Possessing the dubious honor of bottom ranking in my (soon-to-be-retired) rating system, read my reasoning why this sub-series is my least favorite branch of the lauded franchise.
Possessing the dubious honor of bottom ranking in my (soon-to-be-retired) rating system, read my reasoning why this sub-series is my least favorite branch of the lauded franchise.
As a present to my old MMO buddies from Final Fantasy XI, I rounded out the fan fiction I intended to complete years ago. I am going to take the opportunity to revamp the page as I have the others on my site. I am editing “The Beast Within” presently, and I aim for it to be the cherry on top. Please bear with me as a lot of shuffling will occur.
Role-Playing Game, JRPG
Similar to – Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time or the earlier version(s) of The Last Hope
$21 (PC and PS4), Varies (Xbox 360 and PS3)
The Star Ocean series was, for a long time, in a small handful of titles that were uniquely my own. In my (relative) youth I did not differentiate between Western and Eastern RPGs. Looking back now I can see that JRPGs were my go-to genre. Legend of Legaia, Super Mario RPG, Breath of Fire, Final Fantasy, and Star Ocean laid the base for much of what I find comforting in gameplay. The PlayStation era gave me a lot of good memories. It was the first system I had at home and was able to play at length, to the chagrin of my mother.
Enix was a breed apart in game making. E.V.O.: Search for Eden, Illusion of Gaia, and Soul Blazer are standout in my memories. My issues of Nintendo Power containing walkthroughs of these games were read like bedtime story books. Star Ocean on the Super Famicom, never had an official release outside of Japan. From what I have been able to gather the mechanics were markedly different than the sequel. Star Ocean: The Second Story (SO2), made many improvements and is one of my favorite games of all time. I played it a LOT in my youth and was my first Enix title to play directly. The variety of characters, wholly real-time battles mixed with RPG elements, and Private Actions of the Star Ocean series were a welcome change of pace to all the turn-based titles I enjoyed. It is the first game that I played in which I fought in three dimensions (or perhaps 2.5 dimensions). I could watch for tells, manually evade some spells, and use tactics like pincer formations. Second Evolution, the PSP re-release, didn’t change much over the original. In fact, The Second Story was good enough to be the base template for both re-releases of the original and sequel.
When I first heard of the merger of Square and Enix I was excited. Admittedly my present views on the company’s products are mixed. Some games I loved. Kingdom Hearts has been charming. The new Tomb Raiders are well made. Heck, even some of the Final Fantasy titles have their charm. When it comes to Star Ocean however the Square-Enix offerings left me pining for my old favorite even more.
My aim in buying this title is to help show there is a demand for the series on PC. Aside from that, there is much anguish in my future, even after having completed the game to review it.
For those unfamiliar, I will be using these abbreviations rather than retyping the full titles each time.
Star Ocean/:First Departure (SO1/PSP re-release)
Star Ocean: The Second Story/:Second Evolution (SO2/PSP re-release)
Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time (SO3)
Star Ocean: The Last Hope (SO4)
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithfulness (SO5)
There was a handheld title called Star Ocean: Blue Sphere, and a mobile title called Star Ocean: Anamnesis. But as I have not played these titles I will not be referencing them. The abbreviations I am using are widely held both to series die-hards and gamers-in-passing alike.
Humans have nearly annihilated themselves in World War III. The peoples of the nigh-uninhabitable Earth set their sights on the stars. During the maiden voyage of the Space Reconnaissance Force, the fleet is knocked out of warp by gravity eddies from a stray meteor. The resulting crash-landing still landed the expedition arrives on the target planet. Setting out from the Calnus, you are to meet up with the other crews and try to keep to your mission.
Stakes are important to a story. Prequels don’t really have them because the story has to flow into a pre-established narrative. Retconning is a Sword of Damocles because if it is done once, it may happen again. I read a series of The Flash comics years ago. Much like the Flashpoint season on the CW series, there was an event that rewrote the world. And if it happens once, what is to stop it from some Deus Ex Machina being used again? To use another phrase from modern media, once something has jumped the shark and become too grandiose I lose interest.
