For the few of you that are interested in reading this silly old blog of mine, I apologize profusely for the extreme delay in this post. But that’s what happens when your computer breaks and you have no money with which to replace it, so you have to wait four months for some French-Canadian dude that you know to give you one of his old computers that he totally doesn’t need anymore, and then you find out that your wireless internet adaptor doesn’t work with the new computer so you have to buy a long-ass ethernet cable, and then when you finally have a working internet connection, you find that you totally have no desire to write anything until today. So, for all of that, I am truly sorry. And hopefully, I will now be back to posting semi-regularly. But maybe not, because I’m moving again in a week. But I’ll try.
Anyway, on to the post at hand!
There was a point, not too long ago, when I enjoyed nothing more than a new JRPG to commandeer all of my free time. I mentioned in my Final Fantasy Retrospective that the RPG genre was and is my favorite video game genre, though the JRPG has fallen a little lower on my list of video game priorities. But back in those years, when to me, the JRPG was just the cat’s meow, two video game developers had their paws elbow deep in my wallet.
These developers were Gust, the developers of the Atelier, Ar Tonelico, and Mana Khemia series. The other was Tri-Ace, of Valkyrie Profile and Star Ocean fame. And that’s the developer about which I would like to speak today.
It all started in 1999 in my local video rental store. Every week or so, my parents would allow me to rent a new video game for a few days. And back then, this was how I decided which video games that I wanted to own. And during this particular visit to the video store in 1999, I was walking down the PlayStation aisle and came across a new game entitled Star Ocean: The Second Story. For some reason, I had been led to believe that this particular game was a sequel to Lunar: Silver Star Story (the PlayStation remake. I had no idea that it had been a Sega CD game with an already established sequel. I was twelve and had very limited internet access, so how could I know?), one of my favorite games at the time. And the pictures on the back of the box even looked kind of similar. So, I grabbed it.
After popping Star Ocean into my PS1, I quickly realized that it was clearly not of any relation to my beloved Lunar. But at the same time, I also realized that this was far better than my beloved Lunar. It had detailed character sprites, rather than the squat potato people of Lunar (though Lunar had much better monster sprites, I will give it that). It had a fast-paced, real-time battle system. It had a complex story with multitudinous endings with a large cast of playable characters, all of which interact differently with each other. Star Ocean: The Second Story was and is a great game. And, more importantly for this post, it got me very interested in Tri-Ace.
From then on, you could say that I was Tri-Ace’s bitch. Every time a new game of theirs was released, I grabbed it immediately. Even Infinite Undiscovery, which I barely even played, because it was so bad (the last original game I ever bought from them was Resonance of Fate, which soured me to Tri-Ace altogether. I have no idea what they’re doing anymore). So, if I was willing to buy those turds of games, you can imagine how incredibly excited I was when a new Star Ocean game was released. It was called Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time. Even the title sounded poetic.
The game certainly looked promising. I mean, even though the series had transitioned to 3-D character models instead of sprites, it still looked similar to the previous game, so my hopes were high. But as it turns out, this game would be the beginning of Tri-Ace’s descent into suckitude.
Except it almost wasn’t. That’s why this game still hurts me so badly. It was a great game until it suddenly wasn’t.
Firstly, Star Ocean 3 has a fantastic battle system. It took the great system from the last game and made it more dynamic and hectic. It had a pretty steep learning curve, however. It took me a long while to fully understand and master it. But once I did… damn. To this day, I think that Star Ocean 3 has my single favorite RPG battle system of all time.
Graphically, I’d say it’s about on par with the PS2 standard of the day. Some of the cutscenes and spaceships look amazing. Some of the character models, textures, and monsters look less so. Not to mention, the character that you control runs like a freaking weirdo.
The character interaction that made the previous games so engaging are still intact here, but the impact of them is considerably lower. In the previous game, you can get multiple endings involving the pairing up of any two characters, each getting their own little scene before the credits. In here, however, you can only pair up the main character with one other character. And that makes it far less interesting.
