The Earth is gone, kaput, we blew it up. Now, the space, the final frontier, the Star Ocean may be our Last Hope. This is Star Ocean IV: The Last Hope – Remastered in 4k!
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: November 2017
Played Full Story
Platforms: PC, PS4
This is the second Star Ocean I’ve ever played, with Star Ocean 5: Integrity and Faithlessness being my entry into the series, and while I loved that title, I noticed a lot of hate towards it, especially when comparing it to this title. That notion and the fact it was remastered made me think I was settling in for an unforgettable adventure, something that would blow my mind in a way very few JRPGs have done.
After playing through it, I can only hope there’s some form of mental bleach so I can scour the memory of this game from my mind. But let’s break it down.
Star Ocean IV: The Last Hope starts with the Earth destroyed, the superpowers of the world having seen the potential of mutually assured destruction and thought “sure, let’s do it!” Nukes fly all over the world and decimate the population. In the wake of the destruction, the world finally achieves peace and unity and what powers remain focus on space exploration, desperate to find humanity’s new home.
With the level of destruction, I kinda wondered just how they managed to pull off the giant space station and the whole warp drive technology, as Earth is a crumbling rock. But I let that slide because the opening cinematic does a wonderful job of explaining the setting with just images and music. The storytelling is clear and you’re left with all the information you need.
So, of course, the moment you start the game, you have to go through the entire sequence all over again with voice-over and subtitles to explain what happened, which annoyed the living hell out of me. It’s unnecessary exposition when the intro had already done the job perfectly. Trust me, there’s no way to misunderstand that sequence, it didn’t need our protagonist monologuing about it, even if it does cut to him reminiscing about these things and wondering if that’s what people were talking about at the event he just skipped.
Star Ocean IV: The Last Hope stars Edge Maverick, a name so dumb I can’t help but laugh just by saying it. He’s your average straight shooter, heart on his sleeve, completely honest and with a strong sense of justice and great instincts that tell him immediately if he should trust or mistrust someone…unless the plot indicates they should all dumb down, but more on that later.
When the game finally starts, the first thing you go through is an optional battle tutorial. I give it props for making the explanations skippable but damn if this combat system isn’t complicated, there are even button combinations to trigger special attacks and ways to chain your skills in battle.
I actually like the active combat system, just think it has too many unnecessary inputs without having the one thing that is truly important in an RPG, target switching. The game decides on its own which enemy you’ll target next, and even though centring your camera on the closest enemy sometimes switches the target, it’s not a certain thing and robs the entire combat of Star Ocean IV of any tactics, making some encounters feel like a slog where you suffer through barrages of attacks until you manage to kill everything. You can’t prioritise targets, take out the casters and so on, which are the basics of any decent combat system. It also means that you’ll often attempt to execute a blindside—where time stops and you move around to the enemy’s blind spot—and fail because your current target is not attacking you, but everyone else is.
Boss fights are especially bad, for several reasons. First, in a game where you can see enemy health from the start, bosses offer no indication whatsoever of how close you are to defeating them, they have massive health pools and they completely break the combat system. For example, the second boss is a flyer, a type of enemy that you can sometimes hit from the ground in the isometric combat arena but other times you just don’t. The boss fight then becomes a tedious exercise of attempting to hit the flying thing and a lot of useless flailing.
In general, bosses do not obey the same rules as other enemies, with arena-wide area attacks, no delay between powers, rush gauges—remember I mentioned the button combination for special attacks, it’s when you have a maxed rush gauge—that build at the speed of light, knockback or stun-lock on every little move and splash damage attacks with hitboxes way larger than their animations indicate.
Boss fights are an endless slog, a painful torture instead of an epic encounter.
Worse still is that the artificial intelligence of your comrades is frankly appalling, and I can’t tell you how many times boss fights devolved into an item spending spree to constantly revive party members who would always rush the enemy, even if they are ranged characters and never got out of the way of obvious attacks. In fact, many times I saw them running towards the big lasers of doom.
You can switch around control of the party members, but the moment you leave one, the artificial idiocy takes over so it’s a recipe for disaster. Most of the times I ended boss fights with just a single character, keeping them alive as I slowly battered the hell out of the enemy, abusing the blindside system to deliver the very deserving can of whoopass. At best, I’d keep another member of the four-character party alive, just to have the boss switch targets and give me openings.
