Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Star Ocean: The Last Hope 4K & HD Remaster Review (PS4)

When I originally reviewed Star Ocean: The Last Hope for Xbox 360 way way back in the long long time ago at About.com, I loved the battle system and setting but questioned whether a game could still be good if the story and characters sucked. This was back in 2009, however, and in 2010 I started getting way into anime again. The reason why that is important is that I’m now re-reviewing Star Ocean: The Last Hope remastered for PS4 in 2017 and suddenly everything makes a lot more sense and is a lot more tolerable. Characters are just typical anime archetypes. The story is thoroughly anime sci-fi drama. Star Ocean 4 is just plain ol’ anime through and through and your tolerance and understanding of that fact goes a long way towards whether you’ll love it or hate it. Me? I still really freaking love it. See my full review of Star Ocean: The Last Hope 4K & HD Remaster for PS4.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Tri Ace
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: RPG
  • Pros: Incredibly fun battle system; solid sci-fi settings; anime nonsense; nice presentation
  • Cons: Story and characters aren’t the best
  • MSRP: $20.99

Star Ocean: The Last Hope is the fourth game in the Star Ocean series but is actually a prequel. It outlines the destruction of the habitable surface of the Earth after World War III and mankind’s first steps into deep space to find a new planet to live on. You play as the crew of the ship Calnus starting with just captain Edge(lord) Maverick and his childhood friend Reimi. Along the way they’ll explore several alien planets and space stations, meet a bunch of new friends, and ultimately save the galaxy. It is really, really aggressively “anime”, though, which may bother some folks. Reimi’s a tsundere, there’s a catgirl, a sexy older woman, a ditzy bird woman, and they make fun of things like maids and gym uniforms and stuff. Some of the characters are kind of obnoxious, too, such as Lymle with her “kay” speech tic and Edge is so emo it hurts. The story, too, falters a bit after a great beginning. I don’t hate it or anything, and I definitely “get it” more than when it first came out, but I have to admit it isn’t great.

So what makes Star Ocean 4 compelling if the story and characters don’t? The battle system and overall gameplay are fantastic, that’s what. Battles are action RPG-style where you initiate a battle with an enemy in real time and then the scene shifts into a battle mode. In battle mode your chosen 4-character party battles it out with multiple enemies at once. You can freely move around and use various attacks, special moves, combo into multiple special moves, as well as use defensive techniques like backstabs and other things. You can play as any character you wish and all of them have different play styles so you can find a character that suits your style and have a lot of fun.

Making battles even more interesting is the bonus board that rewards you with post-fight bonuses based on things you accomplish in battle. Finish an enemy with a critical hit, kill multiple enemies with one shot, or kill an enemy only with special moves, for examples, and you’ll earn bonuses to XP, gold, or get a slight HP/MP recharge. You can also be ambushed and have to fight several battles in a row if there are multiple enemies close by in the world, and getting ambushed rewards you with a green gem on the bonus board that gives your party more SP that you use to upgrade abilities. The bonus board has a ton of slots in it, so you can build up tremendous XP / SP / Gold multipliers through careful planning.

The gameplay outside of battle is satisfying as well. The worlds you explore – and there are several planets with their own distinct enemy types and environments – are awesome and interesting to explore. I really love sci-fi settings in games and anime and Star Ocean 4 really nails it.

Character customization is also interesting because each character learns multiple moves over the course of the game, but they only have a few slots, so you can pick and choose what attacks everyone can do. Attacks and abilities can be leveled up through SP (which is why earning extra SP on the bonus board is so important) and can have a huge impact on the game. Each character can also learn a wide range of extra abilities like better critical hits, automatic healing, and much more. It is a deep and satisfying system that really gives the game some legs.


A final part of the gameplay puzzle, though it doesn’t really come into play until much later in the game, is the crafting system. I know, I know, crafting systems are usually lame, but Star Ocean 4 lets you kind of go nuts. Sure, you can craft normal healing and buff / debuff items and that sort of stuff, as well as common weapons and armor, but when you get to the late game you can start crafting some crazy stuff that totally changes the game. You can craft items that give you massive XP multipliers, for example, that let you level up insanely fast. This is important because the game doesn’t end after you finish the story. Two brand new optional post game dungeons open up that are much more difficult and require much higher levels to even stand a chance in. You can spend a LOT of time with Star Ocean 4 long after you beat the story.

Let’s put it all together now. Star Ocean: The Last Hope features OK characters and story (they’re fine if you like anime) but a great battle system, great sci-fi settings, awesome bonus board system, deep character customization, tons of post game content, and a great crafting system. In my mind, all of the good stuff greatly outweighs an annoying character or two despite what Internet hyperbole about the game might try to tell you. I really enjoyed it back in 2009 and honestly like it all even more in 2017.

Since this is a remaster boasting “4K and HD” right in the title, how does Star Ocean 4 look in 2017? Pretty spectacular, actually. The character models look very sharp and great and most of the cutscenes are gorgeous. The environments still have that sort of last-gen texture look to them, but the game overall is quite nice. In a testament to how nice the game has cleaned up, the real time graphics and real time cutscenes actually look significantly better than the pre-rendered cutscenes, which didn’t get updated very much if at all. It also runs at a mostly solid framerate, but intense battles do bog things down a bit (on a PS4 Slim, at least). Sound-wise, Star Ocean 4 boasts an all-star cast of anime voice actors and a great soundtrack. Seriously, the soundtrack is awesome.


It is also important to note that this remaster is based on the PS3 “International” release of the game which means that you have optional anime portraits instead of CG, the game is balanced a little differently so you get abilities in a slightly different order compared to the 360 release, and, most importantly, you don’t have to switch discs. The 360 version came on 3 discs so the endgame could be brutally annoying if you didn’t plan things out. One other note is that this remaster is 43GB, which, yes, is kind of nuts.

All in all, Star Ocean: The Last Hope 4K &HD Remaster is pretty fantastic. They actually put a ton of work into it, which is surprising considering the general tone around the game is that most people seem not to like it. I’m glad it exists, though, because I always loved this game and this new remaster is easily the best way to play it. Approach Star Ocean 4 expecting fun gameplay mechanics and a so-so story and you won’t be disappointed. Even better, approach it expecting anime nonsense and you’ll  have an even better time overall. For $20.99, Star Ocean: The Last Hope 4K & HD is absolutely worth a purchase.

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