Review by Legend_Saber
"A below average RPG with few redeeming qualities."
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is the fourth installation of a little known series by the name of 'Star Ocean.' This was also the sole game that I decided to purchase a Playstation 2 for, as I was absolutely amazed by a movie of the opening sequence I saw while randomly surfing the web one day. From the clip I viewed, I was expecting this kind of Sci-Fi space adventure, a game that took place over the endless abyss of the stars; a game that primarily dealt with something that could be called a Star Ocean.' The real-time battles also looked like they'd be a great break from the turn-based nature of Final Fantasy; action packed and fun while not being repetitive or boring. Unfortunately, as I'd soon find, the game wasn't quite as good as it all seemed...
The great portion of most RPGs is spent doing two things: exploring and battling. Frankly, Star Ocean doesn't get either right. Exploring is spent running around monotonous dungeons and towns randomly until you eventually find whatever it is you're looking for, and battles basically consist of doing one move over and over again until the enemy is dead. Not exactly the most entertaining thing in the world. I suppose some of the puzzles contained within the dungeons are creative and difficult, and the dungeons themselves are sometimes fun to 'explore,' (pseudo-explore is really a better word for it, since there isn't much going on in there) but they're just too monotonous. I mean, the themes of the dungeons themselves are fairly varied (ice caves, forests, volcanoes, labyrinths, caves, mines, highlands, cities, space stations, other dimensions and a host of others), but within a dungeon every single freaking area looks exactly the same. Exactly. Every wall is the same, every door is the same, every enemy is the same, hell, just about everything but the shape of the area itself is identical to every other area in that dungeon, and sometimes even that's the same. It got to the point where I'd take one close look at the dungeon I was in, and then just activate the on-screen map, 'cause I knew there'd be nothing else for me to see (then, if I ever came to an obstacle, I'd look at the screen to solve it, then resume staring at the map). Since just about anything you need to know is contained right on the on-screen map (including enemies' locations), there's really no point of ever looking at the dungeon at all.
Of course, dungeons aren't all there is to the RPG genre, you also have the traditional random encounters, and I'm glad to say that in this game they aren't so random. You can actually see your enemies on the field, and possess the ability evade them if you choose. I felt that this was a great break from the normal "run around, get into a battle, run around, get into a battle" system that so many RPGs can't seem to live without, because battles don't feel forced on you. The battles themselves are nothing that special, however, and I found that a good majority of them (including many of the boss fights) consisted of me using an ultra cheap attack called "Air Raid" over and over, then switching over to another character when I needed to heal. Because the enemies aren't exactly the smartest in the world, this was a simple and effective strategy that was utilized for a good portion of the first disc, and almost the entirety of the second disc, up to and including the final boss.
One of the battle aspects that I did enjoy was the collecting of what are called Battle Trophies; awards that you gain by completing certain feats in battle. There are 300 in all, ranging from getting above Level 10, to dealing more than 10,000 damage, to defeating a boss in under a minute, completing a battle with all characters paralyzed, to running over 42.195 kilometers in battle, and everything in between. Since I adore collecting things like this in games, the Battle Trophies really acted as the only thing that kept me sane while battling. The best part is that you can also unlock various goodies when you attain enough Trophies, such as a sound test mode, higher difficulty modes, new costumes for characters in battle, and a few others. This small aspect of the game, however, does little to help the massive faults scattered about; it's nothing more than a nice novelty surrounded by a horrible experience.
There are also various mini-games scattered about Star Ocean, some of which are required for the completion of the game. The problem here is that many of the mini-games, to put it simply, aren't fun. They're complicated and distracting and generally nothing more than an annoyance that impedes progress. The game would be far better off without them. What's sad is that some, such as the item creation system, are required to attain some of the best items in the game, yet only a very limited tutorial is given and the whole process generally just leaves a hole burning in your pocket with nothing to show for it. I think that a little more thought should have gone into the item creation system, along with many of the other mini-games contained within Star Ocean (not to mention the various other gameplay elements in Star Ocean, all of which feel very rushed, even though this game was delayed for several years before finally being released in North America).
