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Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Tri-Ace
Genre: Turn-based RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 08/31/04
Japan 3/13/03



Scorecard
Graphics: 88%
Sound: 84%
Gameplay: 94%
Control: 85%
Story: 78%
Overall: 92%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Simplistic character models, but gorgeous nonetheless.
 
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Fate investigates Airyglyph Castle’s beautiful ramparts.
 
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Fate and Sophia turn up the "heat" in battle.
 
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Impressive spell effects grace a stellar combat system.
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Ryan Mattich
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
09/25/03
Ryan Mattich
It all began in 1961 A.D. Nurturing an insatiable thirst for knowledge, man began his journey to explore the worlds beyond his own. Modest steps of progress led them along a path of discovery, reaching as far back as Sputnik and the Space Shuttle, forward through the invention of warp drive itself. It is now S.D. 772, and four millennia have come and gone since the events of Star Ocean: The Second Story. High technology flourishes like never before on Earth; the Statue of Liberty finds herself hoisted high above the streets in a New York City of the future, as a dozen waves of hovercraft glide leisurely past her. An interplanetary alliance between worlds known as the Galaxy Federation continues to thrive, and mankind presses continually forward in his attempts to conquer the outer regions of space.

"Once again, to the ocean of stars~"

Enter Fate Linegod, a student of Heraldry Genetics at a renowned Federation science academy. His parents are highly respected researchers in the same field, and at the age of nineteen, he exhibits exceptional compassion, vehemently defends his friends, and shows a level of determination unsurpassed by his peers. Accompanying them is Sophia Esteed, a shy seventeen year old girl who also happens to be a childhood friend to Fate. Having grown up together, the two share a very strong bond of affection with one another. These four individuals find themselves on vacation, taking a voyage together to a distant Federation planet via the transportation ship "Grand Tear". While Fate is showing off his combat skills to Sophia in a battle simulation chamber, the two are unaware of the events developing outside the illusions they are surrounded by.

Unidentified aggressors begin their assault on the vessel. As emergency sirens blare throughout the ship, Fate and Sophia make their way to the escape pods only to find that the enemies have already arrived. Resourcefully grabbing a steel pipe, the hero makes short work of the parasitic invaders, but he is not strong enough to stop the entire force. As the deck is ignited ablaze, Fate watches as his parents are trapped between the alien forces and a wall of flame. They urge the children to flee, so a torn and teary-eyed Fate and an understandably distraught Sophia manage to escape the Grand Tear unscathed.

An unfortunate series of events separates Fate and Sophia; and the hero finds himself in a brutal crash-landing on the undeveloped planet "Vanguard 3." The land is covered in thick patches of trees and is home to a vast, ancient ruin. As Fate carves his way through this uncharted territory, he finds himself in Whipple Village, a quaint and quiet town nestled deep within the forest. Here, he meets Nokia, an orphaned boy taking care of his little brother. The two live alone together, but extend themselves to tend to the needs of a very weary and confused Fate. As Fate learns of the severe oppression these people are under at hands of a man named Norton, he sets off to the ruins in order to liberate the friends who have aided him so selflessly.

Thus begins the story of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, one which will take gamers across multiple vast planets, to the depths of outer space, and to places far beyond initial expectations. Along Fate’s journey, he will meet an array of allies that will aid him on his quest. The first of these friends is Cliff Fitter, a thirty-six year old native of the Claustro System. Together, they meet Nell Zelpher, a twenty-three year old spy hailing from the Kingdom of Sealand. She is assigned to keep watch over Fate, although her motives are initially unclear. What she does reveal, however, is the ongoing conflict between her kingdom and the Kingdom of Airyglyph, a snow-covered land to the far west. The war between these two lands, torn over disagreements regarding technological developments and other issues, becomes a key factor in the initial maturation of the plot.

On the flip side of the coin, hailing from Airyglyph is Arbel Nox, one of the high commanders of their finest assault squad. A fierce dragon rider brandishing a katana, he is a powerful force to be reckoned with and always teeters on the brink of insanity. Other characters who emerge along the way include Maria Traitor, a gun-toting Federation girl with a mysterious link to Fate, Souffle Rossetti, a fourteen year old stage performer, and Roger S. Huxley, a member of the Menodics, a race of Halflings. Each of these individuals will play an integral role in the development of Star Ocean’s storyline, and has much more depth to them than will initially meet the eye.

