15th Dec2017

‘Star Ocean: The Last Hope’ Review (PS4)

by Matthew Smail

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Where Star Ocean remasters are concerned, PS4 owners have been somewhat spoiled of late. Star Ocean: The Last Hope is the fourth of the series to be released on Sony’s latest console, and this one in particular should draw the attention of PS4 Pro owners, thanks to its promising 4K and Full HD Remaster moniker, which unbelievably forms part of the game’s full title in relation to this particular remake.

I did actually test the game on a PS4 Pro, which means that I was able to see first hand what the publishers are so keen to shout from the rooftops about. There’s no doubt, Star Ocean: The Last Hope has been remade to an impressive standard and perhaps most interesting of all, it features a raft of PC style visual settings that can be adjusted by the player to refine the experience. There are four choices of resolution ranging from 1080p to full 4K and the game looks great in all of them when it isn’t moving, but playing in 4K will require tweaks to several other settings.

Unfortunately, setting the resolution at 4K and adding effects like motion blur and depth of field can cause significant frame drops when panning and rotating the camera around some of The Last Hope‘s large, impressive worlds. I was a bit shocked about this, because whilst it looks good and the levels can feel huge thanks to good use of distant scenery and so on, there isn’t that much in them that should tax the Pro to the extent that it causes such a lag. Incidentally, dropping to any of the lower resolutions (no matter what other settings you use) does appear to solve things, so there you go. A sign of things to come or poor optimisation? I’ve got no idea.

In any case, the game itself is largely unchanged in comparison to the original except for the obvious visual improvement and, perhaps most importantly, the inclusion of a better English voiceover and a Japanese soundtrack (which incidentally is properly synced during cut scenes.) I’m not familiar enough with the original game to know whether or not there are any nuanced changes to the way the game works mechanically, but it certainly seems to be very similar in that regard to what I remember of the 2009 original that was released on the Xbox 360 exclusively.

The story in Star Ocean: The Last Hope (as in almost all JRPG’s) is focussed on the antics of a small band of close friends on the cusp of adulthood, as well as the eclectic mix of waifs and strays that they attract to their cause. Led by the superbly named Edge Maverick, the group begins with an already grand mission: lead the vanguard of a reconnaissance mission sent to locate and prepare a new Earth, following the destruction of our own planets surface during a nuclear war. Despite these lofty ambitions, The Last Hope actually does a decent job of creating even more dramatic purpose, and although the game is a remake of a game that I’ve played some of before, I did feel as if I was treading relatively fresh ground in terms of pure story beat.

Interaction between characters does seem to be much more believable now, thanks to the improved voiceover and better quality of cut scene. In the original, I didn’t really buy into any of the relationships, yet in this remaster I found it much easier to do so. That’s helpful, really, because The Last Hope is a traditional JRPG in almost every sense of the definition, which means that when you do reach a cut scene, you might be watching it for five minutes or twenty, so it’s better to put your feet up and get immersed.

Pacing is an issue that is brought over in its entirety from the original game. Whilst it was already unacceptable to force players to save only at rotating globes around the world in 2009, it certainly is now, in particular when they might be a full hour (or more) apart from each other. Star Ocean: The Last Hope features many interesting and varied locations that range from within ships and buildings to wide open spaces, lush grassland and rocky canyons. Each location plays out like a dungeon might in any other game, with Edge and his party fighting their way through real time battles to reach an end goal such as a boss, objective or both. Almost all of them outstay their welcome by about fifty percent, on average.

Thankfully, fighting can be quite amusing and it is certainly more interesting than most JRPG’s of the original era. Whilst it might have been superseded by other systems now, The Last Hope isn’t actually miles behind, which shows how forward thinking it was at the time. Players can avoid enemies in the world entirely, or if you choose to fight, you can flank them to begin combat with an advantage.

All fights switch from the main world view to a battle arena, which usually transforms one enemy into three or four and pitches the player party into battle. The player can control one fighter at a time (whilst the others use AI) and the game is based on a timing and range based system that works well enough and is easy to get to grips with. There is a bonus system that enables the player to multiply various rewards (XP, cash etc) by achieving certain combinations and attack types whilst avoiding enemy attacks, which adds a nice element of tactical flair. the variety of playable characters is wide and varied too, with lots of different approaches and a number of unlockable moves (which I think are dished out a little too slowly, but it’s a minor complaint.)

Star Ocean: The Last Hope is a game that I imagine die-hard fans of the series will absolutely adore, thanks to its loving and well crafted recreation of the original. Players new to the series could certainly start here too, since the game is a prequel that demands no knowledge of the other games and it is, arguably, the best looking iteration of Star Ocean that has ever been made. The standard JRPG health warning applies, especially if you consider that the core of the game is now eight years old, so if you hate long cut scenes, moody teenagers saving the world and nobody getting to the point in a time manner, ever, then it might not be for you.

*** 3/5

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