As such, you can imagine easily that I strongly dislike prequels. I am wary of reboots for similar reasons. I abhor the narrative of my fictions being invalidated. Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time (SO3) was a disappointing and infuriating insult. The fighting system was good. The music was, at times, the best in the series.
I know I play fiction. I know spending days or weeks with a single game is, to a degree, a waste. It doesn’t produce anything real in the world. It means a lot to me, or I wouldn’t spend so long with the medium. SO3 did exactly this. The big twist is that, Surprise! Our story takes place in a game played by Fourth Dimensional Beings. “The Ten Wise Men Incident”, the story behind SO2, is spoken about like it’s an MMO expansion. Some loved it. Some hated it. People ask “Where were you when the Lacuer Hope was fired?” Many people in the present age may appreciate the meta-commentary. I did not. In one fell swoop, it jarred me out of my suspension of disbelief and permanently lowered the stakes of the whole series. If an MMO gets deleted, will it ever be exactly the same? No. But can it be rebuilt? Indeed it can.
As such the game goes from “Save the Universe” to “Stop the CEO from deleting your game/world.” If I make a game and my characters come out of the game with their powers intact, I think it would be insane to not delete the world. At the very least, I would opt for a Legacy Server of sorts and let it run itself. But the whole story spiraled out of control because the world was destroyed in the end. As such… no more Star Ocean. This has led The Last Hope and Integrity and Faithfulness to both be set before End of Time. But it is hard to be invested in The Last Hope. Why?
Because I know I am playing a game.
I knew, coming into Star Ocean: The Last Hope (SO4), I’d be dealing with a prequel by the nature of the previous game. If the practice of prequels existed pre-Star Wars it was not widespread. Since then nearly every franchise has found prequels acceptable, normally to incongruent result. As of yet, Star Ocean has not been backed into so much of a corner to require a full reboot. For that I am thankful. I have not had the fortune of being able to play Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithfulness (SO5). I know that SO4 is not the literal last hope of the franchise. Hopefully, some improvements have been made.
Ordinarily, I do not touch on characters unless something stands out about them. Unfortunately, much like the story, the characters do not stand up well. There is only one I remember clearly, and he’s a bad guy.
You meet Tamiel on Roak. Look at him. I do not think telling you he is a bad guy is much of a spoiler. He has passion, expression, and is almost instinctually motivated. He has a task he is to accomplish but gets caught up in the joys of life. He’s a jerk, and a tough fight without a doubt. He is, by far, the most driven character in the game.
This title continues the tradition of what I would call “stellar misfits” being grouped together. However, the ties that bind this group lack vitality. The characters had flimsy motivations for setting off together. I am just going to go down the list of main characters and give you what pulls them along. Oddly, they are developed more via their battle personas. Oft times, the characters I like the most to play are the dreariest to deal with outside of combat.
No, this is not a code name. He is not some elite soldier with a hidden past. He doesn’t have amnesia. He isn’t hiding from the government. He’s not some revolutionary. He’s just a kid who has trained to be a starship pilot. His father is Arnold Maverick, making Maverick a surname. Edge is named as such because his parents chose this (if we are thinking in-world).
“That’s a little heavy-handed,” you may say. Well, it’s better than Fayt Leingod (pronounced Fate Line-God in canon voice acting). Yep. That is the actual name of SO3’s forerunning character. They’re even designed similarly.
Messy hair, strange bulky greaves, sword slung on the hip to be pulled out from the right side. Now, spoiler alert, protagonist Fayt is special. It makes sense to some degree to have such an ostentatious name. But Edge, however? With no indication that he would even survive his genetic manipulation? Who names their child Edge?
Anime parents, that’s who. Apparently.
Anyhow, this is your main character, and that is why he is a part of your party for the whole game. He’s not at all offensive. I suppose that keeps him being relatable. He is fairly well balanced on the combat front the whole way through, learning some basic magic. Emergency mending will help keep you Healer(s) in good condition from afar without dipping into your item stores.
Childhood friend and adopted sister of Edge. Followed along when Edge joined the Space Reconnaissance Force (SRF). When Edge is sent out to explore Aeos, Reimi goes along of her own volition.
Mechanically, she is my go-to fighter. With her move set, she can hit any enemy at any location in the field in a variety of ways. As a character, however, she is painful to watch. She is the love interest and eye candy. For instance, here is her first on-screen moment in the game.
