A few hours with Star Ocean: The Last Hope

I admit it. I never finished Star Ocean: Till the End of Time on the PS2. I loved, loved, loved how detailed the universe was. I loved most of the characters and the voice acting. I loved the central conceit, and rather shocking revelation towards the end of the game. But I never finished it, for some reason — I think because it seemed like I was so underleveled towards the end of the game that I was just getting slaughtered by regular enemies, and I didn’t feel like grinding. Which is pretty much exactly what happened to me during Xenosaga Episode One: Der Wille zur Macht.

So it was with some trepidation that I opened the three-disc (!) envelope from GameFly that contained Star Ocean: The Last Hope. I had heard good things about it from a friend, and I was in the mood for another JRPG after Persona 4 treated me so well. But was I going to lose interest like I did with its predecessor?

The answer is “no” — I lost interest much, much quicker.

Thanks to KaddyGamer for his Star Ocean: The Last Hope YouTube playthrough, which provided video evidence for several observations below. Now let’s get to it!

Tue 11:30:38 PM Let’s DO this, Square Enix! After eighty-two hours of Persona 4, I’m not afraid of you!

And after about four hours of Star Ocean, I’m still not afraid. In the meantime, I’ve also been giving Persona 3: FES another shot, after abandoning it at about the three-hours mark back in 2007. It turns out that I would have been better off just playing through Persona 4 again. Or maybe I should finally cave and try Blue Dragon? Tales of Vesperia? I don’t know. The bar has been set pretty damned high with P4.

Tue 11:31:02 PM I’m not wild about you showing scenes from what appears to be the destruction of Earth in your pre-main menu opening cinematic, though. Not cool!

This is something that I really don’t get with games — RPG’s in particular. I’ve already bought (or rented) your game. At this point, I would guess that at least 99% of people who buy RPG’s know something about the game before they begin playing. So why show a montage of your cutscenes at the beginning?

I mean, I know that this is nothing new. Most movie trailers give away the entire movie in three minutes. But this is like buying a DVD and then having a trailer for the DVD play once you start the movie.

Tue 11:32:40 PM The “World Republic Federation”, eh? That must be the short version.

The Star Ocean series is usually pretty good about establishing jargon and seamlessly integrating it into conversations. But the initial use of “World Republic Federation” was an exception. It felt like someone saying “United States of America”.

Tue 11:32:55 PM Dude, Africa’s not messing around! They’re launching nukes all up in South America’s grill!

It’s always interesting to see how different franchises deal with the lesser developed continents in the future. In Space Siege, I made one of the five evacuation ships (the Soyinka) depart from Africa, and named it after Akinwande Oluwole “Wole” Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Just one of many tiny details that were a lot of fun to come up with for Space Siege, even if it never actually appeared in the game. But let’s not go there.

Tue 11:33:10 PM Why isn’t there any dramatic music playing over this opening cinematic?

I started to wonder if this was a bug after a while, as many of the opening cinematics had no auxiliary music.

Tue 11:33:41 PM The “WARP SUCCESSFUL” vignette was pretty cool.

At approximately 5:58 of this video, that is. I couldn’t help but smile at the joyous pseudo-NASA engineers rejoicing at the message on the screen. Good camera shake, too.

Tue 11:35:16 PM : How long are you going to keep treating me like a child?  I guess about as long as youre wearing a pink ribbon in your hair and dressing like a waitress.

Tue 11:35:16 PM : "How long are you going to keep treating me like a child?" I guess about as long as you're wearing a pink ribbon in your hair and dressing like a waitress.

Tue 11:35:55 PM Really nice lighting in the cutscene. The lip-syncing? Not so much.

The lip-syncing itself wasn’t that bad — at least as far as matching up with the VO. But their facial animation in general was not particularly good.

Tue 11:36:29 PM Ah, overly complicated battle music! I should have been expecting you, seeing as how this is a Star Ocean game. I wonder if Motoi Sakuraba did the soundtrack.

I’m referring to the battle theme from the second Star Ocean game, which has the rather awesome title of “STAB THE SWORD OF JUSTICE”. Specifically, the breakdown at around 0:48 sounds like someone did a lot of coke and then rolled their elbows on a keyboard. The main battle theme for Till the End of Time was just as… intense, but not quite as spastic.

