control the other person; you certainly aren't handcuffed to any one person. Instead you can switch between the four combatants at any time, which actually adds a lot of strategy to each battle. For the most part the computer-controlled back-up characters do exactly what they need to do at any given time - they heal you when needed, they use magic and they dodge the enemy's in a realistic manner. But no matter how good the AI is, there's nothing quite like a human being in control. Being able to switch characters on the fly is really exciting, especially when it comes to the lengthy boss battles. It all adds up to some of the most thrilling action scenes I've ever had in a Japanese role-playing game.
The combat itself isn't too shabby, either. You control your character's attack (be it long or short range) by pushing the X button. You can always tell when an enemy is targeting you, so that if you hold down the B button and charge right when they are about to attack, you can pull off what is called a blindside attack. Basically this means that you will run around the enemy, dodging his attack, while giving him a real good smack on the back that can turn into an effective combo. On top of the blindside technique, each of the characters has their own magic/special attack that they can pull off by using the control's two trigger buttons. The combat really makes you feel like you're right in the action, and in a lot of ways it feels like a slightly more adult version of the Kingdom Hearts series.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope tells a wonderful story, has all sorts of great sci-fi references and a combat system that even non-adventure gamers would love. Yet despite all of these good things, Square Enix insists on ruining the experience with a number of terrible decisions. The first one is a cast of characters that feels like they were ripped out of every Japanese RPG cliche you could think off. There's the metrosexual hero, there's the half-naked girl with double-D breasts, there's a cat-woman thing, there's your typical anime girl, there's a robot-man and, worst of all, there's a pre-school age magic user. Maybe this stuff plays better in the land of the rising sun, but to my eyes it just felt corny.
Unfortunately it's worse than just a few clichés, a big problem I have is that I genuinely despise most of the characters. Edge, for example, spends most of the game second-guessing his actions. His indecisiveness is just annoying, especially when he brings it up every cinema scene. And what's with the baby? Was it really necessary to bring an infant on board? Thankfully she says more than "goo goo, gah gah," but that doesn't stop her from being one of the lamest characters I've ever seen in an RPG. These people are memorable for all the wrong reasons.
The game's 50+ hour story is told over three discs, mostly due to the lengthy cinema scenes. If you plan on playing through Star Ocean: The Last Hope (and I recommend you do), then you should be warned that there are long stretches of time when you won't need the control in your hand. Like Xenosaga and last year's Metal Gear Solid 4, Star Ocean is not afraid of the half hour cut scene. Some of these are made even more pointless because of the lame characters, but you should still watch them (if for no other reason than to figure out what you need to do next). To be fair to Tri-Ace, these cinemas are at their most obnoxious early on. Things die down a little when you move on to the second disc.
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