|System: X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Tri-Ace||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Square Enix||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 23, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Joseph Catalanotto
August 13, 2008 - Square Enix is the juggernaut of RPG developers. While other dev teams have come up with some high-quality role-playing titles (BioWare, anybody?) it's Square Enix that is known for consistently pumping out quality iterations of popular series year after year. With Final Fantasy XIII looming on the horizon for both the PS3 and 360, the blockbuster developer is also focusing on other projects. One in particular is a promising Japanese-style RPG called Star Ocean: The Last Hope.
While it may not be one of the most well-known RPG franchises around (Final Fantasy has got that all wrapped up), Star Ocean still has a dedicated following. Xbox 360 owners will be happy to know that, at least for now, The Last Hope is coming exclusively to their system. It promises the same intense, fast-paced combat and strong artistic style of the game's predecessors, but The Last Hope takes Star Ocean into this generation of gaming.
Plot-wise, The Last Hope is actually a prequel to the rest of the series, and it chronicles the attempt of human beings to find a home in the stars after Earth has been devastated by World War III. All major Star Ocean titles have previously been released on Sony's systems, so, for the move to Microsoft's 360, it's certainly a nice touch that you don't need any prior experience with the series to enjoy the title. That said, there will be several instances of foreshadowing as well as allusions to the earlier games, so if you've played those, you'll certainly be "in-the-know" with the plot of The Last Hope. Also, the last Star Ocean game was largely characterized by a huge plot twist, and it's a safe bet that you can expect a strong story from The Last Hope (hopefully minus the lame twist a la Till the End of Time).
In terms of actual gameplay, Star Ocean: The Last Hope promises much of the same mechanics that made its predecessor so popular. At the same time, though, a number of improvements have been made that should make this a more fun experience. You'll travel from planet to planet throughout your quest to find a new home for humanity, and each planet has certain quests and objectives that you'll fulfill. It's a fairly typical RPG structure of traveling from area to area, fulfilling larger objectives as well as interacting with NPCs and upgrading equipment for your party members.
The battle system is definitely one of the most unique aspects of The Last Hope; it's largely the same as that of the past Star Ocean games, but Square Enix has tweaked it a bit and it should perform better than ever. Star Ocean's battles play out in real time, with you controlling a main character and issuing orders to other members of your party. Additionally, The Last Hope allows you to fill up a gauge for each character to unleash a variety of different special attacks. This time around, Square Enix has also sped up the battle system, which makes for a more interesting fighting experience. They've also added a variety of new, different attacks for your characters to pull off, which adds even more to the strategy and customization of each battle.
Square Enix has lauded the 360 for being able to support a project like The Last Hope, and they certainly seem to have been keeping up their end of that bargain. Square Enix has been tight about any actual gameplay footage, but from what we have seen, the game looks really beautiful. While such Square Enix titles as Final Fantasy take on a more fantasy feel, Star Ocean is a decidedly sci-fi title. That approach to the game is made very clear by the game's distinct art style and really wonderful-looking visuals. The Last Hope promises to be one of the best-looking titles on the 360, and with the variety of locales you'll be visiting, I'm sure we'll be seeing the system's visual capabilities pushed to the limit.
If you're a fan of RPGs, Star Ocean: The Last Hope is definitely one to keep an eye on. The 360 hasn't been a big system for RPGs, but with such upcoming titles as Tales of Vesperia, Fable 2, Fallout 3, Final Fantasy XIII, and Star Ocean, that's going to change soon. If you enjoyed the previous Star Ocean games or are interested in trying out a different RPG series, The Last Hope is likely to be a game for you.
CCC Freelance Writer