Ironically, the plot of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is actually the least that this superb package from Tri-Ace has to offer. While deep and likable individuals, they lack the strong influence required to be driving elements of the storyline. Instead, they fall victim to rather common clichés and are merely dragged along for the ride. This does not make the overall story’s experience a poor one, but when an excellent plot is set and then takes a very drastic and artistic turn towards the end, it leaves a residue of dissatisfaction. In this regard, Star Ocean is very similar in nature to Xenogears; both titles end up feeling very rushed through their latter halves, and neither is allowed the time they require to build up and achieve a proper climax. Despite any faults its unique ability to take a setting with its roots in science fiction, and fuse it seamlessly with elements of fantasy and mythology is only surpassed by the incredibly engaging gameplay that Star Ocean has to offer.

Fans of Till the End of Time’s PlayStation predecessor will be pleased to hear that the newest installment of the Star Ocean series does an excellent job refining the shortcomings of the second title; using an already strong foundation to build and improve upon the gameplay mechanics.

The battle system in Star Ocean is truly the highlight of the experience. Combat is conducted in real time, and the player must actively input commands to the characters on the field in order to unleash their assaults upon the enemy. Up to three characters are allowed in battle at any given time, but they can be switched out for members in reserve once the fight has reached its conclusion. While the player can only control one of the three characters at a time, he can switch and take command of any other member at a touch of the L1/R1 buttons, leaving the remaining two members to be directed by the game’s AI. Making excellent use of the PlayStation 2’s analog buttons; a light pressing of ‘Circle’ or ‘X’ will result in a normal physical attack, while pushing the buttons with greater force allows for the execution of up to four equipped battle skills. Each character may also equip two support skills to aid in combat. The support skills are not directly used by the player, however, and the game will determine the magnitude of their influence based upon the proficiency of the character in that specific art. As would be expected, Heraldry (Magic) also makes a return in Till the End of Time, and like in The Second Story, it is accessed by pressing the Triangle button and scrolling through a menu of available spells.

Another innovation introduced in the newest Star Ocean is the "Guts Meter." As you fight enemies, chaining together large combos and avoiding taking damage yourself will cause this meter to increase. When it is maxed out, your party will receive special bonuses after each battle. These bonuses include increased HP recovery, 2X money received, and even 3X experience received. The longer you can keep your Guts Meter full, more of these bonuses will be tacked on and awarded to you. The meter, once filled, will also be full at the beginning of the following battle, and will stay full until you fail to perform well in combat or take a critical hit. At this point, it shatters, drops to zero, and must be rebuilt once again.

The combat in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time can be described as nothing less than heavenly. It is fast, furious, and ultimately fun throughout the entirety of the game. Furthermore, like The Second Story’s vocal collection, Till the End of Time features a "battle collection" that can be filled by completing certain mission objectives (killing bosses without being hit, defeating enemies within a certain time limit, etc.). Unlike the previous game, random encounters have been eliminated; enemies are available to see on the screen now and can be avoided by stealthy tactics. With as many battles as players must wade through in the course of an RPG, loading times are often a point of concern. Gamers need not be worried, though; Star Ocean’s loading times are, in all practicality, nonexistent. Each town, area map, or battle takes no more than one or two seconds to load in its entirety.

Dungeon exploration has also been modified and made just a little bit more interesting by the addition of an on-screen map. The map starts out blank and fills in newly explored territory as the player carves his way through the area. Beside the map, the dungeon’s name and a percentage of completion are clearly displayed. Although not always necessary, it is often a good idea to try and earn 100% map completion on every area you pass through. Thorough map exploration is a tremendous chore; it requires the gamer to run along every wall in the entire area, often multiple times, and is nothing short of being extraneous tedium. The rewards for such work are significant as items that increase the attack speed of your entire party are often presented for map completion. Dungeons are also highly interactive; ice on the floor can result in Fate and friends slipping and falling if you move too quickly, and certain walls and barriers can be broken down and destroyed in the latter half of the game once a particular piece of equipment is procured.

Star Ocean’s infamous Private Actions, side events in which individual relationships between characters can be fostered, also make a return in Till the End of Time, but not in the same form as fans have previously seen. No longer is a specific button pressed in front of a town in order to execute these scenes, they are integrated seamlessly into the events of the game itself. When entering a town, your party may split up, and different characters will leave to go about their own business in the area. If you seek them out, talk to them, and make conversational decisions; relationships between the party begin to develop and can ultimately have a profound impact on the multiple endings the game has to offer. There is a lot of non-linearity to be found in this system and utilizing it to its fullest truly allows the gamer to flesh out the on-screen personalities.

