Many many years ago (well… 1996,) tri-Ace developed Star Ocean. Spanning across a massive universe, with a colossal skill system, it was something of a hit in Japan. Although it never made its’ way to the United States, the sequel, Star Ocean: The Second Story, still did. It was an instant classic, and even spawned its’ own mini direct sequel (Star Ocean: Blue Sphere, Japan only.) People couldn’t get enough of Claude and his gang. Inevitably, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time was announced, and tri-Ace promised it would be special. After years and years of delays, it was finally released in Japan, with great anticipation and great disappointment. The game was very glitchy and tri-Ace eventually released a Director’s Cut version of the game, with added features and fewer glitches. Luckily enough, the United States, who greatly anticipated the game as well, got the Director’s Cut version (although with the original title still intact.) Was the anticipation worth the wait, and does it do the Star Ocean series justice?
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time stars Fayt Leingod, a nice teenager sporting identity issues, who is awfully attached to our other main character, his pseudo-girlfriend, Sophia Esteed. They start out on their vacation on the planet Hyda, when all of a sudden, they are attacked by unknown forces. Fayt and Sophia do not know what to do, but they are guided to an escape ship. However, Fayt’s mother and father are left behind, causing Fayt and Sophia to worry. As luck would have it, Sophia and Fayt are separated, and Fayt is found escaping a ship that is under attack by the same enemy force. He jumps in an escape pod, and launches himself into space. After a few days in the space pod, he finds himself stranded on a strange planet. His computer informs him that he is on an underdeveloped planet, and due to the universal rules he has to follow, he cannot use or show people on the planet any advanced technology. After a while on this planet, Fayt runs into Cliff, who captures him, and brings him to his spaceship. And wouldn’t you know it, Cliff’s ship is attacked, and they find themselves on another underdeveloped planet in a massive war between two majestic kingdoms.
The story of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is a doozy. Though not the most original, plot twists will be thrown at you without warning, and will shock you. The overall package is an excellent one, and will keep you on your toes. However, there are often parts that drag on longer than they should creating moments of boredom that detract from the overall experience. These moments are few and far between, and there are many scenes that will leave you breathless. The fantastic writing and localization does not hurt Fayt’s adventure either, and often times will leave you wanting more.
That doesn’t go without saying the story doesn’t have flaws. There are often many cliches, and some parts are quite predictable. Also, some of the plot twists (while grand, interesting, and mind blowing), will more often than not, feel out of place and make you think, “huh?” The long and dragged out cutscenes as well as stretched out conversations also hurt the flow of the game and bog down the game’s otherwise sterling story.
Alongside Fayt lies a dull cast of characters. There are over a dozen of these characters, and more often than not, they are poorly developed and offer no history of their past whatsoever. However, the chemistry between some of them is excellent. The dialogue between Fayt and Cliff is fantastic, oftentimes hilarious. Despite those two characters, the cast is pretty boring, and the dialogue between them is yawn inducing. Even though the characters are quite varied, they never seem to hit the mark the way they should.
Gameplay is what Star Ocean: Till the End of Time has become famous for. It sports a realtime battle system, not unlike prior Star Ocean games or Namco’s Tales series. You move your character around on a full 3D landscape at blistering speeds. In most cases, developers wouldn’t be able to pull this kind of battle system off without flaws. And this is the case. While the battle system is fast and intense, there are still glitches within it, and the new features aren’t all that spectacular. You will find yourself slicing at an enemy who is stuck on top of you, or being hit by something you shouldn’t have gotten hit by. This isn’t really a problem later on in the game when the more sci-fi weapons (such as Laser Guns) come into play, but it still gets extremely frustrating. But overall, the battle system is quite fun most of the time, and very addicting. This makes the abundance of sidequests all the more fun.
There are new features added to the usual Star Ocean battle system this time around. Other than the fact that there are only 3 characters on the battle field now, there is the addition of the Fury Gauge and MP Death. The Fury Gauge is like stamina. The more you attack, the less fury you have, and therefore, the fewer attacks you can use. Fury depletes quickly, but can be replenished easily by standing for a few seconds. With your Fury gauge at 100%, a shield barrier will form around you that protects you from any weak attacks. However, strong attacks will crash through the shield and will sometimes cause you to be dazed and paralyzed from the attack for a few minutes. The MP Death is perhaps the most annoying addition to the battle system. While not noticeable until the later half of the game, it can easily cause a vein or two to pop out of someone’s head. MP Death is when you die from running out of MP. Along with the regular HP death, it can cause some intense moments when you do not know which you should heal at the moment. This is a big problem, because you will be dying a lot.