Edge and Reimi have the advantage of dressing like main characters. They get to be unique and pop. Everyone else in the SRF wears neck-to-toe white body armor. Edge’s attire looks pieced together from the armor. And, as a member of an exploratory force, it is sensible. Reimi, for whatever reason, is a Futuristic Schoolgirl In SPAAAAAAAAaaaaace Heels. She is a long range combatant. She is an archer. Why, when running on unknown planets, would you opt for heels? Because of fan service.
Faize Sheifa Beleth
As the story picks up, you are met by an extraterrestrial. Even before the shock wears off you are thrust into your first boss battle. Faize has a fanboy level of admiration for Edge. While ordered by his superiors, he likely would have needed to be told to not follow Edge.
I never use Faize. Edge is a better fighter, and better casters come along. I let the computer handle him.
Character-wise, he’s exceedingly passive. I don’t know why. The other members of his race seem to have some personality. He is on the extreme side of the spectrum, a character that I dislike that is also useless more or less. He willingly plays second fiddle to Edge.
Lymle Lemuri Phi
After you earn the revamped Calnus, you set off to the planet Lemuris. In the first village, you are mistaken for gods, your ship having landed from the skies a small jaunt away. Here, you are entreated to help cure a sickness turning people into stone. As you speak to a village elder his granddaughter bursts in, greets her grandfather, draws a rune, then heads out to find a Symbol to cure the sickness. Edge goes along with her. Later, when Edge and the crew leave the planet, Lymle comes with.
I would call Lymle a combat mage. All of her battle skills are fire oriented and most use her familiar, Cerberus. That’s the creature in the above picture as she shows off how well behaved he is. Aside from this, she has some healing spells and a great many attack spells. She is wonderfully versatile.
As a character, however, she is a little bland. This is explained in her backstory at one point. Lymle, by far, is the most endearing to me. As emotion is not fully expressed the graphics do well for this, her character coming through in the quality of the writing and voice acting. I have cared for children before, and some of their expressions remind me of Lymle. But, she may not sit so well with everyone.
Blandness is a persistent condition with the characters that you haven’t seen the last of.
After being captured and later jailed, Bacchus comes to the rescue. Through a wall. With an arm cannon.
Bacchus gets points for style.
He continues with the party after a jailbreak as they seem aligned with defeating the Grigori. His aim is to deliver Edge and his friends to En II.
Bacchus has a large number of unique moves. His hit points are high, allowing him to tank through a number of instances if he has adequate healing. I have found more use for him in the post game.
Again, we have a character that is a bit on the cold side emotionally. His dry and direct speech, at the very least, give the youngsters of the group something to chase down. He moves the story along, and I am thankful for that. In his current body, only his spine, brain, and bits of his face are what remains of his fleshy form. Still, I find him to be more emotive and earnest than Faize. That, and useful in a fight.
Crashing on an unknown world, you are charged with rescuing another alien. With no one having any idea who she is or where she comes from, she sticks with you.
Meracle is a callback in and of herself to Pericci from the original Star Ocean. Both are Lesser Fellpool, able to turn into cats, and have a penchant for proficiency for ocarina piping. Both are fairly high energy and gregarious. She is by far the most expressive character in the cast. Whereas Tamiel is sadistic, Meracle is cheerful and playful. She is also the easiest to “read”. Having animal traits not only excuses some oddities but her tail and ears all for more visual cues to her emotions. Even though she is prone to a chipper perma-smirk, more information comes across when she is sad or dejected.As far as combat goes, I hear she is a powerful character. However, I have not used her much as of yet.
Myuria bumps into the party a few times throughout the story. She is in pursuit of a man named Crowe. When she ascertains that Crowe, Reimi, and Edge all belong to the SRF (and are in fact childhood friends), she “joins” your party with the expressed purpose of killing Crowe.
As a character, there is little I can say without actually spoiling her part of the story. She seems to be a callback to Celine Jules from Star Ocean 2. The overall archetype seems to be “Sexy Symbologist”.
