Star Ocean, to me, has always been a JRPG franchise I’ve always seen around, but never actually played – Heralded as one of the prime action JRPG innovators alongside the world-famous Tales franchise, Star Ocean built up a large following for it’s deep stories, interesting characters and engaging real time combat – Originally released in 2009, Star Ocean: The Last Hope was the fourth main entry in the series, following the titular Edge Maverick and his crew of interplanetary space explorers aboard the Calnus on their quest to find a new habitable home for Humankind amongst the stars.
So why am I reviewing a game originally released for the PS3 and Xbox 360 from 2009? Well, it just so happens that Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope has just received a re-released, updated version on PC, PS4 and PS4 Pro just few days ago! This new version of the game brings in the standard-fare remastered additions such as 4K textures, allowing players to choose between the “Classic” profile style (More anime-inspired, a personal preference of mine), or the new “Modern” profile style, rendering profile icons as CG models instead – I think it’s rather hilarious that an 8-year old game has a “Modern” setting, but that’s besides the point.
To expand a little bit more about the game’s settings menu before delving into the characters, story and gameplay, Star Ocean 4 on PS4, at least, is one of the most expansive titles I’ve seen in terms of graphical settings and options; featuring a near-PC level range of settings, players can toggle shadow buffering, anti-aliasing, camera blurring, depth of field, character display distances, self-shadowing, overall texture resolution and the standard frame rate, allowing players to choose to optimise their game more for frame rate or for visual fidelity – The standard PS4 version of the game is limited to 1280×720, whereas the PS4 Pro version runs at an impressive 3840×2160.Phew… Still with me here..? Good! Let’s move on to talking about the main meat of the game then… The story.
As mentioned before, the game follows titular protagonist Edge Maverick and his somewhat merry band of spacefaring adventurers on a mission (Initially) to colonise a new planet for the survival and expansion of Mankind; as is expected with intergalactic stories like this, it’s not long until more otherworldly entities start to appear along your tracks – On your mission through the stars, you’ll meet a range of different lifeforms, all of whom are unmistakedly humane in their appearances; you have Faize, an Eldarian elf-like being who specialises in the magical art of “Symbology” (Effectively creating magical glyphs to call elemental abilities), Lymle, a Lemurisian with the ability to call upon the demonic Cerberus and use more offensive types of Symbology, and Bacchus, a Morphus scientist that can transform his body into various armaments, to name a few of the diverse party members you’ll encounter – All in all, the game features a total of 9 playable party members, spanning over a 50-80 hour main quest.
Whilst the game’s story takes many leaps and bounds, and allows each planet to be it’s own sort of enclosed story, there is an overarching narrative to the motives and journey as it unfolds – A race of extraterrestrial creatures known as the Cardianons consider themselves as a superior species to the rest of the galaxy, and expand on a quest to conquer various planets, starting with the ones least technologically advanced; they do this to attempt to appease a mysterious, somewhat angelic race known as the “Grigori”, who’s main goal is, at least in my playthrough, currently unknown…
…Saying that though, it’s probably a good bet to assume they probably want to either:
A) Rule the universe.
B) Destroy the universe.
C) Just be friends…?
…Something’s telling me it’s B. Wait! No, C!
Regardless, these things seem to be the main antagonists of the story, so it’ll be interesting to see what plot twists develop! Moving on from the story, the characters are one aspect of the game I do have a sort of gripe with, at least at the start of the game; Edge, Reimi and Lymle especially are three party members that I just cannot stand. From Edge’s standard-fare shounen-ish ‘heroics’ and teen angst to Reimi’s ever-apparent care for everyone (Especially when she ends nearly every single battle splurting out “I hope everyone’s ok…!”), and Lymle. Oh god Lymle. Why on Earth does she speak like a 7-year old Cyberman? A lot of voice actors in this game have very awkward line delivery, and to be honest it can be quite jarring; whilst not as egregious as other games, it does get tiresome rather quickly; the only character so far that I can just about stand is Faize, as that’s because he’s reserved in himself.
Arguing against that, however, you do get some genuinely good characters in this adventure; Lymle’s grandfather, Ghimdo, is one that I genuinely wanted to help – Nothing more than a respectful village elder plagued by a flesh-converting ailment that slowly turns his body to stone, to Captain Grafton, who would risk life and limb to protect his crew and their mission; it’s probably a bit of a moot point to whine about the characters and how they act, in hindsight though, as there’s still a large amount of time left in the game for them to develop and change their personalities depending on what they experience.
The gameplay in Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope follows somewhat traditional action-oriented real-time combat, where players control one out of a maximum of four party members and manoeuvre around a 3D arena to combat enemies and bosses using combos, special abilities and various items at their disposal, not too dissimilar to the Tales franchise; in terms of what makes this battle system unique, Star Ocean 4 features it’s special BEAT system (Standing for Battle, Exalted, Action, Type… Yeah, I don’t know what they were thinking either), where…Players make use of two different unique types of attack that have seemingly nothing to do with the name BEAT…? What..?
To make this a bit clearer, players can utilise a special Rush gauge to perform special attacks, pre-emptive strikes or their own unique abilities after building up Rush by attacking enemies and taking damage; players can also make use of special Blindside attacks that stagger and outspeed many enemies and effectively launches a critical hit against their rear; outside of combat and aboard the Calnus, Edge can engage in PA’s (Rather known as Private Actions; trust me, it’s not as dirty as it sounds) where you can bond with your team members and unlock special dialogues, events and sequences to learn more about their pasts, thoughts and opinions – Whilst entirely optional, it helps to pad out these characters and to build them up into more fleshed out people; fortunately for those of you doing multiple playthroughs, you can skip these entirely and just get from A-to-B by hopping into cryosleep for a few minutes of sleep!
So, all in all, what are my thoughts on Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope’s HD Remaster? Well, for my first Star Ocean game, it’s certainly a step in the right direction – Whilst a little bit stale at times and repetitive, the game is endearing and has me interested to progress further and further to unlock more and more of the compelling story, and to, hopefully, see these characters develop into actual, interesting and memorable people – Whilst each world (So far) is somewhat samey in design and environmental choice, I’m hoping it’ll shake up the formula after the third or fourth planet.
Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope is a slow-burn JRPG that you play when you have a spare hour or two, and nothing else major to do – Just to sit down in the Captain’s chair and blast away to other worlds. Is it as action-packed as other JRPGs, such as Final Fantasy XV or some of the Tales games? No. But that’s not a bad thing by nature… The 4K remaster does a great job of bringing this game up to modern standards, and brings a level of options tweaking that I can only hope will become industry-standard.
Overall I rate Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope a well-earned 7.5 / 10.