Let me start by saying that I loved Star Ocean: The Second Story, so I was anxious to get my hands on the third in this series.
The Earthling, Fayt Leingod, is a college kid on vacation with his family and childhood friend, Sophia, when the ship is attacked by the Vendeeni, a military group with advanced technology.
Fayt soon finds himself alone and jumps in an escape pod to abandon ship. After some difficulties, he is forced to land on the underdeveloped planet, Vanguard III. Here, ‘underdeveloped’ means they don’t have advanced technology, so any contact with them would probably alter the planet’s future – and that’s prohibited by Federation law. Still, Fayt doesn’t have much choice, so he lands.
Most of the game takes place on Vanguard III, whose inhabitants are at war with each other. Fayt gets involved with politics and must decide whether to use his engineering knowledge to create a super-powered military weapon that can destroy the enemy.
Luckily, Fayt isn’t on the planet long before Cliff appears. Cliff is a member of Quark, an anti-Federation group, and has come to abduct Fayt. Quark wants access to Fayt’s dad’s research on symbological genetics – the magical system in the game that eventually makes Fayt the chosen one and all powerful. With Cliff’s help, Fayt begins his journey through Vanguard III, meeting up with new playable characters and planning just how they can escape this planet.
While the initial story is engaging, I found later elements of the storyline – like why Quark is after Fayt and the reason for the Vendeeni attack – to be somewhat cliché. By that time, I was already absorbed in the game play, so I could deal with a less than innovative storyline. Still, the story did wrap up nicely, so you’re not left with a vague Final Fantasy ending.
The game play of Star Ocean is what makes it so engaging. The battle system is real time rather than turn based and all enemies are visible so you can easily avoid most if you prefer. In battle, you control one main character (which you can change easily in battle) of your 3-person fighting team while your other two characters are on autopilot – you don’t even have to play with Fayt!
There are 2 types of special attacks that can be chained – short and long – and the more you combo your attacks, the higher your attack power becomes. You can increase your attack power between 150-300% by doing this. However, you are limited in the number of chains you can get off by your Fury level. Fury is like stamina, so each attack takes away some fury. I was routinely able to chain about 3 times before my fury got too low. When Fury gets too low to attack, you must run away from the enemy and stand still for a second or two to recharge. When you have 100% fury, you have a natural defense. If the enemy hits you while you’re standing still, he becomes stunned for a few seconds. That applies to enemies too, so you have to be careful or you can find yourself in a compromised position.
There is also a battle gauge that gives you bonuses like double fol (money) and triple experience. It breaks once the enemy gets a critical hit in on you, but if you attack from a distance and let your other two party members pound the crap out of the enemy, you can keep this much needed bonus for a long time.
Which leads me to one of the drawbacks of the game – you absolutely must level constantly. If you don’t spend ample time leveling, you will eventually find yourself in dungeons that are very difficult and require that you’ve mastered chaining attacks. If you don’t, you will die – and you can die anywhere, anytime. You can die through hp and mp death. And you can end up killing yourself if you don’t watch out because each attack takes a portion of the character’s hp or mp.
The dungeons are also incredibly long and tedious. Often, you’ll spend hours and hours in a dungeon because you can’t find this one thing or aren’t sure what you should be doing or the enemies are just too darn hard so you have to level up. Star Ocean does compensate somewhat by offering board clears (if you cover 100% of the area) which give you a bunny that can be sold for some serious fol.
Believe me, you can never have enough fol in this game. You bleed money when you start inventing. Initially, I found the invention system random, but as the game progresses and you get that cool special item that will allow you to invent as well as recruit much more talented people than you, it gets more predictable. The best thing about the invention system is that you can refine your weapons as you see fit. All weapons can be enhanced, provided you’re willing to spend the time and money, but this is critical if you plan on tackling the bonus dungeons.
One other semi-annoyance is that you spend long periods of time just running from dungeon or town to another – no ship or teleport spell. And there’s no world map, so it’s easy to go the wrong way.
The dub is pretty good although the sound bytes played after battle victories become repetitive. The music is also a mixed bag.
Finally, you can collect battle trophies for all kinds of insane feats – killing a boss under a minute or without taking damage are the most common. If you want to open up extra difficulty levels or get extra costumes for your characters, you have to get a certain percentage of the 300 possible trophies.
The graphics are above average and 3D based. The cut scenes use the same character models as standard game play, but there are a number of them, so if you didn’t like the Xenosaga mode of storytelling, you’ll probably won’t like this either.
My main criticism of was that the character models don’t seem lifelike – for instance, any time Cliff makes any point, he forms a fist and punches the palm of his other hand. I guess I just miss the days of sprites with classic anime poses displaying how incredibly happy or upset they are. I wish these characters were more emotional
The environments have great textures and each place has its own look and feel, while everything about the battle system is smooth. The combo attack animation looks like it’s doing damage, and I didn’t have many problems with the camera. If you do get too far away from the enemy, you can’t reposition it to see the enemy – there’s just some enemy text that points you in the right direction.
There are a lot of extras if you’re willing to put in the time. Collecting even a significant percentage of the battle trophies will take you a fair amount of time. And are 4 difficulty modes, extra dungeons, and the opportunity to fight Lenneth and Freya from Valkyrie Profile if you are so inclined. You can spend upwards of 150+ hours (at least!) just beating the game and getting most of these extras. Replay will add even more time.
Category: Game Reviews