Heels, symbological tattoos on the legs, floating ring decorations, and even the color schemes of the attire are similar. It wouldn’t be something I had much of a problem with if the cultures they hail from weren’t so different. I’m not even going to go into the fanservice light that shines onto Myuria. It’s just way to easy. Let it be said that too many serious screenshots I chose not to use due to digital side boob and upskirt shots.
As said, Myuria is another Symbologist. I would say she is more specialized in the aggressive aspects. One of her strongest techniques rains lightning down over the entire field. Reminiscent of a particular Celestial I am not looking forward to dealing with again.
After touching down on a nearby planet for repairs, a shout from an alley causes the party to investigate. After liberating Sarah from her captors, she does Edge and the gang a favorable turn. However, she is captured once more, and again rescued. Afterwards, she accompanies the party due to little more than idle curiosity.
Sarah is absentminded and never expresses herself in any way except with a wistful sing-song. Her aforementioned call for help actually confuses the party because it lacks all panic and urgency. Her absent-mindedness leads her to emote critical disasters with the same worry as one would have if they didn’t pack extra socks in a travel bag. At one point Lymle and Meracle have to pull her aside and explain to her the gravity of a universe ending situation. For fans of the series, you will recognize that she is a Featherfolk and in fact the ancestor of two party members in the original title. Even so, she is not very compelling.
That said, she is the poster child for useful characters. I find her to be unrivaled as a healer. Her AI keeps her away from enemies, she supports only when HP is near full, and attacks from afar only when everything else is taken care of. Her evasion is insanely effective, and can often keep foes from harming her until a more frontline member can make it to her.
Arumat P. Thanatos
At one point, the Calnus is recalled to Aeos. Communication has been lost with the expedition base. You are charged to investigate. After exploring the newly opened territory, an ambush is thwarted with the help of Arumat. Knowing the location of the disturbances’ source, he joins your party.
Arumat is a powerhouse, coming to the party with stats normally well above anything you possess at the time. He is the only character I have used as a replacement to Edge casually, though I normally have the both of them on the front line. He keeps to the trend of being hard to relate within the story. Why? Because, to borrow an internet colloquialism, Arumat is a bit of an edge lord.
As you can see he is tall, pale, scantily clad for a man, and wields a laser scythe as his weapon of choice second only to his bad attitude. He is covered in scars. And he refers to himself in the third person as “Death Himself”. Thanatos, his supposedly alien surname, is Greek for “death”. In scattered research for this review, I read that Arumat is an anagram for “trauma” in English of all languages.
He simply reeks of effort. Additionally, he comes along so late in the game that his character development feels shoehorned in. As such, a character that should be brooding is oddly open and warms up to the crew fast.
Oddly, with that exceedingly strained name, I’ve brought myself full circle. These are your playable characters. My problems with the characters are how wooden and sluggish they feel. They reside in a weird spot in the Uncanny Valley. They are obviously stylized but are still fairly realistic in tone, proportion, presentation. The aim was to evoke humanity and this just makes what they missed off-putting, even though I can’t put my finger on what it is.
Citing Square-Enix history again, many protagonists have had a “setting”. Take Final Fantasy XIII. Lightning is stoic, Snow is optimistic, and Sazh tends to be tired though he has an easy smile. They rarely fall out of these modes. The Kingdom Hearts series tends to work better with variation because the human characters have to work with Disney characters, so they are more cartoon-like. This causes the brain to excuse oddities as they need to fit stylistically with Mickey and the Gang which are obviously not human to begin with. There is not a kind way to say this. I watched a show called Thunderbolt Fantasy. This is a show done with puppets. I find the puppets to be more emotive and less wooden than the CGI of both SO3 and SO4. The characters in both games are, for the most part, two dimensional.
I could go on. Really. I could. The short of it is, I do not come to this game for the engrossing characters.
Dare I say it, the afore-threatened Crowe would have been a much more empowered protagonist, I think. Edge is more or less following in Crowe’s wake much of the game. And then he shows up like this.
If your hero is saved by a guy taking sniper shots with a laser rifle, dual wielding laser swords, and backed up by the guy wielding a custom laser scythe, you may not be following the right character around.
I have gone on and on about the elements of the recent titles that have irked me. I think I can boil down my qualms into two distinct salty grains.