Of course, the audio of a game is fairly important as well, as it helps draw you into the experience, and can add quite a bit. But as far as music goes, again, Star Ocean simply fails to impress. I can barely remember a single tune from this game, and those I do remember, I remember for their sheer stupidity (I'm referring to the pathetic rap they put as a boss music for most of disc 2). I cannot say with honesty that there was a single background music contained within this game that I would even consider above average.
Various other aspects of the audio, however, such as voice acting and sound effects, are actually quite good. The voice actors are above average for an American video game, and the sound effects are well placed, I have very few qualms with either.
As far as the graphical quality of the game itself, for the most part, Star Ocean does a good job. As I said in the introduction, it was a video clip I saw for this game that made me decide to get my Playstation 2 in the first place; these CG Sequences, though rare, are absolutely astounding. And even the field graphics look almost as good as a CG Sequence from eight years ago. The graphics here are really just well done all the way through. The dungeons look beautiful, as do the fields, the plains, the battles, the characters, the cities, the towns, the buildings, the enemies, the attacks, the magic, and everything in-between. Of course, that type of impression might have something to do with the fact that this is the first next generation game I'd played for longer than a few minutes, but even so, the game looks great, and I have no problems to present in terms of looks. I think it looks perfectly fine, and few of my other PS2 games surpass it.
Now, we're on to the story, and this is perhaps the worst aspect of Star Ocean, for various reasons. The basic set-up is this: A young man named Fayt is on a vacation with his family. Some aliens attack and they need to evacuate to a battleship in orbit. Then the battleship itself gets attacked and they need to evacuate yet again, this time in escape pods. Fayt gets trapped on an underdeveloped planet, and the real plot begins there.
First off, let me talk about implications, the title, "Star Ocean," implies something of a space setting, yet the great majority of Star Ocean is spent on the aforementioned underdeveloped planet that doesn't have so much as an operational airplane. What's worse is that upon leaving this planet, the game makes very few references to what happened there, almost as if it was just one long filler, an awful filler that just happens to take up 70% of the game, no less. After leaving the planet, the story doesn't get much better, either, because of a certain 'plot twist' that you may or may not have heard about. Sure, I thought it was unexpected, but unexpected doesn't mean good, and to be quite honest, I thought that this was perhaps one of the worst plot twists I've ever seen. Anywhere. It was completely unnecessary, and ruined what little story the game had going for it.
Star Ocean has a horrible story with a horrible beginning, a horrible middle, and perhaps the worst ending I've ever seen (though there are multiple ones, and I've only seen one), so horrible to the point where I began reading a book during it. Yes, this definitely isn't a game you're going to be playing for story, I know I wasn't.
Replay Value: Depends
At long last, we're on to Replay Value; the only major aspect of a game that I haven't already mentioned in this review. Ironically enough, there are quite a few things to do and complete once the main game is beaten; there are two additional hidden dungeons, as well as two extra difficulty modes to complete, hidden bosses to defeat, additional characters to collect, as well as additional endings (more than eighty of them, I've heard), but unfortunately, all of this replay value hinges on one thing: Whether or not you actually enjoy playing the game! This doesn't apply to me at all, but I'm not going to lie, if, by some miracle, you buy this game and actually enjoy playing it, you're going to have a HELL of a lot of stuff to do after the seventy hour quest is over.
In the end, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is a below average RPG that most certainly wasn't worth purchasing a Playstation 2 for (and I doubt I'll ever make such a hasty decision ever again). The game looks beautiful, has fairly decent voice acting, and is worth replaying if you actually like it, but that's about all the good you'll find in this game. Every other aspect of Star Ocean is either mediocre (as is the case with the music, battle system, and exploration aspects of it) or just plain bad (as is the case with the story). I'd only recommend this game to you if you're really, really desperate for a real-time battle RPG, and don't really care about story. Otherwise, it's better to just stay clear.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 08/01/05, Updated 07/31/06
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