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March 9, 2010
Star Ocean: The Last Hope - International - PS3 Review
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Star Ocean: The Last Hope International...
The Star Ocean series has been around for over a decade and the latest instalment has made its way to the PS3, a year after debuting on the Xbox 360. Whilst the game never attempts to revolutionise the genre, what it does do is provide a sizeable and entertaining JRPG that will please fans of the series, as well as RPG fans in general.

Star Ocean The Last Hope: International is the fifth (and final) game in the series and takes us back to the beginning, as a prequel to the other titles. Earth and humanity are on the brink of destruction after World War III turned nuclear and made the surface of the Earth uninhabitable. Forced to live underground, humans have turned their attention to the "star ocean" above them in the hopes of finding other inhabitable planets to migrate to. The story follows the adventures of Edge Maverick and his childhood friend Reimi Saionji, who are members of the Space Reconnaissance Force aboard the Calnus spaceship, one of three such spaceships on their maiden voyage into space. It doesn't take long for things to go awry though, as an unexpected warp problem separates the three ships and forces the Calnus to crash-land on a planet full of large and hostile bugs. Despite this unfortunate turn of events it is now up to Edge and Reimi to find a new home for humanity and along the way make to make friends, and of course dispatch some enemies.

Click To Enlarge Image a visually impressive game.
The game is played from the third-person perspective as you direct Edge around the world map exploring towns and hostile regions in-between them in equal parts. When in town there are always new items to buy, treasure chests to locate as well as errands to run in order to keep you busy. Whilst these tasks provide a welcome distraction this is a game built around combat (and dialog, lots and lots of dialog – but more on that later).

Combat in The Last Hope occurs in real-time, with you controlling a single party member to attack or use items and symbology (magic). You can switch between party members with the push of a button, with the other party members not under your direct control acting based on whatever pre-set tactics you have given them. You can also perform “blindsides” against your enemies, done by timing a dodge just as an enemy is about to attack, and resulting in your character quickly running behind the enemy and unloading with powerful and unblockable attacks – unless of course your enemy is immune to blindsides in which case they'll turn the tables on you.

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That's one very destroyed planet!
Performing well in combat can also gain you tokens for your bonus board which gives bonuses to your party in the form of additional experience, money, skill-points or HP and MP restoration at the end of a battle. The tokens are stackable so whilst one experience token will give a 10% boost to the experience gained in a fight, ten experience tokens will give a 100% boost to experience gained. The bonus board can also be “broken”, taking some or all of your tokens away. This happens when an enemy counters a blindside or kills your controlled party member. The bonus board will also default to empty when loading your game.

One enjoyable aspect of The Last Hope is that characters level up early and often; up until about twenty hours into the game your characters fly through the levels. Characters receive additional bonuses to their combat style (something that is largely ‘set and forget') after every few fights. Levelling up will give characters access to more skills and better stats, but the levelling up doesn't stop there. Each character also gains skill-points used to level up your skills and make them effective. There are four different skill-types: field, symbols, special arts and battle. Field skills provide benefit outside of battle in tasks such as item creation or obtaining items at resource points on the world map, as well as more obvious skills like sprinting and pick-pocketing. Symbol skills are what pass for magic in the game, special arts skills are special attacks used in combat, whilst battle skills provide bonuses like HP boost or give your weapons a stun capability. Every skill has ten levels, so you will have to pick and choose which skills you want to upgrade to maximum capability.

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Don't worry our version won't have Japanese text.
It's not easy to find issues with The Last Hope, as for the most part it's an enjoyable, if somewhat familiar game. One problem is that there are times when the game is bogged down by the amount of dialog, with some cut-scenes running for close to ten minutes. The good news is that these can be skipped, and there is an on-screen explanation of what you skipped, before the action restarts. Another issue is the limited number of preset tactics for the party members not under your direct control. The options are vague and include such behaviour as "Do nothing", "Go all out" and "Don't use magic", but what you really need, particularly for boss fights, is something more like "Heal everybody" or "Attack weakest enemy" for bosses with henchmen. Most regular enemies are a breeze so it isn't a persistent problem, but bosses are much tougher, and more advanced tactics would have made things a lot simpler.

Most other issues are minor like passages of play where you are forced into battle after battle seemingly without end, or the infrequent appearance of save points in the field. Later in the game the same enemies appear on completely different planets (evolution doesn't work that way) and there's also the fact that mid-way through the game the lead character becomes a whiny self-indulgent cry baby... None of these issues are going to cause you long-term disappointment, just temporary frustration.

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Finally, an RPG on PS3 to love!
Visually the game is solid but not spectacular. Despite Square-Enix's involvement in the game, there are no Final Fantasy-quality cut-scenes here. The cut-scenes that are here look decent enough but never push the envelope or threaten greatness. Environments are bright and colourful, even in areas that could have been quite drab, such as the desert or the interior of a power-less spaceship. The enemies are diverse and well-suited to their environments; trees and birds in open plains, crabs and gelatinous blobs on the beach and so on.

One of the reasons this version of The Last Hope has been dubbed "International" is that it includes the original Japanese voice-acting as well as English. There is a definite Japanese flavour to some moments of the game, and listening to the Japanese voices can make these seem a little less peculiar. However the English voice-acting does a fine job throughout the game, so only ardent JRPG fans will find themselves swapping to the Japanese voices. The sound effects seem to have been recycled from previous games in the series, which is fair enough given they are perfectly suitable. The music meanwhile is a bit of a low-point; most RPG music becomes repetitive given the time spent in any given area, and that's definitely the case here. The music isn't horrible by any means, but I got tired of it quickly.

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Using the spaceship in Star Ocean 4.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope is nothing if not a solid title; it knows what it is trying to accomplish and it pulls it off with ease. Whilst there are no particularly dazzling moments, what we have is a classic RPG that delivers everything fans could want. The real-time combat system works well, and the blindsides and bonus board add more spice to combat. The graphics and voice-acting are perfectly sufficient, and additional tasks like item creation and side-quests will keep completists busy for quite some time. You may need to look past the predictable storyline and familiar nature of the non-combat aspects of the game to get the most enjoyment out of it, but this won't be too hard for most people. A fine game then, that relies on time-tested mechanics along with an enjoyable combat system rather than flashy graphics. RPG fans will lap it up, but it is unlikely to convert anyone else.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSWhat's here is done well; environments are mostly colourful whilst character and enemy-design is interesting. There's also nothing here that pushes the system in any way.
SOUNDThe English voice-acting is surprisingly good, while the original Japanese voice-acting is available too. The music is ok but gets old, fast.
GAMEPLAYRock solid RPG-fare, with an exciting combat system thrown in to spice things up. The story has ambition, but becomes far too predictable.
VALUEFour difficulty levels, a story that spans over thirty hours and other odds and ends like item creation and side-quests to keep you busy for even longer. It's big.
OVERALLA polished title that delivers everything RPG fans could want and expect in a game. There's nothing flashy about it, but if RPGs are your cup of tea that shouldn't stop you from checking it out.

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