Star Ocean: The Last Hope (2009)
Developer: tri-Ace Inc.
Platform: X-Box 360
Purchase Date: 03/04/2009
Who would have guessed that the X-Box 360 has become the center of Japanese role playing games - not to mention the center of Japanese shoot-'em-ups (only less popular and hardly ever translated to the West). Star Ocean: The Last Hope's current exclusivity to Microsoft's console is questionable though because the game has a huge following within the PlayStation community due to the past games in the series appearing on Sony's older consoles. Even the overly-indulgent "Only on X-Box 360" stamp was missing from the cover art though having it there usually doesn't mean anything - hint hint Halo 1 & 2 and Gears of War.
The Last Hope is the prequel to all of the previous Star Ocean games. In the year 2064, World War III has completely made the earth uninhabitable thus forcing the survivors to come together and look up into space to find a new home for humanity. In the game, you follow a group from the first Space Reconnaissance Force teams who are tasked to look for other inhabitable planets for the eventual mass migration. This may sound incredibly epic but the moment you are introduced to the potential young lovers Edge Maverick and Reimi Saionji - okay, in the future, parents know better than to name their son "Edge", then again maybe not - the seriousness of the matter becomes heavily downplayed. How a couple of emotionally unstable youngsters were able to get through the intense military training is beyond me but this kind of assault on our logic is commonplace in the genre. Still, cast members in the previous games are definitely more relatable and natural than these two. The plot does get somewhat interesting midway through and there are hints of a more heavy-handed and darker philosophical question about existence and evolution but everything got completely overblown and messy towards the end.
So the story is forgettable but the real time battle system in the other hand is a completely different tale. It is highly addictive and you can spend hours after hours battling and feel richly rewarded in the process. This is helped by a "Bonus Board" system that can be built up by performing certain actions while battling. The bonuses include money, experience, skill points, and health/magic multipliers. The "Bonus Board" can be broken when your character receives a critical hit from the enemy. It can be frustrating to build it up again but since it's easy to take advantage of it, you will be more than eager to fill it back up soon after. You can bring four characters into battle at a time and you can switch between the four and even switch characters with the reserves at any time. There are no random battles, which made everything even better. On top of superior battle system, the massive item creation options will take away a lot of your time too. Its simplicity is the most brilliant thing about it: recipes can be found from non player characters and tresure chests or they can be discovered via "discussion groups" between your characters. Finding the ingredients can be a bit taxing and you have to look through the game's massive monster database or travel to previously traversed locations to look for special spots to mine and harvest. It takes a lot of time and effort to discover everything and this can be a bit too demanding if you don't like to backtrack.
Speaking of backtracking, the game may require you to switch between the 3 game discs if you decide to go back to a previously visited world. This is somewhat disappointing, especially the fact that the console has the ability to have the full game installed on the hard drive. If they are planning to release this game on the PlayStation 3 later on, this problem will be solved because of the size of the Blu-ray disc. The game includes overly gigantic dungeons - reminiscent of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time on the PlayStation 2 - and this can be very problematic because of the lack of save points in them. Before you start a dungeon run, remember to set aside at least 2 hours or you will regret it. The never-ending amount of fetch quests you get from the NPCs are also tiresome and unimaginative and they sometimes require you to travel between planets which doesn't make much sense in the context of the storyline.
The Last Hope is the best JRPG on the X-Box 360. Sadly that statement does not say much though since its only competent competitions are Lost Odyssey and Tales of Vesperia - those two games started out great but they both bored me mid-way through. I do like the game but it could have been so much more. Pretty graphics can only get you so far - I love the well proportioned character models in this one. The game does encourage multiple play-through since it allows collections you earned from a previous game to be transferred to a new one and I plan to come back to it later to get my 100% completion - not a lot of JRPGs can do that. While Western RPGs have generated prominent releases for this generation: Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Fallout 3, JRPGs are starting to lose their footings. This game is a good attempt to reinvigorate the slowly declining genre but the last hope truly rests on the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XIII after all.
RATING: 3 out of 5