For a series that has seemingly always lived in the shadow of its publisher’s older siblings, we sure are getting a lot of Star Ocean at the moment; we’ve now had three series entries on PlayStation 4 within the last 18 months. Despite its obvious qualities, the PS2 classic re-release of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time earlier this year showed us just how badly even a great can age. Thankfully, the same cannot be said here; Star Ocean: The Last Hope has aged gracefully, and developer tri-Ace deserves credit for supplying a remaster that markedly improves on the original release.
Frankly, it’s an upgrade that was needed. Originally released in 2009, The Last Hope suffered from multiple problems at launch, including a below average English voice track and some terrible framerate problems. These issues have been cured with this re-release (Japanese voiceover included, a component we find essential) and it even goes a step further than expected.
The game now runs quite consistently at 60 frames-per-second at both native 1080p or native 4K resolution, depending on the hardware at your disposal. But what’s interesting here is that we’re also provided with a suite of graphical upgrade toggles more akin to a PC game that effectively allow you to tailor the game to your preferences, a feature that applies to both standard PS4 and Pro consoles. These upgrades are relatively modest, ranging from motion blur to depth of field settings with a few more in between, but it’s a nice addition to have, especially if you’re double-dipping. Unfortunately, no amount of fiddling will increase the base 720p resolution of its computer-generated cutscenes, though, and the increased sharpness of the game’s general play – which shouldn’t be understated – serves to highlight this drop further.
So, what about the game? It’s pretty standard Japanese role-playing fare, all things told, but it's held up by its excellent combat and interpersonal features that make up for its failure to hit the same narrative heights as its predecessor. You play as Edge Maverick – a wide-eyed dreamer far less distinguished than his name might suggest – who is part of a survey team tasked with finding an alternative home for humanity in the great star ocean of space following the destruction of a habitable Earth after World War III.
What starts out as a routine wormhole jump leaves Edge and his team separated from the rest of the reconnaissance force on an alien planet where he must use his knife-wielding skills to de-limb the planet’s indigenous crab-like wildlife. It doesn’t take long before a greater mystery befalls the crew while bigger nemeses cruise the stars with humankind atop a vengeful three-course menu. Meanwhile, your travels from one planet to another develop your team from a routine duo to an oddly-clad ensemble.
And what a strange group they are, each with their own follies and charms, personalities that click and clack and don’t always align. It plays into the game’s desire for you, as Edge, to manage your team as the starship Calnus’s commander – arranging room assignments that develop bonds between members and opening up new affinities and possibilities. It’s a nice system in a game that relies on both its grander narrative and its character interrelations, and also makes for some fun scenes between missions on your thematically important quest.
Of course, you’ll spend the majority of your time exploring worlds, harvesting and mining as you go, and taking part in battle. It’s a tactical process that begins in the field: coming into contact with an enemy opens the battle arena, with a power advantage given to those who initiate undetected. The battle system revolves around a tile grid which fills with different coloured segments based on completing specific actions, such as defeating multiple enemies at once, “blindsiding” enemies from behind, or striking with a critical blow. These tiles provide bonuses at the end of battle, be that a multiplier to experience points, money, skill points, or health.
These tiles remain in place for as long as you play the game encouraging longer play sessions. How you build up your board is essential here. Building in clumps of similar coloured tiles makes the board stronger; if you get hit by a critical strike with a well-constructed board you’ll only lose a few tiles. But if your board consists of colours in any random order, you may lose the lot.
There’s plenty to think about. In addition to managing long and short attacks, switching characters at will to maintain tactical advantage, and wielding skills, you also have to be aware of how you are doing it all to maximise the payout. And while it’s not Motoi Sakuraba’s finest musical work yet, the prog rock-infused score does wonders for maintaining your rhythm during battle – it’s just a shame it becomes so repetitive after a while.
And make no mistake, you’ll be spending a great deal of time hearing it, for while combat can be sidestepped by dashing past enemies in the field, it’s not recommended for anyone playing the title on even regular difficulty. It’s not a game for the impatient, then, and the pacing can sometimes throw off your engagement with its narrative. We can’t knock it for its value, though – this is a mammoth release, and the main story alone takes around 50 hours to finish, and then there are side quests, crafting upgrades, and battle trophies to be earned.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope straddles the line between highs and lows – it’s both exhilarating and bombastic in equal measure, even though its story never reaches the same euphoria as its predecessor. It makes up for this with a tactical and action-packed combat system, interesting crew management system, tons of content, and a marvellous remaster job that has the game running beautifully on both PS4 and PS4 Pro.