Tue 11:37:49 PM I still can’t believe the main character’s name is “EDGE MAVERICK”.

One of the all-time great RPG names. And by “great” I mean “not great”. I’ve already covered this extensively on Twitter. And by “extensively” I mean “pithily piggybacking on a Mystery Science Theater 3000 joke”.

Star Ocean has a history of going off the deep end with main character names, though — in Till the End of Time, we had “Fate Linegod” (rechristened as “Fayt Leingod” in the U.S.)

Tue 11:40:31 PM This is a very complicated opening battle tutorial. I wonder if they wouldn’t have been better off spreading it out among a bunch of battles. I also wonder if I’m going to never feel in control of combat in this game, just like the PS2′s Till the End of Time.

See below.

Tue 11:42:39 PM Not wild about the English voices so far. I wonder if I’ll get to change that setting.

The answer to this was, regrettably, no. Even if I hadn’t just finished Persona 4 — which featured the best voice acting I’d heard in an RPG since Final Fantasy XII — the English actors in The Last Hope would still have been terrible. I also had heard from my boss that it actually gets worse over the course of the game.

Tue 11:45:07 PM Heh. The “Blindside” concept seems like it’ll make combat feel even more chaotic. Not exactly what I was looking for.

And it didn’t really get better. I got a little better at executing them later, but once combat progressed beyond the first few “real” battles, I found I was spending more time trying to execute the perfect blindside than actually fighting.

Tue 11:50:09 PM I am just completely not getting the “Long” Blindside. Not a good sign.

This was another problem, although again, if they had introduced these concepts over the course of real battles, it probably would have been easier to “get”.

Tue 11:52:01 PM Not good at all. If I jump into the wall, my animation “sticks” and I can’t move for three seconds.

Considering the history of Star Ocean and bugs, I shouldn’t really have been surprised by this. But in the opening battle tutorial? Yikes.

Tue 11:52:19 PM If I thought I could actually perform well in combat without doing this tutorial, I’d skip it. But somehow, I doubt I can.

This turned out to not be true, which was disappointing.

Tue 11:56:37 PM “How do we make enemies lose sight of a character?” Well, maybe if you told me which direction to do your stupid Blindside move, I’d have an answer for you.

Wed 12:00:33 AM Aaaaaand I died in the Battle Simulator. Do not want.

Wed 12:02:57 AM I really like the LCARS-style animating textures on the floor of the battle simulation.

I swear, I’m not really that much of a Star Trek nerd. Not that there’s anything wrong with Star Trek nerds. But in case you don’t recognize the term, here’s what I’m talking about.

Wed 12:03:14 AM And I also like the “Rush Combo” thing where you have to enter commands to do team attacks. Very FFX-like.

Although I quickly forgot about the ability to do the super attack things, because of:

Wed 12:05:10 AM And there’s a “bonus board” that offers meta-bonuses for combat… with four types of gems that can fill it up, and the gems can merge into big gems, and you only l… JESUS ENOUGH ALREADY!

I think they introduced a few too many new combat variables this time around. Or, at least, too many for me.

Wed 12:05:41 AM I really prefer the way Eternal Sonata handled battle tutorials. Except, well, all the dialogue lasted about an hour for each one. So like that, only more reasonable.

For an example of this, see the 1:35 mark of this video.

Wed 12:08:56 AM I think you should have given me an achievement for finishing your battle simulator.

Considering how freely other games seem to give out achievements these days, The Last Hope was awfully stingy. I only unlocked 1 out of its total of 50.

Wed 12:09:07 AM And again, no sound or music in space. Is that intentional? It seems weird.

Before you e-mail me, I know that sound doesn’t travel in space. But with entertainment, you have to take certain liberties. I think the Battlestar Galactica “re-imagining” solved this problem well by making things mostly silent, but still audible.

Wed 12:10:23 AM I hope our space uniforms in 2087 are as cool as these look.

Wed 12:10:41 AM Stop casting the “Lightspeed Kenny” guy. He can’t not sound like an archvillain.

Otherwise known as Michael McConnohie. I intentionally didn’t cast him in Space Siege because his voice was too distinctive. Of course, then I cast Richard Epcar as one of the main characters, so maybe I should shut up.

Wed 12:11:08 AM OH JESUS CHRIST SHUT UP. After Persona 4 voice acting, this is just an abomination.

