Star Ocean: The Last Hope
Xbox 360
Reviewed: 05/13/2009

It has been nearly five years since the last main entry in the Star Ocean series was released in North America, but it is very easy to say that The Last Hope was worth the wait.

Series veterans who play the game will appreciate nods to the previous games in the series (sound effects, planets, etc.), while newcomers won’t be lost at all as the game is a prequel which stands easily on its own.

The Last Hope starts with players readying to launch on an expedition to the stars in order to find places to colonize for a beleagured humanity. War has devestated earth and it is up to the main character, Edge Maverick (hilarious self-parody, or most cliched name ever?), and a newly-formed multinational organization for space exploration to save earth.

Some may say that the game takes a few hours to get going, but that is a vast understatement. It was this reviewers experience that the game’s story didn’t pick up until about twenty hours in. There are certainly things going on, but they all feel generic or forced. Characters seem pretty lame, with little development. Plot “twists” are easy to call or just ridiculous. Then, once the twenty hour point hits, the story starts to gather all the elements together into a cohesive whole. After that, the story only gets better. The characters seem to become more genuine, and their personalities become at the least tolerable, and generally likable. The best part about the story is that it manages to build on itself fantastically. The first half of the game is all build-up for the second half. Unfortunately, the first half feels so sterile that it could drive gamers away from The Last Hope, which is a shame because the second half is awesome. It is a genuine space opera with some truly heartwarming and kickass moments. Thankfully, no matter what the story is doing, the gameplay remains absolutely fantastic throughout.

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Most of the gameplay is centered around the battle system. Star Ocean: The Last Hope features perhaps the best battle system to be seen in an RPG yet. The basics are simple enough. Mash the “A” button to attack, use the triggers to unleash attack skills, and access the menu for magic, items, etc. Blindsides allow players to dodge attacks and counter with masses of critical hits. A perfect combination of skills can turn an ordinary character into a killing machine. The element that makes the battle system so awesome is how perfectly it is executed. Series fans will feel wholly at home. Button mashing won’t work here; that is, it won’t work unless the player has spent a significant amount of time figuring out which combos to line up in order to keep an enemy on its heels and just executes them repeatedly.

The “fun factor” of the battle system is added to by the unique play styles of individual characters. There are a few skills that overlap, but overall each character brings something new to the table. Melee fighters have differing styles, from quick-hitting attackers to deliberate heavy-hitters. The magic users have a little more overlap in their spells, but they still manage to feel unique. Spellcasters in the game seem a little underpowered, but for some of the postgame bosses the healers come in handy. Additionally, each character has a different blindside execution which is aesthetically pleasing, but which doesn’t affect the gameplay. Each character brings something different to the table that makes them genuinely fun to handle.

Gameplay isn’t only combat in Star Ocean. The item creation system is back in action and better than ever. The system is easy to use but it has some hidden intricacies. The only complaint here is that item creation doesn’t really open up until postgame. There are plenty of sidequests to do, as well as a huge number of fetch quests featured in stores. Completionists will have a field day with Star Ocean, as battle trophies have returned. Some of these are ludicrously hard to attain, but that adds to the overall feel of the game, which essentially allows players to play through casually or dump literally hundreds of hours into the game as they desire.

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It is noteworthy that after one has beaten the game that it can nearly double in length with added bonuses. Huge dungeons open up for players to explore and test their worth. Completionists will undoubtedly play through again in order to get more battle trophies. Some character endings are hard to obtain, but they can add to the sense of satisfaction one has with completing the game.

The production values in The Last Hope are generally great. The graphics are superb, however the character models sometimes feel stilted. The music is nicely done, but some of the voices can be grating on the nerves. The translation is decent featuring some humor and a genuine feel but at other times can feel forced and repetitive. In spite of this, overall, the game looks, sounds, and reads well.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope is arguably the best in the series. It takes series conventions and tweaks them enough to give it that “new car fresh” feel. Not only that, but it makes improvements to an already fantastic battle system and maintains an extremely high “fun factor” throughout.

Once gamers get past the annoying opening to the story, they’ll find a vast game with a satisfying (if somewhat delayed) story, great battle system, and some of those indescribable moments of pure fun that come with superb games.

-Joseph Wartick

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Legendary
Story Very Good
Graphics Very Good
Sound/Music Good
Replay Value Legendary
The Verdict: Excellent