Speaking of the main character, what the hell is up with Tri-Ace and their characters’ names? The main character here is named, I shit you not, Fayt Leingod. That is the stupidest name of all damn time. Now, you could say, “Hey. It’s a fantasy/sci-fi game. That kind of thing happens. Haven’t you ever heard of Daenerys Targaryen? Or Aragorn, son of Arathorn? Those are equally odd names, and they fit perfectly!” and normally, you’d be right. But those stories take place in their own worlds with their own rules, and I can buy those names and accept them, even if I don’t particularly like them. But Star Ocean takes place in our universe. Fayt here if from Earth. He has a gal pal named Sophia. He meets another Earthling named Maria. So, how in the world did he end up with a stupid name like that? And that’s not even the worst of it. Throughout the game, you get new party members from different planets. They’re humanoid, sure, but they’re still aliens. Do you know what their names are? Peppita, Cliff, and Roger, just to name a few. Again, these are aliens with distinctly Earthling names. So where the fuck does Fayt come from?! I’m sorry to sit here and dwell on this, but it has bugged me ever since I first played the game! If Cliff had been named Fayt Leingod, I still wouldn’t like the name, but I could accept it. Tri-Ace has always been silly about naming their characters. In the previous game, the Earthling character is named Claude. Okay, nothing wrong there. That’s a good, Earthling name. But what’s his father’s name, you ask? Ronixis. While one of the aliens is named Noel Chandler. What the poop? And what’s the main Earthling character’s name in the fourth game? Edge Maverick. Ugh…
But seriously, I’m done bitching about stupid names.
So how is it, do you ask, that a game with my absolute favorite battle system can fail so hard in your eyes, O Wise Organ Miner?
Well, to properly answer your question, I have to tell you a little about myself. I am a gamer of the belief that, in most cases, story is king. Story trumps gameplay. I can have a game with the best game feel I’ve ever experienced, but as soon as the story becomes stupid, all of the enjoyment is completely sucked out of the game for me. Now, that doesn’t mean a game is automatically bad if it doesn’t have the best story. And it doesn’t mean a game is automatically good if it has a good story. There has to be a certain balance between the two, but given the choice between story and gameplay, I’ll take story every time.
So what that means here is that if I was a person that valued gameplay more than story, I would consider Star Ocean 3 a great game. But, I value story. And this story sucks. In fact, it takes a monstrous, watery dump all over the entire story of the whole series. Star Ocean, Star Ocean: The Second Story, and Star Ocean: The Last Hope (the fourth game) are all made worse by the story of this game. In fact, the only way that I can still enjoy the second one is if I straight-up pretend Till The End of Time simply doesn’t exist.
And what really sucks about this is that, until a certain point in the middle of the game, the story is fine. It’s not the best, but it was okay. But then, out of nowhere, the writers just seemed to think, “Hey, you know what would make this story a lot better? If we made this story a lot fucking worse!”. And what really, really sucks for me is that I can’t properly explain why this story sucks so hard without spoiling the whole game. But what I can say is that it takes the events from the first two games and the events thus far in this game, and makes them practically meaningless. In fact, now that I really think about it, the story is actually something that’s been told a hundred billion times, only in a much stupider way with way more plot holes. And it’s made even worse by the fact that, even if it is a cliché, it still had potential and could have been a cool story. And it’s made even worse by the fact that the ending comes so close to fixing it, but falls short.
And one last thing, the optional secret dungeon with over 200 floors is one of the most tedious and horrible things I have ever experienced in gaming and it leads to nothing but two of the most bullshit battles in gaming history.
And you know what the really fucked up part is? I still give Star Ocean: Till The End of Time a recommendation. Because in the end, it still has a battle system that, when mastered, is one of the most fluid and satisfying systems out there, not even equalled by the following game in the series. The Private Actions, though not as involved as the second game, are still great fun to see. And though the story really doesn’t rub me the right way, I can actually see others enjoying it… kinda. You need to decide for yourself.
Gameplay: 8/10: There were a couple things that I didn’t mention that take points away here, like not being able to fast travel and some stupid dungeons and puzzles.
Music: 6/10: I’d say it’s above average, but not very memorable.
Graphics: 7/10: Again, about on par with PS2 standards, but with some really nice ones, and some not-so-nice ones.