Wed 12:11:57 AM : Oh god, the UI is... bright and busy.

Wed 12:11:57 AM : Oh god, the UI is... bright and busy.

Wed 12:13:09 AM LIKE: How World War III happened. Very nice.

I don’t remember what it was, but a quick GameFAQs search turns up this: “The third global military conflict in Earth’s history, fought in A.D 2064 between the World Republic Federation and an alliance of opposing nations after a fracturing of views over space-development rights. An initial attack with electromagnetic weapons designed to disable information networks and paralyze urban areas triggered a malfunction in unmanned drone bombers, causing them to launch nuclear missiles at cities. The chaos that prevailed over the next few hours resulted in the widespread use of weapons of mass destruction in retaliation, devastating the planet’s environment and putting the human race in danger of total annihilation. A cease-fire agreement was signed between both sides two weeks later in the interest of preserving mankind, marking an official end to the war.”

Wed 12:13:19 AM DISLIKE: How scrolling too far to the bottom resets the text window to the top.

Totally don’t understand UI decisions like this one. If you hold down the “scroll down” button (or direction?), the view resets to the top of the text after a very brief delay at the bottom. Why would anyone ever use that “feature”?

Wed 12:14:30 AM I’ve always loved the incredible level of detail that Star Ocean games have — specifically, their “dictionaries”. Coming up with all this stuff must be a lot of fun… at first.

I certainly enjoyed doing it on Space Siege, although none of it ever saw the light of day. You can see some of it at http://grantroberts.com/work.

Wed 12:17:17 AM LOVE: The “Synopsis” section of the menu. More games should have this. Love it.

This is essentially just a brief summary of the game so far. In addition to providing a valuable resource to someone who hasn’t played in a while, this is also useful to get the developers’ take on what actually happened.

Wed 12:17:41 AM Especially when I’m too busy wrinkling my nose at the voice acting and taking notes to pay as close attention to the cutscenes as I should.

Wed 12:18:24 AM Ooooo, “Battle Trophies”. I like it. Looking forward to collecting these.

They’re kind of like mini-achievements, which is good, since regular achievements are pretty hard to come by. Plus, each character has their own 100 “battle trophies”. It’s a pretty awesome idea — one of the few that I found in my admittedly limited time playing this game.

Wed 12:21:58 AM Wow, I can rename the main character. But I don’t want to, Square Enix. You’ve made your bed.

I don’t really get why games with voice acting let you do this. Well, okay. In Dragon Quest VIII, I guess the series had a history of the silent, nameless protagonist, so having the other characters call him “guv” worked. But EDGE MAVERICK talks all the time. So replacing his name doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Wed 12:26:20 AM Hey, cool. Space bathroom and shower. Where are the three seashells?

The legacy of Demolition Man lives on.

Wed 12:28:29 AM : How exactly does one sit in these chairs?

Wed 12:28:29 AM : How exactly does one sit in these chairs?

Wed 12:30:41 AM Oh, this voice acting is going to be a problem. I don’t know if I can do this.

Wed 12:31:26 AM Okay, I changed my mind. I want Earth to blow up.

Wed 12:31:58 AM What are you standing in front of, girl? A green screen?

The above entries were all in reference to the introduction of “Welch” (which you can, but probably shouldn’t watch at 4:36 of this video), which pretty much singlehandedly soured me on the game. The voice acting and characterizations were already pretty bad, but this was beyond the pale.

Wed 12:34:17 AM And what are you wearing, exactly, “Captain Almedio”?

He’s also in the video I just linked. I can understand wanting your space heroes to look cool and distinctive, but considering how much effort they put into maintaining a veneer of realism in the Star Ocean series, some of their character designs were just ridiculous.

Wed 12:35:35 AM And the parade of godawful facial hair continues. Although I guess if you look back at the Civil War, there was some pretty horrible facial hair there.

There are no images of “Captain Grafton” that I can find, which is probably for the best. Sufice it to say that he had a spectacular mustache. I think he’s at the tail end of the video above.

Wed 12:38:43 AM Why was that post-wormhole 180-degree camera spin necessary? Urk.

Upon rewatching it (at 2:05 of this video), it’s more like a 720-degree spin. Still… urk.

Wed 12:41:59 AM This is a very intense, story-rich cutscene… that is significantly undermined by the captain’s face not budging an inch while he’s barking out orders.

