Star Ocean: The Last Hope is the forth main title in series, and is a prequel to every title released before it. The Last Hope in fact takes place 36 years prior any events witnessed so far in the series.
Proceedings begin at space date 10 (SD10), where man are exploring the vast Star Ocean for a new home, as years prior mankind made its biggest mistake in Earthís history, World War III. The result has caused massive devastation right throughout, making the surface near inhabitable. Many lives have been lost, and those that remain have been forced to move underground for survival.
A peace treaty was made just two short weeks after the war had begun, but the damage had been done. Thus a group of earthlings have embarked on a new adventure, as the Space Reconnaissance Force (SRF) to investigate the Star Ocean in a bid to locate habitable planets to hopefully call one their new home. Having already established a Moonbase and recently succeeded in the creation of warp technology the SRF both confidently, and cautiously enter the unknown to write a completely new chapter in their lives.
But anyone who has played a Star Ocean title before know all too well that wonít happen, at least without a few significant hiccups along the way. Your story begins upon landing on an unknown planet known as Aeos where you play as Edge Maverick, a young, self confident man who is excited about the opportunity to help find his fellow Earthlings a new home. He is closely followed by his childhood friend Reimi, who tends to keep an eye on Edge so he doesnít do anything stupid.
As events unfold throughout the game youíll encounter various races, such as the Eldarians, visit some completely new planets (such as Aeos), and also re-visit Roak where the majority of the events from Star Ocean: First Departure took place. And of course much more.
General navigation takes place where you control Edge at all times between towns, through dungeons etc. Much akin to Till the End of Time potential battles are always (well 99% of the time bar some story events of course) within viewing range, you can see what the type of enemy is and if you are quick enough you should be able to avoid most battles. Although there would be no fun in that, nor would you be strong enough to defeat bosses without the experience!
Battles will take place as soon as you contact the enemy, or vise-versa. Should you be able to sneak up on the enemy from behind youíll enter a Pre-emptive attack phase, where the enemy will have their backís towards you and be temporarily off guard. Of course, this works both ways and the enemy can also attack you from behind to enter a Surprise attack phase, which leaves you surrounded, and even gives the opponent a Rush bonus (that Iíll cover later on). But most of the time youíll engage on mutual terms.
Once the battle starts youíll enter a localised battle environment, like all Star Ocean titles to date. Here you can compete with up to four characters in an effort to defeat your opponents, of course if things become too difficult you have the option to run away, but that should always be a last resort.
Your standard attacks include attacking with your weapon, using a special skill (depending on what you have assigned), jumping, charging your rush gauge, casting Symbology, using an item and more.
The Rush gauge is one of the newest additions to the series, if you take damage from the enemy, land attacks of your own or simply charge you can increase your gauge. (Somewhat similar to a limit gauge in some Final Fantasy titles). When the gauge hits 100 you have the option of entering a Rush phase, here you will near invincible to knock down attacks, and youíll also have a chance to critically hit your opponent with any of your attacks. Giving you a handy boost in battle, but again the enemy can also activate this, be mindful of when the enemy is in Rush phase as sometimes even your best knockdown attacks will leave them standing and charging right at you.
Alternatively you can enter a unique Rush combination phase, when your gauge is at 100 you can deplete it instantly to effectively get in some free hit special attacks. Here your character will perform their special attack and youíll have to quickly press the button shown on screen for 'Success', this means an ally can then join in and also perform an additional attack of their own. With the tome Chain Combo leveled up you can link up to 7 special attacks at once. This can clearly offer you a massive advantage against stronger opponents.
Another unique skill is Blindside, if the opponent you have targeted is also targeting you this can be achieved by moving left, or right while in a charge state. If executed correctly you can swiftly position yourself behind the opponent leaving them completely confused and open to critical hits until they recover.
Both Rush and Blindsides are valuable assets in battle, although for better, or worse you can only really cater for one at a time (effectively that is, both are always available, but youíll see what I mean). Also new is a Battle Exalted Action Type, or BEAT system in place. For your characters you can elect to have a Strike type, or a Burst type.
A Strike setup supports more melee type characters with HIT, INT & ATK parameter boosts. But also further support factors, such as increased damage to Blindsided enemies. While a Burst setup supports other characters with HP, DEF & GRD parameter boosts. Including boosts such as an increased chance of critical hits during Rush mode. After several battles, the BEAT type can also gain level ups to be even more effective at either Rush or Blindside.
