Author’s Note: This review was originally published on March 14th, 2005. I decided to give the game a more reasonable and accurate score. I still don’t like Till the End of Time’s plot twist, but I’m able to appreciate all of the things the other things the game does right .
Back in the days of me playing Star Ocean: The Second Story…I thought the game wasn’t as great as most made it seem. Sure it had a semi-fun battle system, item creation, and Celine Jules, but it was by no means the fantastic saga people to end all sagas. Still, I was happy to hear the next installment of the Star Ocean legacy was being brought to America. The screen shots showed some very fun looking battles with anime like graphics, and I heard item creation was kicked up a notch. Well, I was looking forward to the new Star Ocean. Once again, I was semi-let down. Like most games, it had it’s ups…but I found it having more downs.
Fayt Leingod and his best friend Sophia Esteed are taking a little relaxation vacation on the planet Hyda IV. This tropical planet is full of sandy beaches and high-tech resorts. Fayt has been spending much of his vacation playing video games, which annoys Sophia and Fayt’s parents. Despite Fayt’s addiction, the two of them have been having a fun time at the resort. However, their fun ended rather unexpectedly when battleships from the civilization known as Vendeeni started bombarding Hyda IV. Fayt and his company had to flee the resort and make way for escape pods. Unfortunately, Fayt gets separated from Sophia and his family and ends up on the remote planet of Vanguard III. Now, Fayt is going to do all that he can to get back to his loved ones and find out the reason of the Vendeeni attack.
The story starts off exciting, and near the middle of the story it gets even more exciting when you find out the cause of the Vendeeni attack. Then, out of nowhere, the story makes it’s final “climatic plot twist” and goes down-hill to nowhere. What’s even worse is what happens with Fayt and his friends. It’s really hard for me to fully explain why the story is so bad without giving too much away, but you’ll know what I’m talking about if you make it that far. Despite the terrible story, there are some really enjoyable characters in the game. If the graphics didn’t give it away, this game has a very anime feel to it. You can expect a lot of anime cliches to be present as a result. Actually, all of the playable characters, maybe with the exception of Mirage, are rather cliche. But that’s why I love them. I think they’re all great, despite me seeing characters like them in other games. You’ll catch on to their cliches with the lame, anime dialogue. My favorite character, Maria, is the classic “I am woman, hear me roar” character. Personally, I think that’s fierce. So to sum up, the story was going in the right direction but then it just took a turn for the worst with the huge plot twist. I found it to be unacceptable. I almost feel bad for the cool characters trapped in such a lame story.
Game Play: 7.5/10
The first two Star Oceans had some very interesting game play. I think the best part of it was in Item Creation. In the previous games you could buy skills that allowed you to cook, draw, write, compound, and do other nifty little things. As your experience increased, you earned points to be used on these skills. These skills would allow you to get an increase in stats. Star Ocean for the PS2 took a new approach with item creation, and personally I don’t like it. To start making items you have to register with the Guild. Whaa~? In the first Star Oceans you could start making things as soon as you got the right skills and basic items! Once you’re registered with the Guild, you can go to workshops to create items. Whaa~? In the previous Star Oceans you could create items wherever you want! Each workshop only starts off with a few things for item creation. You have to buy the “ability” to do other things. Whaa~? You have to waste MORE money? For example, if you want to use the Synthesize option, you need to pay 9000 Fol. The other types of item creating are Alchemy, Engineering, Crafting, Cooking, Compounding, and Writing. Each character has a talent level with each of the creation skills. For instance, Sophia has a high ability with Cooking, Crafting, and Compounding but she makes a terrible blacksmith and engineer. While there is a plethora of stuff to create, actually doing it is another story. I won’t get into the details, but to those who have enjoyed the simplicity of SO and SO2, you’re going to be begging for it to return. One cool thing is that you can hire inventors to help you create new items. While most inventors require a large sum of money, others will join you if you have the right item. Some of these items are easy to obtain, while others are much more difficult. Item creation is expensive and time consuming. It is fun at times, but the simplicity of the first two Star Oceans is probably the better way to go when it comes to creating items.
Other than that major detail, the rest of the game play is easy to understand. The menus actually have the same format as the previous games, so it’s kind of nostalgic. I do miss the small sprite pictures of the characters walking, but that’s not a problem. Once again, there are private actions in this game, which allow you to view multiple endings depending on the amount of affection points Fayt has with the other characters. However, unlike previous Star Oceans, you initiate a PA unknowingly. Recall if you will how you would press the Square button to have everyone go into town and do their own thing, and maybe you’d get a private action. Well, Fayt ventures on his own constantly in the towns and may get caught in a private action without warning. It’s not really bad, but just annoying.
To sum up the non-battle game play up, don’t go in expecting the same old stuff. Private actions have been changed, the item creation has been changed, and even the world map has been changed. Oh wait, there is no world map…silly me. The question you’re probably asking now is, “Did the battles change?” Indeed they did.
