Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

staroceantilltheendoftime

Fayt Leingod is on vacation on the planet Hydra IV with his parents and childhood friend Sophia, when the resort they’re at comes under attack from the Vendeeni. In the escape, he is separated from his parents and Sophia, ending up landing on an underdeveloped planet, one that by law those from advanced civilizations are not to interfere with. A man named Cliff appears, saying that he’s a member of the rebel group Quark and on a mission to bring Fayt before their leader, Maria. However, his attempts at bringing Fayt before her are thwarted by the Vendeeni and he along with his copilot Mirage also end up trapped on an underdeveloped planet alongside Fayt. Being trapped on such a planet, they are pulled into the conflict developing on that planet, wherein the two nations of Airyglyph and Aquiria are at war, and a woman named Nel recruits Fayt and Cliff to assist them in creating weapons to hold off Airygylph, though Fayt remains unconvinced that’s what they should do. But because time is short, due to Cliff needing to bring Fayt before Maria as soon as possible in part due to the threat of the Vendeeni as well as Fayt wanting to search for his parents and Sophia, and they need the resources of Aquaria in order to transmit a distress beacon, they begin their journey with Nel. However, that eventually turns out to be the least of their problems, as a much greater threat is looming on the horizon, and Fayt is right at the center of it.

***

Star Ocean Till the End of Time was originally released back in 2003 in Japan and internationally with additional content in 2004. This version with additional content was then put onto PS4. Though I’ve heard a lot about the series, this is my first foray into it. And though I do think that I understand why people are fond of the series, I really don’t think the third game as is has held up all that well. Now before I get into the more core game play aspects, I should elaborate on what this game on PS4 is. It’s not really a remaster, rather it’s simply the PS2 ROM thrown into an emulator with some tweaks like a resolution boost and auto-swapping discs. Hence, it’s pretty much exactly what the PS2 version was with no significant improvements or changes.

Now, as for the game itself, it’s the first entry in the series using 3D graphics, and thus its not too unexpected that while the game is 3D that in terms of design, camera, etc. it largely feels 2D. The game involves navigating through multiple locations, though mainly the planet of Elicoor II, with a birds eye view of the characters. There aren’t any map markers or anything like that, but navigation is still never overtly complicated as long as you pay attention to the story, though there are times you’ll have to wander through dungeons randomly until you find wherever you needed to get to. It was kind of strange though, that despite the game being birds eye view, that you can rotate the camera, and that it’s actually necessary to rotate the camera at times, especially when it comes to finding chests. This is something I have never seen in a game before, and I can see why. Though it doesn’t sound like it would be that much of an issue, it really doesn’t feel all that great to do and makes it really easy to lose your bearings if you’re not constantly resetting the map. In terms of a larger map, there’s fast travel between locations that are separated by the cosmos, but within Elicoor II, where most of the game takes place, there isn’t any fast travel at all except between two specific locations. The fields in this game are really small so this isn’t too much of an issue, but there are certain times that involve an annoyingly large amount of back tracking that are made quite a bit worse due to this.