As much as I am knocking and spoiling it, Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time had a compelling story with some interesting points. However, some of the twists made me step back from the game in frustration. The story got too big and backed the franchise into a corner. Some might applaud the meta-commentary of the Fourth Dimension. I do not. I do find it strange that even though the universe was “freed”, we haven’t gotten any stories set after SO3. The stakes are reduced for me because I know that no matter how grand, the world is on strings.
I digress. The only thing holding The Last Hope up story wise is the fact that it is a Star Ocean title. However, the tent poles it snatches from the other games in the numerous callbacks seem to me to only serve to bring down the rest of the series as a whole. At the end of the game, nothing is particularly added to the series. The characters saved Earth, yes. However, as with any prequel, they had to. Much of what goes on smacks the rest of the series in the face.
To some degree, I can see some elements for what they are: Mirroring. Hearkening back to Star Wars, the movies follow beats culminating in an overarching “rhyme scheme”. Luke, Anakin, and Rey are all easily able to apply the use of the Force. A revered mentor has died in all the first movies as well. The problem with SO4 is that the mirroring was of future events, and proved problematic to the Star Ocean story overall.
The first callback is more or less benign. The last three major titles in the series have all had an occurrence of a male, Earthborn protagonist finding themselves stranded on a less advanced world. At this point, it has become a bit of an in-series trope. I will be surprised if SO5 does not include it somehow.
The next is a fairly major balk and echoes the whole of the Star Ocean series up until this point. This is the making of enhanced organisms. In the first game, the ambient villain and surprise endgame boss were both genetically enhanced superhumans. The Muah, your typical long-lost and highly intelligent proto-race, created Asmodeus and Jie Revorse as templates to survive on the inhospitable world called Fargett. In the sequel, The Ten Wise Men are living weapons and your primary antagonists. And for the third game Symbological Genetics ware a big taboo. Symbology is the term used for magic in the Star Ocean universe. By imprinting magical sigils in the correct ways onto and into DNA a trio of the protagonists gained multi- and trans-dimensional abilities. The troubles in much of the first half of the game were due to an advanced alien culture pursuing these characters and just about taking Earth hostage to do it. It culminated in, and I say this with no exaggeration, the targeted destruction of many advanced societies and the eventual deletion of all creation as it was known when prior methods failed.
As such, for the fourth game to have a trio of protagonists being infused with Muah (callbacks to Star Ocean and SO2’s spin-off Blue Sphere) genetic influence to survive an unlivable World War III ravaged Earth was incongruent. Genetic manipulation has been the core action that led to global, interplanetary, galactic, and universal genocide in every major title to this series up through the games I played. I will give a pass on not knowing if you’ll ever make a prequel when you write a story. The change of tone is still confusing.
If you place the stories chronologically, it makes a little sense. Maybe Earthlings were okay with genetic manipulation, but it became taboo after the events of Star Oceans 1 and 2. That would be sensible. But that has not been the overarching tone in the series. And once Edge finds out he isn’t shocked, taken aback, or offended. He has no response. But in SO3, it was hashed out. This is why I think the story aspects of this game coast on being a Star Ocean game, and don’t rely on giving us any new information.
Moving on, Roak is the planet that the majority of the original Star Ocean title took part on. My memory of playing First Departure is not too good having only played it once. However, player character Ashlay Bernbeldt makes a “return” as the colosseum champion in SO4. Lias Warren, the father to another player character Cyrus Warren, is seen in this game as a leader of knights. Again, I will give a pass to not knowing about writing a prequel some fifteen years later. Even so, I am thinking that a second group of strangely armed, armored, and trained individuals would raise some suspicion especially amongst those who fought against and with the first group even if it happened decades apart. The timing of SO4 also places events of this game and the original dangerously close together.
I have likened Star Ocean to Star Trek. Frame it as a long form “What If” story of an Away Mission that goes awry and I think you’ll understand what I mean. Star Ocean has The Pangalactic Federation touting The Underdeveloped Planet Preservation Pact (UP3). This is comparable to The Federation in Star Trek with their Prime Directive. Granted, in this story, there is no Pangalactic Federation and no UP3. Still, Edge has the Calnus land in plain sight of the village of Triom when you touch down on Lemuris. There is no sanctioning body to come down on him, and I might be influenced by a lifetime of science fiction, but that just seems foolish. He did learn and touched down further away the next time.
