Review by FF7Otaku
"Not only the best RPG on PS2, but also one of the greatest games of all time."
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is the third in a role-playing series that got its start on the SNES. I have not yet played the others in the series, so I am able to approach this game from a different perspective than many of its players. I bought the game when it came out because it looked interesting and ended up absolutely loving the game. I consider it to be the finest game on the Play-Station 2 and one of the ten greatest games ever made. That being said, on to the review.
Star Ocean's gameplay is totally unlike what you get in most Play-station 2 RPG's. The fights take place in real time, almost like an action game. When the player encounters an enemy the screen fades to a battle arena that looks similar to the terrain which the player was exploring. Both the player and the enemy can then start fighting. Part of what makes the gameplay so unique is that the player can only control one character at a time. The computer controls the other two characters in your party, but the player can switch between them at any time.
Similar to most RPG's, each character has health points and magic points. Star Ocean treats these stats a little differently than most games. Health points are consumed when special attacks are used, thereby balancing out their extra power. Magic points are used to fuel magic spells, but they are far more important than just that. If a character runs out of magic points in Star Ocean, they die. Many people complain about this, saying that it breaks the game, but it makes sense. It prevents magic users from being overly powerful, and provides a reason for warriors to increase their magic power.
In addition to health points and magic points, characters in Star Ocean have a third stat called fury. This is essentially a characters' stamina. Every action taken by a character reduces this stat. The lower a characters' stamina, the more damage they take from enemy attacks. By standing still, however, a character quickly regains his or her stamina. Making this more complex is the fact that fury can be used to guard against certain attacks. If a character's fury is at 100%, many attacks that hit that character will be deflected and damage the enemy instead.
The fighting system is based heavily on combo attacks that the characters learn through gaining levels. Each character can have up to four combo moves equipped in slots in the status screen. The character can only use these four abilities in a given battle, but they can be swapped out afterwards, and they can be chained together to create massive combos. Adding to this depth is the fact that two of these slots make the equipped combos more powerful. The downside to this is that they consume more fury and health when used in this way.
The controls feel very tight, and the combos are quite easy to pull off. It sometimes gets a bit difficult when trying to string together several moves into one huge combo, and the CPU controlled characters occasionally forget what they are doing, but overall the control of the game is superb.
The magic system is fairly similar to that of most RPG's. Each character learns certain spells when they reach certain levels. This means that not every character will learn every spell, thus making each character useful in certain situations. The available spells run the gamut from healing spells to status buffs to attack spells. I found the spells to be excellent for supporting melee characters, but they were not game winners on their own. They are well-balanced overall.
To make each fight a little more interesting, there is a new gameplay mechanic called the heat-up gauge This is a bar on the side of the screen that fills up every time a character hits an enemy. How much it fills up is determined by the enemies' levels relative to your own. When the bar is filled, a bonus battle is started. This gives you extra benefits at the end of the battle, such as triple experience points or extra chance for an item. The effects carry over from battle to battle until the character who filled the gauge takes a critical hit. Additionally, the effects can stack up, so it is possible to get a huge number of effects at once.
Lastly, there is a game mechanic that contributes hugely to the replay factor of the game. It is called battle trophies and is one of the most brilliant gameplay ideas I have ever had the joy of taking part in. Scattered throughout the game are 300 different tasks that have a trophy associated with them. They can be anything from defeat X boss in less than one minute to spend a total of 5 hours in battle. By acquiring certain percentages of the trophies, certain things are unlocked, such as new costumes for the characters or the ability to listen to any of the game's music. Getting every single battle trophy is a huge challenge, but it is entertaining. As of this writing, I am still trying to get them all.
This was a really long description of the gameplay, but it is just so complex and enjoyable that it could not have been told any other way. I'll try to keep the rest a bit shorter.
Wow. That's all I can say. Star Ocean's plot seemingly starts small, but eventually grows to encompass all of existence in a nonstop emotional roller coaster that almost never lets up. Without giving away spoilers, there is a plot twist two-thirds of the way through the game that will make your head spin. The story is fantastic.
The dialogue is well written, and sounds entirely natural. Every character has their own distinct personality that shows through in their dialogue. From Fayt's questions about morality to Cliff's macho-man attitude, every major character seems human and very believable.
This believability is bolstered by the superb voice-acting. The main characters in particular are extremely well done. Kudos to their voice actors.
A major part of the story is the so-called underdeveloped planet that the characters spend time on. Many people complain about this, because they say it makes the game less of a sci-fi and more of a fantasy. While I can see where their complaints are coming from, I couldn't agree less. The story behind the planet is absolutely stellar, and I was never bored while playing there. Seeing such a simple planet gives the player a feeling that there is something worth protecting when he goes off to fight the ultimate enemies. I thought the underdeveloped planet part of the story was very entertaining.
As for the graphics, Square-Enix and Tri-Ace have done a superb job. The character models look great. They deftly fuse a realistic style with an anime style, so that the characters appear to be both realistic and animated. The style is brilliant. The environments that you will explore are almost all flat-out gorgeous. Some of the indoor environments get a little boring, but the rest of the game more than makes up for it.
The sound in this game is on par with the really great RPG's. While the sound effects themselves are pretty hard to mess up, the soundtrack could easily have been a place for Square-Enix to save money. They chose not to. The soundtrack composed for this game is incredible. Not only does every piece fit the mood of the scene it accompanies perfectly, it is also music I would want to listen to by itself. This is music on par with Xenogears and Final Fantasy. It increases the joy of the game exponentially.
My first time through the game, I didn't do any side quests or extra leveling. The game took me 60 hours. It is absolutely huge. The amount of stuff crammed onto these two discs is staggering. This game must have a higher word count than the Bible, but it doesn't ever come off as wordy, because there is just so much game here. If the player tries to tackle all the side quests and get every battle trophy, I can easily see that player spending 500 hours on this game. If I were on a desert island and could only have one game, I would consider making it this game. It almost seems I could play it forever.
Well, as you can tell from the breakdown scores, I really like this game! It has it all: Graphics, Sound, Story, Gameplay, and Replayability. If you enjoy RPG's you must buy this game.
RPG fans should buy this game. If you despise RPG's you will despise this game, because it is an RPG through and through. If, like me, you enjoy that, this will be one of the most worthwhile purchases you will ever make.
A rental period isn't enough. Definitely purchase rather than rent.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 08/22/05, Updated 08/23/05
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