The cutscenes in general suffered greatly from the dichotomy between their technical detail (which was amazing) and, well, the rest of it. Timing, animations, etc. were nowhere near as good as that found in, like, Vagrant Story.

The “captain’s face” issue starts at about 4:30 of this video.

Wed 12:43:13 AM I guess it wouldn’t be a Star Ocean game without a crash landing on an undeveloped planet. So will I be spending three hours here or forty?

I’m referring to Till the End of Time again here, of course. I could never tell if I liked that game’s structure or not — you start on one planet, unexpectedly end up marooned on another for five hours, and then spend the bulk of the game on a third planet. It was pretty surprising, and I liked that the game wasn’t just zipping from planet to planet like Mass Effect / KotOR, but the game’s universe was so rich with detail that I wanted to explore more locations.

Wed 12:44:14 AM Why do I have to switch to “run” mode every time I’m navigating an area? What possible purpose could that serve?

This was another horrible decision. Maybe I just didn’t play through enough of the game to see what the point was of having to “walk” every time I enter a new screen? I don’t know. But still. It’s 2009. Let me navigate through your areas in a consistent way, please. If Final Fantasy XIII does this, I don’t know what I’ll do.

Wed 12:46:34 AM “Crowe F. Almedio” sounds like an anagram for something.

Wed 12:48:01 AM Here are some: “Decimal Woofer”; “Reclaimed Woof”; “A Mediocre Fowl”; “Deface Oil Worm”; and, of course, “Camel Firewood”.

All found through http://wordsmith.org/anagram/, of course.

Wed 12:53:24 AM Wow, thats some serious HDR.  Or bloom.  Or whatever.

Wed 12:53:24 AM Wow, that's some serious HDR. Or bloom. Or whatever.

Wed 12:55:04 AM Very cool animation on the post-use save point.

Wed 1:01:04 AM Think how much cooler it would have been to pick up this sword and start fighting giant alien insects if the “Battle Tutorial” hadn’t already shown me using one.

Wed 1:02:00 AM Okay, so my first “real” fight went really smoothly, and doing Blindsides was much, much easier. That whole initial “Battle Tutorial” section should not have been there — or, at least, it should have been opt-in instead of forcing me into it.

Wed 1:03:21 AM This is strange. Is it a bug? After the fight’s over, and the victory screens have disappeared, “Edge” (still not comfortable with it) is just standing there with nothing else on the screen. I guess I’ll push “A”, then…

I never did get used to this. I guess they just wanted you to have an opportunity to look at the characters posing before going back to the map? But it still felt like innovation for the sake of innovation.

Wed 1:08:02 AM Ah, sweet! Interruptions! I mean, the voice acting is pretty wretched. But at least they have an interruption system.

At 8:25 of this video. Man, I’d love to work on a game that actually had working crosstalk someday. It feels like one of the last frontiers to conquer in video game dialogue.

Wed 1:10:14 AM I kind of don’t want anyone to join my party. The combat was pretty fun by myself. I don’t want to have to worry about the bow-wielding fairy girl with her armored pink high heels.

Wed 1:11:24 AM I think it would have been pretty cool if the two characters were unable to fit through a door because their giant sword and bow blocked their exit.

Wed 1:13:17 AM Well, it’s just starting to get good, but I’ve got to go to bed. I think once we get rid of all the annoying characters (I give the annoying mustache superior officer about 10 hours, 15 tops before his ship is destroyed), the cutscenes should be a lot more bearable. For now, though, it’s save point time, followed by bedtime. Good night!

Wed 9:51:18 PM This game certainly is gorgeous, I’ll give it that. The water is particularly nice.

Wed 9:54:09 PM “Diligence! Diligence!” Um… virtues of the Gargoyle race from Ultima VI! Concepts that Persona 4 probably handled better than you!

This is one of the things Reimi says as a victory quote. Not very good translation, especially considering how colloquial her character is in most other situations.

Wed 9:57:25 PM VA: “It looks like a s****y Wii game blown up.” I think she’s exaggerating a bit.

This is my fiancée, Virginia. I’m not really sure why she thought the game didn’t look good, as I think it’s one of the more impressive games I’ve ever played, visually.