Each world is dutifully crafted. Each area ties into the last creating the variation you’d expect from singular planets. Each individual section has its own vibrancy. The settings from planets, temples, and spaceships are all wonderful to look at. Square-Enix still makes wonderful digital vistas. However, much of the Magical Industry I came to enjoy regarding Star Ocean is absent because it is a prequel. Uses of Rune- and Symbol -ogies barely even exist yet. It leaves it in much more of a sci-fi with magic setting with little of the “own-ness” Star Ocean cultivated.
Does this game have any redeeming qualities? Did I find anything enjoyable? I am happy to say “yes”. Otherwise, it would not have been worth purchasing a second time and replaying.
I know. I’m just as surprised as you are at this point. Honestly, I didn’t know I had this much bile churning regarding this series. I guess I only like the earlier games.
The combat is more fast-paced than it has ever been. The real-time battles are just as accessible with simple attacks as they were in SO2. Chain Combos are present, and introduced early, allowing you to link together your most powerful techniques in a number of strategic ways. Adding another layer of strategy, all characters have the ability to Blindside enemies. Doing so will give you an opportunity to get behind enemies and strike their weak points if any are available atop normal critical hits that open up. This is of massive import in boss battles.
Additionally, a system known as BEAT (Battle Enhancement Attribute Type) has three variants providing different bonuses: Pure Stats (N – Neutral), Blindsides (S – Strike), and Rush Combos (B – Burst). Bonuses grow as each branch is leveled up, which happens as players are in the active party. Neutral only raises stats, and these are tied to the characters’ Strike and Burst levels.
Strike focuses on improving the already formidable Blindsides. These are most useful for frontline fighters and perhaps any character you control.
Burst tends to benefit your backline and AI controlled characters. Rush Mode allows characters to wade through many attacks unhindered, and Beat: B helps this mode last longer. Sometimes victory comes down to a healer out of Rush Mode or casting a critical curing spell while it is active.
These aspects are all well designed. Depending upon your play style and the necessity of a particular battle, these elements can enhance your effectiveness. Many of these settings, including move load outs can be changed mid-battle to heighten effectiveness. There is yet another use of the Rush Gauge and Chain Combos.
Rush Combos combine these two innovations are a wholly different animal. They let your team unleash Chain Combo setups free of other resources. While you may lose any area of effect from your attacks, you can pump out major damage to even the mightiest of foes.
While special moves and spells no longer gain power through repeated usage, they can be improved with SP. This is built up per person as they level up and for the whole party from opening chests, gathering materials, and completing quests. Do you keep skills primed for combat or do you focus on making enemy drops easier and more lucrative? That choice is yours.
I am happy that the combat opened back up to allow four combatants again. Many challenges from the previous title came from using three rather than four people. Returning to this game in earnest after a four-year hiatus from the 360 version let me get right back into it, and it was satisfying.
Square-Enix made an unpopular decision after the original release of The Last Hope. A crafting oversight known as “The Overflow Trick” was a well-documented exploit. This allowed weapons, armor, and accessories to be imbued with factors that made the post-game bosses much easier. A simple reversal of how Factors were set up rendered this Trick moot. I think this was solely done with Gabriel Celeste and the Ethereal Queen in mind. Still, they are no slouches. They both come with two amped up forms each. In spite of what even I thought this change doesn’t increase grinding as much as one would think. The techniques the player base cultivated still work, and all the boosts are good boosts. To their credit, the crafting system this go-round is much further in the realm of sanity than in SO3.
(I’ve harped on that game enough. I will not do so anymore. Today at least.)
All crafted items come from recipes. Sometimes these are in chests, come as quest rewards, or are simply handed to you. The lions’ share of recipes need to be made by your party members. The in-game tutorial will tell you all you need to get started. If you max characters crafting to 10 before you start, all the possible recipes will be available per every character combination used. These two elements are about all you need to keep track of. Once discovered, the recipes are saved and can be used at any time. Crafting always succeeds, so don’t worry about losing materials from failures.
