The fourth installment in the space-faring series, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, not only blows recent next-gen JRPGs out of the water, but proves itself a fantastic swan-song for the cult-favourite space opera.

Star Ocean: Captain's Log...

Star Ocean: The Last Hope serves as a prequel to the entire Star Ocean universe, pre-dating the series' first title by a whopping two centuries.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope picks up shortly after World War III has all but decimated the once green Earth, leaving the planet's population in desperate need of a new home.

With space travel still in its infancy, a collection of Earth's scientific superpowers known as the Universal Science and Technology Administration launches project "Seeds of Hope" - a reconnaissance mission in search of hospitable planets suitable for colonisation. That's where you come in - rookie pilot Edge Maverick, headstrong crewman of the SRF-003 Calnus.

When a strange anomaly knocks the Calnus out of its sub-space travel, the vessel finds itself stranded on the primitive planet of Aeos, and so begins the latest entry in the Star Ocean series.

See also: Xbox 360 review

Even if you've never picked up a tri-Ace title in your life, The Last Hope's friendly interface and vibrant visuals makes it incredibly easy for gamers who don't know Star Ocean from Star Trek to jump right into this massive role-playing experience.

The game's production value is truly impressive and the phenomenal graphics make the most of the Xbox 360's hardware with each planet, ship and city brandishing its own unique charm.

The game's detailed character models show intense emotion during in-game cut-scenes, and party members move with incredible fluidity both in and out of battle. The voice acting is certainly a mixed bag, ranging from incredibly solid to unabashedly cheesy or downright deadpan (here's looking at you, Lymle) but all in all, the game's fantastic score matched with its fantastic cinematic flair creates a truly remarkable gaming experience for both old and new USTA recruits alike.

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Star Ocean: Never Missing a Beat

Star Ocean's trademark real time battles make a triumphant return in The Last Hope, overhauled with brand new bells and whistles allowing players to truly maximize and customise their gaming experience.

Gamers can now assign one of three different fighting styles, or "Beats", to their party members. Depending on how you approach your characters' Beats (offensive, defensive or neutral), they'll receive certain perks with each Rank Up to better compliment their fighting style.

Offensive fighters might become better at pulling off critical hits, or Blindside attacks, where defensive party members can make the most of their Rush gauge - an innovative bar that, upon being filled, boosts your characters guard and allows for the opportunity for Chain Combos.

Symbology and Special Arts also return with a series of beautiful animations and devastating spells. Using the aforementioned Chain Combos, characters can customise and link together various Symbology spells or Special Arts to truly put the hurt on your enemies.

One of my favourite new additions is the battle system's Bonus Board: a unique assortment of multi-coloured tiles that are earned with special feats performed during combat (defeat multiple enemies with one strike, defeat an enemy just using a Special Skill, etc).

Each tile earned during battle gives players an extra boost upon victory. For instance, defeating an enemy with a Blindside attack awards players with a blue tile that presents the party with an extra 10% of experience once you've triumphed over your foes.

These tiles can be stacked and chained together, allowing gamers to earn up to 140% the amount of experience points you'd normally earn. When utilised properly, perks from the Bonus Board can really cut down on tedious level grinding, item collection, and even heal your party upon triumph.

Similar to Star Ocean 3, random battles have been replaced by roaming NPCs who, based on your approach, can be surprised with preemptive attacks or will even ambush you if you let your guard down. Similar to past Star Oceans, you can switch between party members on the fly using the left or right bumpers.

I really have to give props to tri-Ace for making each and every character feel incredibly different: Edge's attacks are slow and powerful, where Reimi's long-range arrows are perfect for picking off enemies from a distance. With each character excelling in a certain area, albeit Symbology or Chain Combos, it's an absolute treat to mix and match various party members in hopes of creating the ideal team.

The team AI is no slouch either, with characters wisely choosing the best tactic to compliment their teammate's attacks.

NEXT PAGE: testing your talents

The fourth installment in the space-faring series, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, not only blows recent next-gen JRPGs out of the water, but proves itself a fantastic swan-song for the cult-favourite space opera.

Star Ocean: Testing Your Talents

Another series staple, the game's relationship-building Private Actions make a return as well. Private Actions are short cut-scenes that, depending on whom you talk to, can increase your bonds with other characters, altering the way they fight alongside you in battle, and even the progress of the story.

Private Actions take place on the Calnus for the most part, and as captain of the ship, you can even play matchmaker by rooming two unique characters together and watching their relationship blossom before your eyes. Given the ability to travel between planets and space-stations at will, you can enact Private Actions while your ship is en-route to its next destination, or simply sleep the journey away in the captain's quarters.

Item Creation is also back, and while I want to say "better than ever", it suffers from a few caveats that we'll get to in a minute. Where each character can specialise in a certain skill (Smithery, Alchemy, Artistry, etc.) these abilities are truly put to the test when you hit the Item Creation station.

Using a unique lay-out, you can separate your party into four groups to better compliment each other's abilities and produce brand new recipes, from weapons and armor to spell cards and delicious dishes.

With the correct amount of ingredients, you can go straight from brainstorming recipes to synthesizing items, but unfortunately you can only create items while on the Calnus. This means you can be halfway across planet Lemuris when you realize you have the right ingredients to make a Flame Sword, but you'll have to backtrack all the way back to your ship in order to put your skills to use.

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Star Ocean: The Last Hope - Falling Stars

I've heaped a good amount of praise on The Last Hope, but the game is certainly not without its faults. One of my biggest problems with Star Ocean 4 was the story. For the longest time, I didn't quite have any other objective aside from "explore space, kill monsters". The game takes far too long for the actual story to kick in, and is unfortunately marred by a series of JRPG stereotypes.

Case in point: Edge Maverick. Ridiculously named, kind-hearted if headstrong captain? Check. Then we have right hand lady Reimi Saionji. Cute, intelligent childhood friend whose main task is to keep our reckless protagonist in line? Double check. Actually, throw in a blooming romance that you can call from the opening credits and make that a triple check.

I'm not saying Star Ocean 4 is to be avoided due to some retreaded territory, but it's definitely worth mentioning that your fair share of cookie cutter relationships and plot devices are very much evident as you progress through the game.

The second Star Ocean to be released completely in 3D, The Last Hope still feels and plays very much like a 2D RPG with a next-gen coat of paint. The game's camera can be tricky to control at times, and can't help but struggle to find its place in smaller, cluttered areas.

This can be especially annoying when you find the camera stuck behind our protagonist, only to have an enemy NPC ambush you before you can cycle the camera around to see them. On that note, while I greatly enjoyed Star Ocean 4's battles, they were a bit too frequent for my taste. Honestly, after battling wave after wave of constant enemies, I found myself a bit over-powered when I finally faced a supposedly earth-shattering boss. Talk about anti-climactic.

Star Ocean: A Journey Worth Taking

While the next-gen RPG well has been relatively dry, Star Ocean: The Last Hope may just be the breath of fresh air that many hardcore gamers have been in search of. While The Last Hope doesn't offer anything truly revolutionary, it's still quirky, addictive, and downright fun enough for gamers both new and old to log plenty of hours in. So sit back, strap in, and prepare for launch: that endless stretch of space we call the star ocean is waiting.

Gamepro.com

Star Ocean The Last Hope: Specs

  • Microsoft Xbox 360 review
  • Microsoft Xbox 360 review

OUR VERDICT

Beautiful graphics, innovative combat, and fantastically cinematic gameplay compliment the latest (and supposedly last) installment in the prestigious Star Ocean series.

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