Item Creation is also available for gamers to explore in Till the End of Time, but it is greatly simplified from the form we last saw it in The Second Story. Each town has a Factory that contains a certain set of equipment for creating one or two specific categories of items, and it is possible to upgrade such facilities to be able to create even more of the eight categories of items. While each member of your party has his or her own intrinsic talents (or shortcomings) in each of these fields, a true master of Item Creation knows that the best equipment in the game can not be made on his own. As a result, there are a multitude of "Creators" across the land that can be hired to work for you. Some merely ask for a fee, and others will have you running back and forth across the planet on various fetch quests in order to earn their services. Being highly specialized, however, their support can greatly affect your ability to make quality products.

Item Creation is a very powerful tool that not only has the potential to unlock the best hidden equipment in the game, but also allows for a great deal of customization of your party. Similarly, the majority of Star Ocean’s gameplay develops based upon how much energy you are willing to devote to it. It is also an incredibly expensive process that can quickly drain all of your financial resources in a span of five minutes if you find yourself with an unlucky combination of Creators. Each attempt at synthesis, whether it is a success or a failure, costs a hefty amount of money, particularly if you are aiming for making each character’s best weapons. Till the End of Time is one game where you can never have enough money in the bank.

Of the eight playable characters in the game (six of which can be selected to join your entourage), only one of them is intrinsically able to learn and use magic. How can the other members be customized to make use of the power of Heraldry? In Till the End of Time, Skill Books and Magic Books can be written to supplement a character’s cornucopia of talents.

The overall journey a linear one, but there are always a plethora of side quests to undertake, as small as hidden events and conversations, to two bonus dungeons of grandiose proportion; available only after the game’s completion. Fans of Tri-Ace’s previous works can expect to be delighted at a few of the surprises within.

Equally surprising is the incredibly high caliber of Till the End of Time’s visuals. The game runs at a very smooth 60 FPS, and as previously mentioned, loading is virtually non-existent between all areas. A very convenient camera is able to be rotated a full 360 degrees at all times, ensuring that every corner of the world can be explored. Environments are of breathtaking quality; from the ancient castle walls of Airyglyph, to the flowing waterfalls of Sealand, and the intricate technological presentation of areas such as the Firewall and the Sphere Corporation; every environment stands out on its own as a unique and detailed presentation. Enemy models also show the same care in design; encountering a palette-swapped beast is very rare, and the foes tend to vary greatly in size, from small insects to gargantuan bosses that tower over your characters. The character models are used both in and out of battle and are significantly less detailed than in titles such as Final Fantasy X or Xenosaga Episode 1. Despite being slightly more limited in terms of their expression ranges, they are still aesthetically pleasing. As always, a glimpse of Star Ocean’s screenshots can easily do the work of a thousand words.

The same can be said for an RPG’s soundtrack, but gamers can rest assured that Motoi Sakuraba has returned to lend his talent once again to the world of Star Ocean. His work in the latest installment, however, is inferior to his previous compositions in titles such as Star Ocean: The Second Story, and especially Valkyrie Profile. Although each song tends to fit its respective locale quite appropriately, they tend to lack the powerful emotional drive that fans of songs such as "Stab the Sword of Justice," "Theme of Rena," and "Turn Over a New Leaf" know so well. Till the End of Time’s soundtrack would be better labeled as "less-inspired" than "disappointing," though. The majority of the gaming public will certainly find the tracks acceptable and enjoyable, but hardcore fans of Sakuraba’s work realize his immense potential as a composer and will be left craving more.

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is a rare title; it nurtures the capacity for greatness and makes very few mistakes along the way. Providing even the most thorough gamers a minimum of 60 gameplay hours, and it is to date the finest RPG to be released on the PlayStation 2 console. North American RPG fans; get ready for Star Ocean when it arrives in Spring of 2004. Exhilarating battles and open-ended gameplay give this title the depth and promise to carry its journey far in the hearts of gamers everywhere; a true masterpiece from Tri-Ace and Enix.



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© 2003 Tri-Ace/SQUARE ENIX
All Rights Reserved.



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