STAR OCEAN: THE LAST HOPE | REVIEW | XBOX 360
To quote Phil Lout, I find it unusual that it is more socially acceptable to complain about what you have than it is to ask for what you want." So to all of the reviewers, editors, and fellow opinionated fans who've dismissed Star Ocean The Last Hope as mediocre, I have to ask: "What do you want?"
This generation has seen its share of excellent Japanese Role Playing Games. But many of us agree that this number pales in comparison to generations past and some of us have reservations about the genre's future. But when I played Star Ocean The Last Hope, I couldn't help but think, "here is a JRPG that answers the mail. It's not the greatest ever, but it is great and more than on par with its series predecessors. So why are so many of us complaining about it and dismissing it as not all that great--especially during a generation where greatness has come in smaller numbers?"
I'll give you the fact that the story is very cliched and its delivery is severely encumbered by the awkward voice acting. But c'mon, most games in general have cliched storylines. I'll also give you the fact that conventions like save points are archaic and the disc switching fiasco was completely unnecessary. But remove these negatives, and I'd argue that The Last Hope is one of the better JRPGs of this generation.
While the story itself is cliched, the journey to reach its end is very enjoyable. Leaving a war-hammered Earth to find another planet capable of sustaining human life was an excellent choice for a series based on space-travel. The theme provides a reasonining beyond mere exploration for the characters' space adventures. The characters, while annoying at times, are all at least likeable. The Last Hope also does a great job of developing them if you decide to participate in the private action dialog scenes that supplement the main story. To avoid spoilers I also felt the writers did an excellent job with one of the more intense climactic story-segments depicting the harsh realities associated with combat. The way the cast handles it was extremely appropriate given their age and inexperience with like situations.
Earlier, I mentioned the awkward voice acting. I don't want to attribute this awkwardness to the voice actors alone. I'm no thespian, but I imagine even the best actors can't make corny writing sound amazing. A bigger issue is how the voices are mixed into the overall sound presentation. The voices sound more like voice-overs than they do natural conversation. The producers in this case needed to take the volume down and supplement the dialog with ambient noise appropriate for each cutscene. Voice acting problems aside, The Last Hope has an excellent soundtrack full of songs I'd be happy to listen to outside of the game. The Last Hope will also take you to many visually stunning and diverse locales. Simply put, the game is really beautiful to look at.
Combat in The Last Hope will be very familiar to you if you've played any of the other games in the series. For those of you who've not played other Star Ocean games, the combat here is fast paced and action heavy. There are no random encounters in The Last Hope. All of your enemies aside from bosses will be visible throughout the world and will react to you based on their disposition. The combat system has quite a bit of depth and is fun to play. This is good because most of your game time outside of cutscenes will be spent in battle while you attempt to level and develop your characters. Rather than a 'press A to win' affair, you're given the ability to dodge enemy attacks, blindside techniques to deal more damage and a host of melee and magic abilities to use at your discretion. Battles can be pretty chaotic, but you'll always have the option to pause and choose actions from a menu if you ever need to slow down the action.
Leveling and developing your team is another great feature about this game. Again, just like Star Ocean games in the past, you'll have an overwhelming amount of customization options for each of your characters. You'll have options to improve melee skills, weapon crafting skills, magical abilities and even the ability to tweak your tactical posture in fights. All of these options work in concert to allow you to tailor battles to your liking.
For you achievers and completionists out there, Star Ocean The Last Hope should be a dream come true. There are a ton of things to do outside of the main storyline in this game. There are in-game trophies for completing specific actions in battle and achievements for perfecting the private action dialog scenes, crafting every item, finding every treasure chest and completing every side quest. There are also bunny races--yep, bunny races. On top of that, there is a hugely unforgiving bonus dungeon that can take upwards of four hours to complete depending on how well prepared you are. If you plan to fully complete The Last Hope, plan on investing more than 400 hours of playtime to do it.
In the end, Star Ocean The Last Hope won't go down as one of the best JRPGs ever. I do believe and still contend that it's one of the best this generation has seen. It's also possibly one of the last JRPGs that major consoles will see with this much playable content. If you've not played it, I highly recommend that you do. Even with its flaws, I can't imagine a JRPG fan not finding something to love about this game.