Alternatively you can setup a Neutral setup, which combines the parameter boosts of both of the above, however it drops the additional factors, such as critical hit bonuses, nor can it level up. If you plan on using Neutral Iíd advise making it a short term thing only. You can change this as often as you like, but I find youíll benefit more from sticking with one of Strike of Burst for any given character, select wisely for the greatest assistance in battle.
The battle system is quite advanced and alone a fascinating part of the game, and I havenít even mentioned the ability to switch characters in battle (yes, even in real time you can switch). Whether one character just isnít working for you, or another is KOíd, just switch them out for a reserve at your leisure. The battle bonus gauge from Till the End of Time has also returned in a more advanced fashion, here you can gain one of 4 different bonuses, such as additional experience in up to 14 slots. By stacking a group of similar bonuses the benefit will not only increase, but also allow you to protect half of your gauge if it gets broken by taking a critical hit in battle.
Item Creation, a staple of the series has of course returned, this time Welch Ė yes Welch yet again is your Item Creation hostess much like Till the End of Time. This time she comes with even more sarcasm and stunts for some entertainment along the way. To create items simply visit the Item Creation terminal in the Calnus (thatís right, you have your own spaceship, the Calnus!) and hit up Welch. Here you can try inventing new recipes or making items from any recipes you currently have. Later on in the game youíll also be able to synthesize equipment, not just Weapons! Some pieces of equipment can allow for several additions as well, good luck figuring out the best combination's for post game or tougher difficulties.
For collectors there is more than enough to be occupied by as well, as always there are a bunch of Private Actions available Ė which can affect the endings you view. The Battle Trophies are also back, this time each character has their own set of 100 to achieve, good luck getting all of them! There is also spaceship data, monster data and more to try collecting as well.
Story: While the story wonít break too many RPG clichťs is still quite an enjoyable ride, I believe Edge makes a well balanced and enjoyable lead character. The support cast of characters also work well together with their own personalities and differences, addition of Private Actions along the way really help in this area, donít fall asleep while travelling on the Calnus or your just ruining the game for yourself, really. Unless you really cut corners you should be spending at least 40-50 hours to finish it, and quite possibly much more if you take your time and enjoy some of the quests along the way. 8/10
Gameplay: No doubt the best part of the game, the battles are both exciting and challenging, some battles can take you a good 20 minutes to complete as well to keep you on your toes. The new Rush and Blindside initiatives really liven up the battlefield to a whole new level as well, just outstanding overall really. 10/10
Graphics: Great looking game, the standard detail of the game alone is of a high enough standard itself, just stand on the shore of Roak overlooking the sea for example, the detail and thought into it is superb. The movie like sequences throughout is even better. Although if there is something to criticize it would be the occasional use of 2D backgrounds for space itself, just look at the title menu for example. Other then the odd distant 2D background for space though itís excellent, particularly considering the Xbox 360ís limitations as opposed to PS3. 8.5/10
Music/Sound: Another beautiful soundtrack on offer, which mind you nothing less is expected of the series. The voice acting is also of a sufficient standard, English voice acting often gets bashed I know, and there is no Japanese voice acting option either. But I believe itís certainly good enough to do the job, even Lymleís voice acting is quite good (while designed to be a little irritating, kay.) 8.5/10
Replay Factor: There is every possibility to get hundreds of hours of game time out of The Last Hope, the regular story alone can last a while. Add in the numerous Quests, Collectibles and post game events there will be plenty more available if you want more. Then of course you could try it all over again on a tougher difficulty if you still canít get enough. If you enjoy it, it will take quite a while before you can achieve everything it has to offer. 9/10
Final Thoughts: Even if you arenít a Star Ocean fan this should be on the must get list for any RPG fan with an Xbox 360. Since the game is indeed a prologue there is no real need to know the past titles either (although it certainly helps for greater appreciation of some of the finer points). The battle system is state of the art and should be engrossing for any action RPG fan. At the very least be sure to hire if you are still unsure. But for any Star Ocean fan, if you havenít purchased it yet, why not!
Overall Rating: 8.9/10
Opinion by Fayt. Review based on the 360 version.