I should start off by saying that the enemies you encounter can do most of the same things your team can do, with the exception of using items. Enemies are on the field, so you don’t have to worry about random encounters. The fighting is all done in real-time. You have three characters in at a time. Displayed at the bottom of the screen are the HP, MP, and the Fury gauge. If you run out of HP or MP, you become incapacitated. The Fury gauge is what, for lack of a better term, allows you to do stuff. When you’re not moving, you’re Fury gauge is at 100%. Moving around takes up 1% of your Fury. Depending on the action, it will take up more Fury. When you’re out of Fury, you can do nothing but stand around. When you’re at 100% Fury, weak attacks will be repelled by a shield of energy. If you have them set, the weak attacks not only will be repelled, they will also be countered with an Anti-Attack Aura (AAA). There are various types of AAAs. Some can heal you, others will cause Stun to the enemy. Enemies also have a Fury gauge with an AAA, so you have to be careful not to attack them with weak attacks when their gauge is full. Personally, I feel the Fury gauge is annoying. I mean, imagine you want to hit one of your enemies and their shield constantly bounces your attack back. It just gets on my nerves. The next thing with battles is attacking. You can do weak attacks (the X button) and strong attacks (the O button). Obviously, strong attacks are slower than weak attacks, but they can break enemy Fury shields.
After you execute a weak attack, you do a Cancel bonus with a weak skill, followed by a strong skill for more of a Cancel bonus. A Cancel bonus will cause more damage than usual to an enemy. If you have the right skills, and enough Fury, you really can rack up the damage and the combo count. Now let’s talk about skills. You set skills in the main menu. They can be set to weak long, weak short, strong long, and strong short. Skills take up capacity points (CP). Each character gets 15 CP. The stronger skills take up more CP. In addition to attacking skills, each character also gets support skills. It’s really fun to mix and match cool combinations of skills. Like the previous Star Oceans, each character learns his/her unique battle skills. Sophia and Adray, the two mages of the game, can set magic as skills, which is cool when used properly. Magic is performed in the same fashion as the previous Star Ocean games. Almost everyone at some point will learn magic, but only the mages of the group will be the ones who rely on it. When a spell is selected, you have to wait for the player to chant. If an enemy hits the caster, then you fail at executing the spell. One thing I found rather unfortunate about the magic was how everyone got the same spells. In Star Ocean 2, each of the mages had unique magic spells in their arsenal. The latest Star Ocean has each character using the same spell. Whatever.
Overall, the battles are fast-paced and exciting. Usually, they are a real treat to experience. However, thanks to the lame fury gauge and the fury shields/breaks, they can get frustrating. Also, keep in mind this is coming from someone who enjoys magic, the small variety of magic spells is kind of a downer. One major thing with the battles are the Battle Trophies. By fulfilling certain conditions, you can obtain a Battle Trophy. There are 300 in all. Some you’ll get with ease, others will require a lot of careful planning. The rewards for Battle Trophies are new outfits for the characters, music mode, and new difficulty levels for the game. In order to collect all the trophies, you’ll most likely play the game at least three times. I find the Battle Trophy concept a unique idea, but I hate how you have to collect so many just to unlock new outfits.
Besides the fact that the mouth’s of the characters rarely move in sync with the dialogue, these are some really great graphics. The 3D anime characters have great motion and body language. Fayt may run in around the towns and dungeons in a rather whack manner, but other than that the motion of each character is very smooth. They also look great in battles as they use cool skills and cast some dazzling magic. The environments, especially some of the later dungeons really look great. The clouds moving through the sky, the lakes reflecting the sunlight…all of this and more really make the world of Star Ocean 3 come to life.
Music and Sound: 7/10
The music from the second Star Ocean was awesome, at least I thought so. The same really can’t be said about part three. It’s not like it’s bad, but it lacked the dramatic and exciting feel from the second game. The only track I really enjoyed was that from the battles, and that’s the track you’ll be hearing all the time. I don’t know, it’s just…meh. The voice actors on the other hand were picked out very well. You’ll recognize a lot of the actors from anime. Obviously, they’re professional and can give the characters some zest unlike other games with tons of voice acting.
Replay Value: 8/10
Despite it’s many shortcomings, I know for a fact that I’ll be coming back for more. Not only are there are a lot of Battle Trophies to obtain, but I also want to try different characters in battle. My first party was Maria, Mirage, and Sophia. Next time I plan on trying three different characters, hopefully they’ll provide me with as much enjoyment as Kashell’s Angels did. In any case, there are many reasons to go back for more. Too bad the story doesn’t change the second time through. Also, like other Tri-Ace games, there are many extras for your enjoyment that are opened once the game is completed once.
Buy or Rent: Buy
I paid 50 dollars for this game, and I feel it was not worth it. I recommend buying this game, but you should probably wait until the price drops down to 30 or so dollars. It is far too long to be completed in one rental period.
I played this game, like others *cough* with an open mind. There were parts I enjoyed, but a lot more parts I despised. Cool characters and awesome graphics cannot make up for messed up item creation. Maria Traydor cannot make up for a semi-annoying battle system. The cons outweigh the pros, but the pros are still enough for you to keep playing the game until the end.