Star Ocean: The Last Hope Review (PS3)

Starting life on the SNES in 1996, the Star Ocean series has always specialised in its own inimitable brand of vividly coloured science-fiction, sending players on a planet-hopping tour through the cosmos. A JRPG that proudly wears its sci-fi influences on its sleeve, The Last Hope – tri-Ace's first current-gen foray for the series – nonetheless has a long heritage of its own, stretching back through several titles on PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and PSP.

So, it seemed like an odd move when the developer decided to shift the franchise over to Xbox 360 rather than continue the series on the Sony hardware that had been Star Ocean's home for more than a decade. You might recall an interview we conducted with tri-Ace's Chief Producer, Yoshinori Yamagishi when The Last Hope was gearing up for launch on Microsoft's platform, where we posed the question about the potential for a PS3 version of the game given that Star Ocean has enjoyed consistent success on various PlayStation platforms in the past. Here's a refresher:

Strategy Informer: With the Xbox 360 version nearing completion, would you ever consider working on a PlayStation 3 conversion in the near future?

Yoshinori Yamagishi: We’ve got no immediate plans for PS3, but let me ask you a question. Do you think a PS3 version of this game is something people would like to see?

Strategy Informer: I think so, yes. Especially for the fans who’ve played the PSP games.

Yoshinori Yamagishi:
(smiles and nods) OK.

So, you have us to thank for this PS3 port of Star Ocean. Sort of. Maybe.

Becoming the best-selling Xbox 360 game in Japan probably helped in bringing a PlayStation 3 port to fruition, as well as the simple fact that Star Ocean: The Last Hope is one of Square Enix's better JRPG titles currently on the market and almost certainly one of the more original games in the company's extensive role-playing portfolio given that it deals exclusively with space exploration rather than established fantasy tropes.

Star Ocean's narrative has the world on the brink of destruction, teetering on the edge of World War III. Then WWIII inevitably happens years later and the Earth as we know it is reduced to a barren, smouldering landscape of rubble, prompting human endeavour to look to the stars, beyond the scorched, ruined remnants of our destroyed planet.

Launching your ship, the Calnus into the far reaches of space, you and your SRF (Space Reconnaissance Force) crew embark upon a mission to salvage mankind's future. It doesn't exactly carry the same gravity, weight or propulsion as say Mass Effect 2's urgent narrative, but then this is an RPG designed less with action in mind, as compared to BioWare's sublime sci-fi epic.

Casting you as floppy-haired and effeminate hero Edge Maverick, you lead a party of four (including obligatory love interest, Reimi) into battle, utilising a real-time fight mechanic rather than the more traditional turn-based system, making the action feel more immediate and instantly gratifying. The game's BEAT (Battle Exalted Action Type) system – new to Last Hope – enables you to choose each party member's fighting style from Beat: S (strike offence), Beat: B (burst defence) and Beat: N (neutral – parameter boosts and sneak attacks), unlocking a variety of options to consider before wading into battle.

Supplementing these attributes are 'Special Arts' earned as you level up, which can be chained into combos to make your assaults even more devastating. Being able to switch characters in and out from your team on the fly during battle adds even more options to your repertoire, as well as the ability to sometimes 'Blindside' enemies, giving you the opening salvo and an instant edge in a skirmish.

Outside of the fighting, exploring the lush and diverse planets that make up Star Ocean's own alternate take on the universe circa 2087 is enjoyably compulsive and there's plenty to see and collect on your travails across the stars. Suffice to say, The Last Hope is a big game, but rather than being spread across several discs as it was on Xbox 360, tri-Ace has crammed the entire thing onto a solitary Blu-ray for the PS3 release, which is nice.

Visually, the PS3 version doesn't really offer much of an upgrade over the Xbox 360 and the English lip-syncing problems still persist, although the inclusion of several new language tracks including the original Japanese track allows you to play the game in your native tongue if you so wish (and why wouldn't you?).

Ultimately however, the additional content for this PS3 iteration doesn't make purchasing the game for a second time worthwhile if you've already bought and played the Xbox 360 release. But if you've yet to experience Star Ocean: The Last Hope's retina scorching vistas and fast-paced swordplay, you'll be well served. Ideally though, this one is really more for fans of the genre rather than casual RPG dabblers.

Top game moment:
Balancing the perfect team and then assembling to execute a seamless flurry of hits against an enemy.