Review by admtanaka
"This game is all over the place."
Over the years, I've played a reasonably large amount of RPGs. And, in all that time, I've probably never seen my opinion torn so much by one game as it has been by Star Ocean III. There are aspects of this game that I absolutely hate, and then there are aspects that are actually quite good. Overall, though, the game has some serious faults that ruin any potential the game had to be as good as it could have been.
SO3, which is set well in the future, follows the story of Fayt Leingod, a young man on vacation with his parents when the resort is attacked by a mysterious army. Following the attack, Fayt and his parents become separated and he winds up alone and on a mission to rescue them that eventually spins off into a quest to save the universe.
I'm not going to pull any punches here - the story in this game is terrible. It starts off innocently enough, but flies south all too quickly. Basically, the story can be split up into two parts. The former of these, which accounts for about 2/3 of the game, is essentially every other cliched rpg rolled into a 40 hour subquest. Although this might seem like a harsh criticism, I honestly didn't dislike this part of the story. If anything, it was just a little uncreative and boring - the game could have easily survived this fault.
Unfortunately, the final 1/3 of the story in this game borders on laughable. In the spirit that makes a man insecure in his manhood drive the most gaudy Escalade, the developers of this game decided to atone for the typical rpg of the early game by throwing in a twist that is so far-fetched and absurd that it'll make you gag. From this point on, the story simply does not make sense, stumbling along until it comes to an equally absurd end.
The one dimensional characters don't alleviate this problem either. The main character, Fayt, is easily the most boring possible choice for a protagonist. Another reviewer referred to him as a "goody two shoes," and I actually think this is the best possible characterization of him. During the entire course of the story (and especially in the earlier parts), I couldn't help but feel the designers were pushing too hard to make Fayt look like a good guy. He is law-abiding and altruistic to a fault; but unfortunately that's all he is. There is no sense that Fayt is even a real person; he comes off more as a manifestation of philanthropy than anything else.
Many of the other characters aren't much better. There isn't much to Nel besides the fact that she loves her own kingdom and hates Airyglyph. Sophia plays little else besides a love interest of Fayt. Albel at least is multidimensional, but all of the "optional" characters suffer from no development at all once the story moves into the final part. The end result of all this is that by the end of the game, I didn't much care how the story concluded - I just wanted the bleeding to stop.
Fortunately, the gameplay manages to make up for many of the story's downfalls. The battle system, in particular, is one area where SO3 shines. Like many more recent RPGs, there are no random encounters; instead, when you bump into an enemy on the main map you'll enter into battle with it. Battles are fought in real time, with up to 3 heroes in battle at once, one of which is controlled by the player, with the other two automated to the computer.
The battle system is very well done and is easy to pick up and learn, but hard to master. The first thing I noticed about fighting in SO3 was that the action is above all fast. Once I got the hang of it though, even regular encounters were quite enjoyable. My one complaint is with the fact that the bonus meter returns to zero every time the character you control is hit by a critical hit, which is quite often. The problem here is that it really encourages you not to control a melee fighting character, since it's much easier to protect your bonus gauge from afar.
SO3 departs from many RPGs by having a system of battle skills which expend a certain amount of HP or MP to use. It is important to gauge how often to use these skills, since overuse will quickly weaken your characters. SO3 is also the first game I've played that allows MP kills (ie you die not only when your HP hits zero, but also when your MP hits zero). Although these changes require some time with which to become accustomed, they do add a great deal of depth to battles.
There are also two rather extensive post game dungeons to explore once you have completed the main quest. I actually enjoyed this part of the game the most, because it didn't get bogged down by the lackluster storytelling of the designers. There are also many optional bosses, the most powerful of which require a good deal of skill and/or knowledge of the game dynamics to defeat. I much prefer this way of handling optional bosses than, say, Final Fantasy X's, which included no dungeons and only a monster arena.
SO3 has an important side game of sorts in item invention. After reaching a certain point in the game, the heroes are able to hire different inventors from the game's different locations. Different inventors can invent different (and powerful) items for a price. Invention workshops can also modify and improve existing items. For the most part, item invention is interesting in which to dabble, but there really are only so many useful items that are really worth creating. If the system just had a little more depth, it really could have been one of the game's most successful points.
A final nice feature to mention are the battle trophies, which reward the player for achieving certain battles conditions, such as winning without taking damage or killing 3 enemies with a single blow. It's really a great idea to have these trophies in the game, as it provides a little something extra for the player to achieve, but they really could have worked on the rewards. Besides unlocking higher difficulty levels, all but one of the prizes for getting certain numbers of battle trophies are just different costumes for the characters. Some of the trophies are also very random and almost impossible to achieve without using a guide.
Graphically, SO3 is not likely to disappoint. The camera angles, which the player can pretty much always freely rotate, take some getting used to, but after a short acclimation period should pose no problem. At the same time, of course, it's a lot easier to miss hidden chests and such, since the camera angle might, by chance, not be in a favorable position to see into narrow crevices.
Town and dungeon design are pretty solid and varied. Cutscenes also look pretty solid. There are some instances of jaggies, but what ps2 games don't suffer at least a little from this problem? I must admit, however, that I am still yet to find a game which surpasses Final Fantasy X graphically. SO3 has great graphics, but it still doesn't manage to dethrone FFX.
About 90% of the music in SO3 is perfectly solid and fits the intended mood. The other 10% of the time, though, the music seems a little random. Some dungeons have really upbeat guitar music that just doesn't seem to fit the situation. The effects are also varied enough so as not to be constantly repeating, although the "old man" type of enemy makes an annoying bellowing sound a little too frequently.
The voice acting was mostly satisfactory. It was probably better than FFX's, but probably not as good as Xenosaga's. Expect the usual, generally poor, female voice acting. Many of the male characters, however, are done relatively well. Cutscenes, while plentiful, aren't as long as in Xenosaga and are generally pleasant to watch. Again, my major problem with this game was with what the characters were saying, not how they were saying it.
I only played through this game once, but it took me a very long time (>70 hours) to finish all the optional bosses and the main story. I actually started a second save file, but I just couldn't force myself to sit through the dreadful story a second time, and I bailed quickly. The gameplay is probably worth a second playthrough, especially since you can't use all the characters in a single save file. The story isn't even worth the first playthrough.
Star Ocean 3 could have been a really great game. Unfortunately, in order to be a great RPG, a game needs a great (or at least a believable) story. SO3 has an absurd story that does not do the gameplay any justice. Who should buy this game? The battle system is worth a look for most fans of RPGs (I would exclude those fans who put a high priority on a game's storyline from this recommendation). A more casual fan might be more easily able to look past the storyline faults, but I would be hesitant to suggest this game to someone as representative of the genre. There are certainly better RPGs out there to play first.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 04/25/05
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