The battles and preparation for them are where this title shine. It’s all about the fights. It’s a shame the context is so lackluster.
One of my biggest complaints with RPGs is that time is not respected or simply flat-out wasted. Chrono Trigger was one of the first games I remember having some form of New Game Plus functionality. It was satisfying to play the game once, set it down, and come back to relive the story with all the gear you collected. You could try fighting Lavos at each ending juncture fresh or wait until your party was more seasoned in additional playthroughs. Even with as popular as Chrono Trigger was, New Game Plus did not become a staple in Square’s games. Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy X-2, and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII are the only Square and Square Enix titles I can think of with this design in mind. While not the most robust, there are a few ways in which your efforts can be permanently rewarded in Star Ocean: The Last Hope.
The two biggest “rewards” from completing enough battle trophies are raising the level cap and granting extra CP. As many of the greatest equipment augments work via percentages, having another 55 levels added to you can mean an awful lot regarding base survivability. The extra CP, points which let you set skills for battle, may not be a large boon end game but will certainly make the going easier for new games. Three more points would have let you set the ultimate moves for “free”, so I am again a bit vexed at this design choice.
Even these rewards are offset by the nature of the Trophies. For instance, two characters need to kill 30,000 enemies each. These kills must happen in a single playthrough. While you do keep Battle Trophies independently, kill counts are unique. Earning the 15,000 enemies killed trophy will not credit you that number on even a new game with persistent data. You will have to start that over again. Some battle trophies are just luck, such as ‘Leave an enemy with X HP’. And, since Synthesis was turned down the ‘Inflict 99,999 Damage’ trophies are that much more tricky to potentially obtain.
Achievements/Trophies are ubiquitous with gaming these days. I would not say that this game has the hardest to earn, but they are certainly some of the most time-consuming. You’ll likely clock in hundreds of active hours if you aim to earn everything. Star Ocean: The Last Hope relies heavily on external save data for these processes. Whenever you use a save point (a key fact to remember) several Collections will update and will not have to be earned again. If you are achievement hunting you’ll want to be mindful of this, as some parts are missable. I have found this list comprehensive to single play through completion, outside of Private Actions/Endings. Guides abound on such an old title so you can find all the help you need. Aside from the achievements specifically requiring you to beat the game on higher difficulties, all the battle trophies and other collections can be gained even on the easiest level, much unlike the previous game. Still, you should play on the default difficulty level first to unlock the next one up. Earth difficulty is likely more for a final mop up of Battle Trophies and achievements.
To end on a positive, also included in the external data is a section dedicated to Monsters. Attached to most every foe is a percentage bar. Reaching 100% will allow you to fill a “Monster Jewel” with the data. These can grant a shortcut to some very powerful bonuses, both to use and to migrate into other items. This progress is retained file to file and can be used anywhere once completed. For instance, killing the requisite number of Metal Scumbags post-game will let you make a Fol (currency) 25%+ even on new games.
If you are a fan of the combat in the Star Ocean series and have no other systems, you can’t go wrong with Star Ocean: The Last Hope. However, if you are looking for a good story or are highly attached to the ongoing narrative established in other games in the series, this title can be skipped. It pains me to say that. This game is kinder to players, in some ways than ‘Til the End of Time was. The sound quality holds up, and the visual quality is markedly better than the 360 version. On these points, Square-Enix did an excellent job. Even I, who genuinely cares little about graphical fidelity, am appreciating the difference in graphic presentation. It is with integrity and faithfulness that my last hope is met by Square-Enix and the rest of the Star Ocean franchise is brought to the PC.
Platformer, Light Puzzle Solver
$10(15), PC, PlayStation (3 and 4), Xbox (360 and One)
Contrast was a title that came across somewhat randomly on Steam. It shared a few earmarks with other games I had invested time in. So I checked the page out and thought it was interesting enough to put on my wish list. I recently grabbed it, and finished it before I realized it.
Didi is a young girl being raised solely by her mother, Kat. A powerhouse of a singer, she performs at a cabaret club known as Ghost Note. Making money means being out all night, and Didi often follows her mother to her exasperation and to the chagrin of child services. As Kat heads off to perform once more she draws a promise from Didi for the young girl to remain at home. However, as soon as Kat is gone, Didi turns to Dawn to get out and explore the city.
