Who knew that all it would take for me to enjoy a Star Ocean game was fancy 3D graphics and a fast-moving plotline? After recently playing through both Star Ocean: First Departure and The Second Story, I had my doubts about this fourth installment. I'm not one of those people who immediately took to the unorthodox combat and the franchise's soap opera stories. I wanted to like them, but there was always something about them that pushed me away. Thankfully all that changed with Star Ocean: The Last Hope. For the first time ever I feel like I truly "get" this series, and it's all thanks to great graphics, a memorable storyline and combat mechanics that works exactly as promised. It's not perfect, but this fourth console Star Ocean game is easily Square Enix's best console role-playing game since Final Fantasy XII.
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 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.
It's also worth mentioning that each of the game's worlds contain a different set of bad guys, each based on the type of climate they live in. It's not uncommon to see a saber tooth tiger or what looks like a mutated polar bear on the ice-filled planet of Lemuris, just as it's common to see tropical birds and bees in the hotter climates. One of the biggest complaints people have with role-playing games is the idea of having to kill the same enemy over and over again. That's not the case here, as soon as you get tired of a group of bad guys you're off to the next planet dealing with something else.
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