As usual with RPGs, the other major aspect of the game play is combat. To put it lightly, I have not the faintest clue what they were trying to do with the combat for this game. You are able to assign four battle skills to a character, one for short range and one for long range for both the X button and O button, with the O button moves being stronger and having the ability to break guard but having higher requirements. This short/long separation isn’t in terms of what moves are able to be assigned but rather the distance from the currently targeted enemy. This simply doesn’t make sense to me. I can see situations where this could be useful, such as long range being used to close in quickly or to apply buffs while short range does actual damage, but in practice that never felt like what you’re supposed to do. Rather, with there being a limit in terms of points to what moves you can use, it felt like it made more sense to only allocate skills to either short range or long range. Hence, combat essentially consists mainly of only using two moves. There area also spell like abilities called Symbology that are used through a menu, and the main skills themselves can be chained, but for the most part in terms of offense it felt like the game simply consisted of using two abilities back and forth. As for guarding, this isn’t something that is done actively, but rather something that is done automatically if you’re stamina is at maximum, which is a fair enough system, but makes the game play feel even less active. Lastly, from what I understand all the Star Ocean games have what’s called MP death. HP and MP in this are different but very similar. Both are consumed for abilities, and either of them reaching zero results in incapacitation. This is definitely an interesting concept that I can see having a lot of depth, but with it being really hard to analyze enemies, with their health and such not being revealed unless a specific ability is used on them, and it being impossible to analyze bosses, this system largely felt like one that I needed to be on the defensive in regards to, but didn’t really have the opportunity to use offensively, which just made it kind of annoying. Speaking of bosses, I thought the bosses were designed reasonably well, though the mobs in general were really annoying to have to deal with. In terms of growth there’s the standard level up to gain points that can be assigned to HP/MP/Attack/Defense. But rather than Attack/Defense increasing those stats, rather they increase the AI capabilities in that regard. This combined with a major lack of control over how AI behave felt incredibly frustrating and not a decision I am a fan of at all. In addition to that, there are equippable items. These can be bought, but to get the better ones requires using an invention based item creation system. However, this system is very different from from RPGs, in that it doesn’t involve having to collect items or anything like that, though that is sometimes a requirement for recruiting inventors, but rather involves assigning inventors to a task and getting back random results. There are ways to guide what is produced, which relies heavily on using a guide, but for the most part what it produced is completely random. This just made the system incredibly annoying to have to deal with and despite my best efforts at using it without having to follow a guide, I got one useful item throughout the whole game. There may be a lot more to these systems on a second or third play through at a higher difficulty, but on a first play through I can’t say I was really all that fond of these at all, and gave me no desire for a second or third play through, especially as my main motivation for continuing through the game was getting through the story.

In addition to the main story, there are a few mini-games, though to be frank I don’t think any of them were even decent. There are also various side quests, but to be honest, by the time I got to the point that I should deal with them, I was getting kind of tired of the game and simply wanted to get through the story so I didn’t bother with them.

Now, as for the story itself, I thought it was really good. It was paced really well, with things just continuing to escalate further and further in a way that felt really exciting with some really crazy twists. The characters too were interesting, with an interesting set of personalities and relationships, and the game did a good job of introducing characters at good times to keep the narrative interesting. Everything leads up to a finale that is pretty great and has a solid epilogue for everyone focusing on whatever character Fayt had the most affinity for based on decisions made over the course of the game, though I wish that it did a bit better in regards to that with better establishing certain relationships. As for the writing, or at least the English writing, it was really messy at times, or at least felt that way due to the voice acting. The voice acting mostly ranged from okay to certain side character being not very good. The cutscenes were also kind of annoying, in that they let you press to go more quickly go through voiced lines, but half the time the animation would still play out without voice if you do this, so that just made it feel really slow at times. The cutscene skipping system was also really cumbersome, involving having to enable skipping cutscenes and then it giving you a dialog about skipping cutscenes before each cutscene as the only way to skip them.

There are some games that graphically hold up well from the PS2 generation, even with just a resolution boost, most of which are cel-shaded though some others as well. This definitely isn’t one of those. The graphics have not aged well at all and the boost in resolution doesn’t do much to help. The animation is also often really bad. The UI looks aged and isn’t very intuitive. And in general the world feels really muddy and dull. I will note that I liked the character designs. The soundtrack also felt pretty aged and not very high quality. The ending song was pretty nice.

If it isn’t clear, a lot of my complaints seem to stem largely from the game being quite old and not really being enhanced at all. The remaster is pretty terrible. To make matters worse, it seems to crash a lot compared to the PS2 version. The game doesn’t have a lot of save points, which is fine in terms of how the game is designed assuming it isn’t crashing, but with all the crashes it was no where near enough and incredibly frustrating.

Overall, good story, characters, and designs, but badly aged game play and graphics and a terrible job done at remastering.

7/10

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