While Didi is the focus of the story, we the players take control of Dawn. Didi is the only person who can perceive Dawn. The enigmatic woman is lauded as an acrobat. She also has the unique ability to navigate the world via shadows. This reinforces the story as much of it is from Didi’s perspective. Can you remember living at home with your parents and overhearing a conversation that wasn’t meant for you? As Didi, and Dawn by extension, are sneaking around and eavesdropping truth comes from the shadows. Aside from the Protagonist Pair, all other people in the world are seen as illuminated shadows or figures in portraits.
Personally, I found the game to be lovingly made. The world is rife with rich detail. You could likely clear the whole game in two hours, achievements and all. For this, each chapter feels hand made. Didi’s room is seen twice in the game. Some exteriors are accessible outside their respective chapters. But otherwise, all the settings and set pieces are unique. Those that indulge in a look will see a somewhat shattered world. I feel it is, like much of the game, a deliberate choice. Is it the disjointed viewpoint of a child’s imagination? Is the nature of reality being debated betwixt the light and shadows? Is just just more clever than having invisible walls?
Contrast evokes the feel of the Roaring 20s. Every element builds up the setting. The overall noir feel is reinforced by the characters, how they speak, and the power of their silohettes. The music has all the right flares. I can imagine hearing it through a gramophone, vinyl scratches and all. The building designs have the feel of being built to last. Even the sepia tones of the shadow platforming reflects film quality of the time. A lot of subtle cues overlap to immerse the players into the world.
The music in each of the puzzle segments is spot on and serves reinforce the set pieces. Listening to it on its own via the soundtrack can be repetitive, but such is the way of game music.
Counter to repetitiveness, I was introduced to Laura Ellis thanks to this game. Ellis’ vocals gave Kat her punch as a performer. Kat’s Song, heard on the intro menu, and House on Fire, which played during Kat’s performance at Ghost Note, are memorable in their own rights. Laura Ellis’ singing ties together an era of cabarets, gangsters, and shady back room deals.
The puzzles in the game will have Dawn jumping in and out of shadows. In some cases, arranging how light is cast to manipulate the length, shape, and movements of the shadows. If you ever played some key titles in The Legacy of Kain game series, Defiance and the Soul Reaver games to be precise, recall Raziel’s manipulation of the Physical Realm to effect the Spectral Realm.
While very short, everything is put together well. The game never lagged and was a smooth experience all the way through. Checkpoints are plentiful enough that a fall won’t set you back too far. New mechanics are explained as they are acquired. Once you are into the game, it is a brain teasing jaunt to the end.
This is the one area where the game could be said to be lacking. I dithered around and tinkered with different parts of the game knowing that I was going to write a review. I finished the game at around two hours. I got to around three hours achievement hunting. I jumped back in to take some screenshots. I am just at four hours of game play. And unless I feel the need for more screenshots that’s where I’ll stay. Outside of a platforming segment I hopped, skipped, and jumped around most of the solutions are fairly straightforward. I may revisit the tale in the far future when I do not remember it so clearly. While short, Contrast will stick with you. This is both good and bad in terms of replaying.
The game only allows for a single play of the game at a time. However, collectibles seem to be saved independently so once found they are permanent. Also, you can choose to return to any chapter once completed. As the game is so short you don’t need multiple save files.
Contrast has everything I love in a game. It is an original intellectual property, a clean cut story, consistent and tangible setting, wonderful music, with intuitive and responsive game controls. I like games like this, especially from lesser known companies. It shows they can deliver a finished product and, if given the materials, what they would do on a grander scale.
Already Compulsion Games is presently developing We Happy Few with Early Access now. I’ve seen many streamers and YouTube personalities cover this game. Compulsion Games have proven they’ve got what it takes, and it is being recognized by this larger project.
Contrast is, as near as I can tell, Compulsion Games’ first showing. They did a wonderful job and I am happy to have spent a scant few hours with this game, and I look forward to more work from this group.
Slideshow images taken from within game by author
Other images from Compulsion Games, Contrast website, and related press kit