Wed 10:06:34 PM Reimi: “I’m so glad everyone’s safe!” Uh, did you not notice your childhood sweetheart lying in a pool of his own gore over there?

Wed 10:11:19 PM I kind of like how an enemy has moved off the path so I can’t get him. But I wonder if that’s going to get annoying later on.

Wed 10:32:42 PM Starting to feel like I’m a little more in control of combat, if only because I’m jumping around a lot more.

Wed 10:42:30 PM I was just about to complain about the female characters always having lower defense than the males, but I see that Reini has a 50% higher defense than I do. Never mind, I’ll shut up.

Wed 10:57:08 PM There has to be another way to get my health back, right? I’m completely out of blueberries.

There wasn’t. This whole first area seemed like it needed another two or three balancing passes.

Wed 11:03:07 PM I’m getting a ton of “battle trophies”, but no achievements yet. Talk about stingy.

Wed 11:04:34 PM Weird decisions on map markings. Every place you can jump up (or down) is marked, but not which direction you move in. There are symbols that aren’t explained anywhere. And yet, so much of the game IS explained in other areas. Just strange.

Wed 11:08:24 PM I feel like the bonus board breaking should be accompanied by a glass-smashing sound. Much like the one that surely accompanied someone smashing my rear passenger vent window this morning.

Wed 11:18:27 PM Ugh. So I gave the guy lying on the beach a wide berth so I could keep exploring… and I trigger the cutscene anyway. Booooo.

Wed 11:20:16 PM I like the two kids wordlessly saluting the dead guy. Nice touch.

Wed 11:20:36 PM Oh jesus, elf ears? Seriously?

Wed 11:21:46 PM Although I like that the goddamned elf prince has a translator. Another nice touch.

The above three comments start at around 3:10 of this video. Again, technically beautiful cutscenes marred by unfortunate character decisions.

Wed 11:26:27 PM Another combat that felt completely out of control. Apparently he had armor that I was able to break? Sure, I guess, but why did it take me until 90% of the way through the fight to break it? Was it by design? Or was I just doing it wrong?

After watching KaddyGamer defeat this boss (at the end of the above video), I realized that yes, that’s the way the fight was supposed to go. I guess I’m just used to fights like this featuring a character shouting something about not attacking while the dragon is in mist form, or waiting for the tail to lower so the machine doesn’t retaliate with its laser attack, or hitting the orbs so they change from red back to blue, or something.

Wed 11:27:33 PM Very cool ittle device that EDGE MAVERICK uses to store the meteor bit.

Wed 11:27:54 PM “Faize Sheifa Baleth”? TO THE ANAGRAM SITE!

Wed 11:29:48 PM “A Sizeable Heath Fife”; “Azalea Beef Fish Hit”;

Wed 11:30:01 PM And, of course, “If Fez, Sheathe Labia”

Wed 11:35:36 PM Dude, if I don’t get to fly that “Sol” thing by the end of this game, I’m going to be pissed.

As seen at 2:40 of this video.

Wed 11:39:13 PM Definitely like that you can set individual skills to “off” in battle so as to not waste MP.

Wed 11:42:17 PM Every time I hear “Maybe now I can be some help to everyone”, I shake my head in exasperation. Strong female characters, please! Even the innkeeper and the secret coward in Persona 4 weren’t emo martyrs all the time. MAN UP, REIMI.

Thu 12:02:15 AM That’s it for tonight. This game seems like it’s going to have some significant pacing issues, but we’ll see, I guess.

Yes, we will see — after this stretch, my patience grew very thin.

Thu 11:14:17 PM Come on, the shop screen doesn’t show me how much of an object I already have? What is this, 1988?

Thu 11:18:59 PM Very cool interior in the Exploration Base. It’s so nice to see a sci-fi world where nothing is DARK or GRITTY.

And that’s how my time with Star Ocean: The Last Hope ends — once I got back to the base, I just kind of lost my momentum. Maybe I just didn’t have any interest in continuing to experience the bad voice acting. Maybe it’s because I was distracted by other games (namely, the Final Fantasy IV: The After Years episodes). But I don’t think I’ll be going back.

This is the second JRPG this year that I’ve just kind of lost interest in. I made it through more of Eternal Sonata, but I felt the same way about that game that I did about The Last Hope: after Persona 4, you RPG’s are going to have to work a lot harder for my affection.

See you next time.

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