With all of the excitement surrounding the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XIII, it's easy to overlook some of the other quality adventure games coming out at the same time. Despite coming from Square Enix, Tri-Ace's Star Ocean: The Last Hope International is a perfect example of a game that will likely get lost in the stampede for a bigger, flashier role-playing game. But don't overlook this gem; it may not have the big budget and huge name behind it, but this fourth Star Ocean is every bit as good as any recent Final Fantasy outing.
This is not the first time Square Enix has released Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Last year the company silenced the doubters (including me
) by releasing this incredible adventure game for the Xbox 360. Even though I could never warm up to the older games (including two PSP remakes I reviewed
only months earlier), I was won over by this game's amazing combat, fast-paced story and great graphics. Fast forward twelve months and Square Enix has decided to port this RPG to the PlayStation 3. The good news is that you still get the beautiful graphics, great combat system and fast-paced story. But what's even better, is that this "International" version of the game adds some nifty content to the game, easily making this the most comprehensive version of the game available anywhere.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope takes place about a hundred years in the future, after World War III rips the Earth apart and makes life on the planet unlivable. Humanity has been forced to take refuge in space, colonizing various other planets and living on space stations. In a lot of ways the game plays out like an extended episode of Star Trek written by the world's biggest Neon Genesis Evangelion fanboy. It's about an unlikely hero with a laughably stupid name (Edge Maverick) who, do to circumstances out of his control, becomes the captain of a small transport vessel. From there his job seems to be to go from planet to planet helping everybody he runs into, conveniently picking up more crewmates along the way.
Before long you'll realize that you actually care about Edge's plight. He is aided by his childhood friend Reimi, a pointy-eared Spock-like alien named Faize, and a whole bunch of other weirdoes (who we'll get into in a bit). After crash landing on a mysterious planet, Edge and his crew realize that there seems to be a sinister force trying to control the universe. They don't know just what it is, but they know that it has something to do with this powerful crystal that they keep running into.
The brilliance of Star Ocean is that we never spend too much time in any one place. This is not one of those role-playing games where we spend all our time in the same sorts of environments. Instead we find that each planet is just different enough to keep us intrigued. We go from one planet that is nothing but ice and cold weather to a tropical planet full of palm trees. At one point we actually go back to 1950s Earth, showing Edge the very origins of the technology that would later doom the planet. Now be honest, aren't you even a little bit interested to know how the game can go from a desert planet to an Eisenhower-era Earth?
It's not just the difference in look and feel that makes each planet so interesting; it's also the various people that populate the world. While most of the stories feel like they're straight out of older Square Enix games, Star Ocean: The Last Hope manages to make me care for the various people on each planet. Everybody (for the most part) seems likable enough and I genuinely wanted to help these people. Of course, while I was helping them out I realized that I could spend the rest of my life fighting other people's battles for them, but that is neither here nor there in the context of a science fiction space opera.
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