Saturday 13 June 2009

Star Ocean: The Last Hope review

Ocean: The Last Hope review
By Rob Wade
Xbox 360, 1 Player, PEGI Rating 12+

While not at the same lofty heights as its sister franchise, Final Fantasy, Ocean has nonetheless been a significant series for Square Enix and more recently Tri-Ace, the development studio involved in many of the previous Ocean games. " Ocean: TLH" is the final game in the well-known Ocean franchise, and the first to be released on a Microsoft game console (the previous editions were Playstation games). " Ocean: TLH" puts you in the role of a young crew member aboard the SRF space exploration vessel Calnus, one ship from a fleet of five charged with exploring the nearby galaxies for Earth’s replacement. Earth, incidentally, has been rendered more or less uninhabitable by nuclear war. Having logged absolutely hundreds of hours over the years playing Fallout, it only takes the words “Post-apocalyptic Earth” to give me a semi.
As you’re travelling through the wormhole, there appears some mysterious temporal interference, causing you to break off from the hyperspace travel you’re engaged in. Upon regaining some semblance of equilibrium, you arrive at the realisation that your ship has somehow still arrived at the destination planet of Aeos. You are then charged with the task of exploring the nearby environment in order to locate the one ship that didn’t communicate during the aftermath of the crash. Along the way, you accumulate more and more information, along with new allies and combat experience at the same time.

Let’s get on to the main body of the game: As with standard fare on JRPG games, you can expect to do a LOT of running around, item grabbing and combat. In fields, mountains, again the kind of thing you might expect from a Japanese RPG, particularly one by Square Enix and Tri-Ace. Japanese versions of this popular genre seem to conform to certain stereotypes when it comes to game mechanics. Generally, you can expect magic (called Symbology in this game, but who are they kidding?) as well as the standard party members (annoyingly effeminate male lead character, the spunky female they EXPECT you to masturbate to, annoying child with repetitive catchphrase etc…). Ocean delivers precisely these things, but does make some attempt to remedy these issues by adding some nice little touches.
Take, for example, the battle system: Let’s say that in a previous game, you walk past an enemy attempting to avoid them, but they catch up to you from behind. Generally, that would mean one thing: You could expect something akin to the word “ambush” or “surprise” to pop up on the screen, and your characters would t the battle facing the opposite direction to the creatures. However, I have observed in " Ocean: TLH" that the effect of such an event is randomised. Sometimes, you will end up with the monsters surrounding you instead. It’s a subtle change, but one I thought was quite nifty really.

Finding item drops in this game rewards you with experience points, which is a nice little touch, serving to immerse you further into the game by giving you a reward for absolutely everything you do, more or less. In battle, the game gives you a chance to auto-target the nearest enemy by pressing the A button. However, this was kind of necessary in this game, as the camera controls can be fiddly during the battle sequences. The camera definitely works fine during the main game though, giving you a complete field of camera motion or to do the general third-person action perspective ala Max Payne-type games. In my experience, however, there is not really a need to change the camera system in these types of game in any significant way. The system isn’t broken, so generally most developers leave it alone.

Some other features include a bumped-up Private Action (PA) system, Ocean’s character interaction cut scenes. The game boasts over 100 distinct cut scenes detailing interaction between all the different characters you have control over during the course of the game, some character-triggered and some random and time-specific. However, one of the main failings I have with this game does somewhat tie into this as well.

"Where am I? Why are my pants we-OH AWESOME!"

Let me say this first: " Ocean: The Last Hope" is a very good Japanese RPG. The problem is that it is simply that: A Japanese RPG. The same complaints are present in this as are present in most other examples from the genre. The game is totally linear, with only a handful of side-quests spattered throughout the game. Western RPGs have come such a long way in changing the format of the RPG to an open-world scenario; it would be nice to see a Japanese developer try something drastic.

Dialogue is limited to a few bubbles of text per character, unless they are of storyline importance. Voice-over work ranges from quite good to shockingly bad, depending on the character and how often you hear their annoying voice. It’s a shame as well, as the rest of the audio in the game is simply top-notch. I’ve always been a fan of Japanese RPGs’ typical musical style; sweeping orchestral for the over world, super-quick guitar and keyboard for the battles, you know the kind I mean. This game is no different in terms of quality of sound and music (even retaining the traditional 8-bit sounds for selections on menus – fairly standard fare however). And only the Japanese could successfully put fields and mountains into a SPACE-theme RPG.

GRAPHICS: 8/10 – A super-colourful splendour-fest, but at the same time the Xbox 360 is capable of more.
SOUND: 7/10 – Music and sound effects are superb, voiceover-work ranges between poor and not bad.
GAMEPLAY: 7/10 – The game is solidly made, and enjoyable to a point. However, this is clearly tailored for the JRPG crowd, and does little to innovate in any significant way.
LASTING APPEAL: 8/10 – At 3 discs, this game will keep you busy for quite a while. Put it this way, the tutorial took nearly an hour!

Final E14 Rating: 7/10

As I say, the main staples of this game are actually very good, and I would be hard pressed to call this a bad game. However, it retains almost every cliché associated with the genre, and just doesn’t really do enough to innovate in any significant way, and as such just falls short of being an awesome game. Oh, and the lead character’s name is Edge Maverick, sure sign that the Japanese are running out of cool name ideas. If you’re into your JRPGs heavily, however, this is a great example of one done well. Production value is high, and the game fills all of your quota. If you’re heavy into ANOTHER aspect of JRPG games, there are enough vaguely humanoid females for you to wank yourself into an early grave. Enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. In other words: this is a really great orange, but I don't much like oranges.