One of the complaints fans had of Star Ocean V is that you don’t travel to new worlds, and that’s something you do in Star Ocean IV, quite a lot in fact, as the story takes you across the galaxy. I only wish planets were memorable. Don’t get me wrong, the environments are beautiful, from lush forests to tropical jungles and snowy mountains but they just feel samey, as if they were part of the same world, and it doesn’t help that all the worlds essentially have the same enemy types. I don’t mind palette swaps, but in a game where you explore the cosmos? That’s just lazy, and robs Star Ocean IV of the wonder and awe of landing in a new planet.
There are a couple of locations with unique enemies, but they’re one-shots.
Another issue I have is that though you can freely travel to any world you’ve already visited, there is really no reason to go back to any of them unless the story demands it. The worlds are limited, very small in scope, having only the areas you visit during the region’s section of the plot. There’s nothing to discover as you unlock new abilities, save for a few item chests, which are really not worth the trip.
But my greatest issue with Star Ocean IV is with the plot and the characters.
The story makes very little sense. The basic premise revolves around this mysterious meteors or crystals that turn creatures into monsters, which another character then says are sentient and have a genocidal goal, which culminates in a battle against a world-eating planet, which kinda reminded of the War Planets: Shadow Raiders cartoon, but without the same level of coherence. There is no thread that leads from dealing with the isolated cases to the final confrontation. Instead after you reach the machine world and deal with the issue, you’re informed of the big bad world so you travel there and kill the being that feeds it power…who, in theory had to be there all the time or the planet dies, yet as part of the plot, he’s around you for 90% of the story, opening plot holes bigger than any black hole in space. There are also too many damn ultra-long cutscenes.
There isn’t a gradual exploration of the plot, with the stakes rising and your knowledge increasing. It’s just a bunch of one-off encounters, a couple of moments of vague explanations and then the big evil info dump for the final battle.
And that’s without considering how much of the content feels like distracting tangents, one-off sequences that add nothing to the story and aren’t even compelling. The time travel to the 1950s Earth is exactly this, and it’s a forced attempt to make the main character grow but is instead the last straw for me to officially despise every character in the game, especially Mr. Edge Maverick.
Aside from Edge, who’s just unbearably whiny and melodramatic, there’s Reimi, who’s the most stereotypical childhood girl-next-door character I’ve seen in years, down to the moments of fake embarrassment and calling the main character a pervert. There’s a one-dimensional cat girl, an edgy brooding guy with a scythe, or discount Magus as I call him, a girl with wings I hated immediately, a gigantic-boobed sorcerer with what can only be described as female RPG armour, a holographic assistant with the most annoying personality in history and who gets a cutscene every time you attempt to craft an item, and a robot man, who might just be the only decent guy, even if he’s just there for the info dumps.
There one character remaining and deserves special attention, Lymle, the creepiest kid in any video game. Her animations are stiff and doll-like, her eyes are dead and though a child in concept, her demeanour just feels off. She has this annoying tendency of saying “’kay?” at the end of every sentence (“na no yo” in Japanese), and not only is she unlikable, but her childish demeanour and innocence comes off as fake, and just ups the creep factor by a million.
It doesn’t help that most character models look like they’re made of plastic. It turns Lymle into one of those creepy Victorian dolls. She’s awful.
I thank that Star Ocean IV lets me switch to the Japanese voice acting, because I could not tolerate the English cast beyond the first twenty minutes. If I had to go through the overperformed dramatic moments of Edge’s trauma with alternate past Earth with the English voice actor, I don’t think I’d be alive to tell you about it. It is that awful.
The music is fine, but nothing really stands out.
As I said, fandom turned against Star Ocean V: Integrity and Faithlessness, but that game is a masterpiece compared to the Star Ocean IV: The Last Hope train wreck. And it’s not even those train wrecks you kinda want to see happen, but the really bad ones, where you just want to burn the memories from your mind but know that you can’t and that the sight and voice of Lymle will haunt you to the end of your days!
2/5 – Mediocre