Another change in the Star Ocean series is the Invention System (the old Item Creation.) This allows you to invent your own items using different materials and skills. You can even sign up different Inventors to invent for you in your Inventor’s Guild (kind of like Suikoden and the 108 Stars of Destiny, except with Inventors.) Many inventors are useless, but some of them are needed to create certain items if you even want a chance of beating the later sidequests and dungeons. The main problem with the Invention System is the inventing itself. It is long and tedious, and leads to many failures at creating item. Most players will most likely ignore the entire Invention System until they have beaten the game and are ready to do the extra dungeons. The changes to the Star Ocean battle system and item creation system are flawes, but get the job done.
The biggest addition to the Star Ocean series are the Battle Trophies. Battle Trophies are pretty much goals you achieve throughout the game (such as “Battle 50,000 Times” and things of that sort,) and there are exactly 300 battle trophies to collect. Several of the battle trophies are simple to collect, but many seem downright impossible: such as battle trophies having you beat the final boss with all your battle party members at level one, or spending 200 hours in battle alone. This is an RPG perfectionist’s dream, or worst nightmare depending on who you ask. This adds tons of replay value.
With all the being said, how good are the controls? Well, the controls are nearly impeccable, in battle. The in-battle controls are smooth and present no problems at all, although there can be occasional glitches, but those is hardly ever present. What really makes the out of battle controls so bad is the poor collision detection. It is sometimes very hard to talk to an Inn Keeper, or other NPCs if you are not perfectly aligned with them. This doesn’t become much of a problem once you get used to it, but it certainly is a nuisance.
The music in the game is an incredibly mixed bag. Motoi Sakuraba (composer of some Tales games, all the previous Star Oceans, Valkyrie Profile, and more) has returned to try his hand at the Star Ocean series once again. Most of the time it is successful, but there are several times when it fails. Many tunes from previous Star Ocean titles (and even Valkyrie Profile) return in new, but not great, fashion. The original tracks are what make this soundtrack so mixed. The battle theme (Cutting Edge of Notion) is perhaps one of the best out there, and several other battle songs are fantastic. Songs during cutscenes get the job done, but are sometimes overly dramatic. What really brings the soundtrack down are the songs that play in dungeons and the wilderness pathways. Some of them are decent, but most of them are downright dreadful to the point where the volume will be turned nearly all the way down.
The rest of the sound is very good. The sound effects in the game are great, and many of the nostalgic Star Ocean sounds return. Everything from Fayt’s sword slashing to Cliff’s punching sounds very good. But what makes the sound so good is the voice acting. The voice acting is top notch, and anime fanatics will more than likely recognize a voice or two. There are a few bad apples, though, but the good outweighs the bad. Overall, the sound could be better, but with excellent voice acting and good sound effects, it doesn’t hurt the game one bit.
With this game’s graphics engine being made years ago, the graphics obviously will seem outdated, although they still look pretty good today. The main character models are smooth and nicely animated, but the monsters and townspeople are very simplistic and appear all too often throughout the game. The environments are in full 3D, and are far too similar in most cases. If it were not for the helpful map, then you would find yourself lost many times because a lot of rooms look the same.
What really impresses are the CG cutscenes. They look absolutely gorgeous, and really fit in nicely with the game. There aren’t many of them, but when they do come, they come fast and in enormous fashion. The CG cutscenes are the most impressive thing about the visuals in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. Despite there being only a few, those few are stunning.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is without a doubt one of the most replayable games out there. The story will easily last you over 40 hours, and with the sidequests and leveling of characters, your clock can hit 200 hours in a flash. With the battle trophies, however, be prepared to spend possibly over 1,000 hours on this game alone. There are plenty of unlockables, so there is some incentive to collecting battle trophies.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is an RPG fan’s kind of RPG: lengthy, good story, great battle system, and tons of sidequests. However, some of this might be too much to take in. While the story is good, the gameplay is great, and the replayability is endless, some may find themselves shelving this game after they beat the main quest (maybe even before the main quest ends.) This is easily one of the best RPGs of 2004, and currently one of the best RPGs on the PS2. While there are numerous flaws, and several frustrating things about it, all RPG fans deserve to treat themselves to this frothy, chocolate-filled snack.