Review by LaniReaper
So many reviews, and so much hate. Is it warranted? Well...
When Star Ocean: Til The End Of Time came out, I played it, finished it, and never looked at a review. Several years later, I've started the game again, and would like to finally review it, because it seems to be getting some unwarranted bile from GameFAQs' reviewers. Let's start with the easy parts...
Graphics: SO3's graphics are pleasant. They're very firmly anime-styled, with all the characters not looking remotely realistic, but very good. The graphics have a thick, smooth look to them which is very pleasant. However, you can see a very noticeable decrease in quality between main characters and bit characters. Occasionally, a boss or minor NPC will be a part of a cutscene with your main characters, and the difference is rather jarring, and drags the graphics back down. There are also a standard amount of jaggy edges, but that's to be expected, for the game's age. One good thing to mention is that none of the character suffer from restricted movement; that is, they all animate fully based on what they're meant to be doing. You'll see very little of the same character repeating the same exact motion.
Environments look... good enough. There's nothing technically wrong with the environments; some of the effects are truly beautiful. But, that said, they all have a very generic feel to them: Especially the dungeons and field maps. Another problem comes from the camera. In most areas, you view the game from what is almost a bird's-eye view, with the camera tilted just enough to let you see your environments. The camera can be moved quickly and loosely with the L1 and R1 buttons, but there's a problem with that, too.
During a dungeon crawl, or while searching for treasure, the camera won't move unless you move it yourself with the L1 and R1. This means, often, you'll be spinning the camera around looking for treasure. Personally, this made me feel incredibly dizzy, and the whole rigmarole seemed unnecessary. Next, onto the sound...
Sound: First off, the voice acting in this game is very good. It's not perfect, but it's good. The main characters in particular, have very believable voices that fit them perfectly. There's some decrease in quality when it comes to minor NPCs, as there was with the graphics, however.
Cutscenes are short, frequent, and fully voiced, and often pleasant to watch, if a bit unnecessary.
Characters' voices are also used in battle; they'll yell out when they attack, gasp with pain when their HP is low, or mutter something triumphant upon victory. This is fine and good the first time, but while crawling through a dungeon or field map, you'll be going from encounter to encounter, and constantly hearing the same skill-use soundbytes gets very irritating. You can turn off battle voices in the config menu, thankfully.
Music is good, but it has the same kind of generic feel as the field graphics do. There are a handful of good, well-done tracks, but they're repeated ad nauseam. The first time you go through a dungeon, you'll enjoy the music. By the time you get to the second one, with the same song, it'll be wearing thin. By the third or fourth dungeon, you'll probably either get angry, or phase the music out. The music is ultimately forgettable, although one or two tracks will stick in your mind, and you'll probably remember that damn dungeon music until you die, for the wrong reasons.
Sound effects are sufficient, but again, overdone. There was nothing wrong with what they'd used; if only there was more of it.
Story: SO3's story is ridiculous. But listen; that's fine. The story plays like if someone made an anime spin-off of Star Trek, and that's fine, you know? The plot may be ridiculous overall, but there are elements of it that are genuinely interesting, and just occasionally, you'll find a genuinely thrilling or emotional moment. It's not first class storytelling, but it pushes the game along without feeling like a hindrance. If you can laugh at it; all the better. Games are meant to be played for fun. But now, onto the main meat of the thing...
Battle: Battles are played out on a 3D plane where you can run around freely. You can have upto three heroes in battle at once, but you can only control one of them manually at a time. You may flick between them with the shoulder buttons. One thing to say straight away; the AI in this game is quite good. Your characters will follow basic logical procedures; healing someone who's got hurt, attacking until they're in danger, then retreating to recover. Sometimes, you'll even catch them trying to evade an enemy spell or attack. However, they still aren't quite human; in boss fights, you'll often have to flick between characters to make sure everyone stays alive and healed. Normal fights will be no problem, however.
But the main part; is it any good? The battle system is... unusual. Every fight, however minor, stays enjoyable somehow. The amount of input and thought required per fight will stop you getting bored, but there are some issues. Using magic (named Symbology in the game) manually feels awkward and breaks the flow of battle, since it can't be mapped to the attack shortcuts and must be accessed through the pause menu, as does item use. Your allies will automatically use appropriate spells when controlled by the AI, but using them yourself will probably make you want to kill things.
Out of battle, you'll find regular RPG-fare. You run around field maps, dungeons and towns, levelling up, upgrading your gear, foraging items and watching cutscenes. There's a neat - but sometimes annoying - mini-task in the game wherein exploring 100% of a map will net you an item. It's slow, and sometimes annoying, but satisfying when you complete it.
There's also an item creation minigame which is passable, but not great. All of your characters have certain skills they're better at - like cooking, writing, alchemy, etc - and can attempt to create something using various ideas and reagents by visiting a workshop. It's fun to play with in your spare time, but unless you're a completionist, it's doubtful you'll spend too much time with it.
The final gameplay element is Battle Trophies. When playing on Normal level or higher, you can collect battle trophies as rewards for accomplishing certain feats, like inflicting certain amounts of damage, or killing a boss without taking a hit. If you're the type of person that likes collecting Achievements, it will probably appeal to you. However, most of the rewards for collecting trophies are things like new outfits for the various characters. So, it's up to you whether that kind of thing floats your boat. There are a few neat references tied to various outfits, also.
Conclusion: SO3 is a good game. It's not an amazing game, but you have to judge it by it's own merits. It's almost generic enough to ignore, but spectacular voice acting, a genuinely fun battle system and a story that must be seen to be believed, do wonders to save it. If you want a fun RPG to play, SO3 is a very good choice. But it won't change your life or get onto a favourite games list.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (US, 08/31/04)
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