The Last Hope is the fourth installment in the Star Ocean series, created by Tri Ace. After being an Xbox 360 exclusive for a while, publisher Square-Enix finally decided to launch the game for PS3 as well as Star Ocean: Last Hope International, much to the delight of the fans. The story, in a nutshell, is as follows. The timeline is a little after the Third World War. Most of Earth is contaminated and is unfit for human life. To ensure the continuation of the human species, they have embarked upon space exploration; to boldly go where no man has gone before. This makes Last Hope a prequel to the series. Exploration is fine, but an RPG must have its super-villain, hell bent on destroying the world, or in this case, the universe. As you travel across the galaxy, you will come in contact with other sentient races; some friendly, some not so friendly, and others who are definitely not friendly.
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Your party is comprised of a group of individuals I can best describe as ‘goody two shoes’. They always speak the truth, they help old ladies cross the street, and they’re unbelievably gullible. I can understand a couple of characters like this, but the whole crew? Barring the late entrants, each character can be safely categorised under ‘annoying’. Most of the story is told through humongous cut scenes that can go on for a good fifteen minutes. While this could have been enjoyable, the cut scenes are unfortunately laced with dialogue that has little to do with the actual story. After the second cut scene, you can probably predict each line of dialogue depending on who utters it. The characters keep droning on and on about justice, honour, and how it isn’t cool to give up. In fact, it gets so bad that you feel like standing up and cheering the villain who wants to destroy the universe.
The battle system is a mix of hack-n-slash and RPG elements. You can have a party of up to four membersm with the option of replacing members any time during battle. While you can control only one character at any given time, you can shift between them if you want some special actions to be performed. If you’ve played the earlier titles, the system would be familiar to you. You run around the battle grounds, hitting enemies or running away from them. If you are damaged or you manage to inflict damage, a gauge called the Rush Gauge fills up. Once full, you can activate the Rush Mode to gain extra power for your attacks and immunity to knock back attacks.
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Another new feature is the Blindside mode, which allows you to do massive damage and hit weak points of enemies. A lot of the time, performing Blindsides is the only way you can beat a boss. Activating the Blindside however, requires precise controller timing. This is quite an amazing feature as timing is rarely, if ever, necessary in RPGs. As you level up, you will gain new skills depending on your character. Edge will gain sword skills, Reimi will gain bow skills, magic users will gain spells, and so on. There are various classes of skills, and each skill starts out at level 1 and can be upgraded till level 10.
The story is pretty linear, but there are plenty of side quests to keep you entertained. The first one is the Item Creation Process, which can be accessed from your ship. You will have access to skills like smithy, cooking, etc, which can be used to discover new recipes. Skills like mining will have to be utilised to gather materials necessary to create items. As you travel, you will see icons on your map indicating the presence of gathering points, which makes the gathering process a little easier. Unfortunately, you get no hints as to where you can get the items, so if you want to make rare items, your best bet would be to consult an online guide, unless you have all the time in the world to figure things out.
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Various shops will give you orders, which usually can be fulfilled via the Item Creation Process. If you can successfully deliver the orders, you get XP, gold (or fol, as it is called in the game) and Part SP, which is used to generate new recipes. For those who like combat, the colosseum makes its return. There, you can fight as an individual or as a team, and defeating higher ranked enemies will increase your rank and give you points that may be exchanged for rare items.
A major gripe I have with the game is the inconsistency of save points. In some places, they are scattered liberally, while in others, they are spaced miles apart. I can understand save points being far from each other to boost difficulty, but here it’s been taken to absurd heights. There are dungeons in which you can keep going for about half an hour or so without encountering any save points. There are no markers in the map to indicate where you should be going, so you can end up wandering for more than an hour without saving.
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The graphics are pretty solid, with an anime style (think Appleseed). The lighting is way too bright though, and characters look someone coated them with Happydent. There are times when it absolutely hurts to look at the screen. That apart, the game looks quite beautiful. The music ranges from ordinary to good, while the English voice acting oscillates between okay and downright horrendous. I’ve heard Budget speeches with more emotion than some of these characters. The ending is as cheesy as the rest of the game, which means you can safely go out for a walk and come back to find the characters still rambling on and on about righteousness, honour, and all that.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope could have been a terrific game, but a perfectly good combat system and interesting side quests have been marred by an idiotic story, bad voice acting and horrendous dialogue. Pick this one up only if you are severely RPG-starved.
(+) Great combat system
(+) Interesting side quests
(-) Long and boring cut scenes
(-) Horrendous dialogue
(-) Irritating characters
(-) Lack of directions on the main map
Title: Star Ocean: The Last Hope International
Developer/Publisher: Tri Ace/Square-Enix
Platforms: PS3 (Rs 2,499)
Reviewed on: PS3