Star Ocean 4: Earth-Blowing-Up goodness

Oh, hey, looks like we get a sort-of positive posting for a change. Granted, Star Ocean: The Last Hope is still kind of on the wrong side of mediocre, but it’s better than the shitfest that was Star Ocean: ’til the End of This Terrible Game. Man, I could go on about how shitty that game was.  In fact, I think I will. It’ll make explaining why I’m actually liking SO4 a bit easier.
So, let’s get this out of the way. Star Ocean 3 had the most retarded plot twist ever. Even worse, it was a retconning plot twist that effects the entire series. Are you folks ready?

A good ways into the game, the universe is invaded by beings from “4d space”, intending to wipe out civilization in the region the game takes place in. The party finds a way to enter 4d Space and confront the 4d Beings. Upon entering 4d Space, they learn that their entire universe was actually a video game. Not just any video game, either. The entirety of the Star Ocean series  has been one big Massively Multiplayer Online RPG.

Yes, you’ve been playing a game in which takes place inside fucking anime WoW in space. It’s like .hack, but somehow even more retarded.

So the party confronts the lead designer of Space W0W because he thinks that the AI in Space WoW is getting too advanced and thus wants to wipe the server and start over . This is the final boss. Apparently, 500 years in the future,  game designers are high powered uber beings. This sure doesn’t sound like wish fulfillment by triAce, no sir it doesn’t. The game ends with some Descartes bullshit about “I Think Therefore I am” because the characters can think. If this is true, somewhere, Deep Blue is plotting its revenge, waiting to murder everybody who forces it to waste its talents playing fucking chess.

Seriously, though. Somebody wrote that plot twist. Somebody edited that twist. Somebody looked at it and thought it was a good idea. Somebody cleared it to be put in the game. Somebody allowed the game to be printed and sent to stores. Somebody also sold it to me for $20. Douche.

There were other things that made Star Ocean 3 shitty. It stripped out a lot of the fun elements of the previous games that made them stand out from other RPGs, and generally replaced them with inferior systems. The character designs were terrible. The main character’s name was Fate Linegod, which was only slightly made more berable in the US version where it was Fayt Leingod (which I guess is 5% less anime bullshit). When given the opportunity to make any weapon he could think of, the main character makes a sword (a weak one at that) because “lol it’s like a video game!” (HA HA HA triAce, with your goddamned foreshadowing….I hope you all burn). The voice acting was terrible. The controls don’t work nearly as well as they should (I don’t get why PS2 developers actually continued using the preasure buttons). Despite the whole point of the goddamned plot twist being that the AI was getting too smart, the actual party AI is borderline useless and they’ve largely stripped out all of the AI options Star Ocean 2 introduced. Characters with guns will run in to perform melee attacks, despite being far too weak to survive going toe-to-toe with monsters. Oh, and aside from having your HP reduced to 0 killing you like any other game, you die if your MP reaches 0 too. Somebody actually thought MP Death was a good idea. I hope they’ve been disallowed from game design, as well as anybody who shares a single chromasome with them. Can’t let any chance of that stupid getting anywhere near a video game.

I hate Star Ocean 3 and I hate triAce for making it. They should feel bad or something.
But this LttP is about Star Ocean 4! So let’s talk about why I’m actually liking it for the 30 hours I’ve put into it.

triAce knows that the fucking plot twist from SO3 renders any further game impossible to take seriously. They could even reboot the series, and you wouldn’t be able to ignore the feeling that the fucking MMO thing is still in effect, since a series reboot could be explained as a goddamed reboot of the game itself. Fuck triAce.

So, the series can’t be taken seriously any more. Thus, triAce decided that the best course of action was to go with a more light-hearted plot. Much of the game actually feels like a bad episode of Star Trek’s original series. That was pretty bad, so I guess that makes the stuff going on in Star Ocean 4 double bad. Twice more than originally expected. This isn’t such a terrible thing, because Star Trek was endearing in its cheesiness and SO4 is the same. At one point, the party even goes back in time, blows up a certain planet, and then return to the present to eventually move on as if nothing happened (at least, after Anime Kirk stops bawling about blowing up said planet). It’s all cheesy fun.

Oh, yeah, this actually brings up another good point about Star Ocean 4: it actually uses the goddamned sci-fi setting to a decent extent. Where as the past three games have largely stranded its parties on underdeveloped (re: typical RPG fantasy bullshit) and only really make little use of the sci-fi until really late in the game, much of Star Ocean 4 actually feels like it’s actually exploring the sci-fi universe that they’ve spent the past few games building up. You actually move around planets pretty frequently, and you only go to two medieval fantasy planets (at least as far as I can tell). Also, while some of the party resorts to using swords and other decidedly non-sci-fi weaponry, they at least give explainations for them beyond “lol, it’s a video game” (fuck you Star Ocean 3).

The cast seems pretty interesting this time around. Edge Maverick, the less retardedly named protagonist is pretty much anime Reboot-Kirk for part of the game, and he quickly is promoted to captain of the USS Enterprise SRF Calnus (actually a running ship name in Star Ocean, much like the Enterprise). He is joined by Reimi (the resident (s)mother hen to Edge), Faize (anime Spock, right down to the pointy ears), BACCHUS-D79 (a cyborg), and more I don’t feel like talking about.

The gameplay is also vastly improved. Skills are back (yay!), even if they aren’t as extensive as Star Ocean 2 (aw), so character customization is much better than SO3’s. Skills are often either exclusive to single characters or sets of characters, so it’s impossible to have a character learn everything. This also means that each character only gets one of the crafting abilities and one of the harvesting abilities. Because of this, you have to wait until you get a full party before you can really begin to take advantage of crafting or harvesting.  The crafting system is still kind of bullshit in comparison to what it’s been in the past, but it’s at least an improvement over 3’s. Harvesting is new to the series. All across the game, you’ll see little points where you use skills like harvest or mining to draw out resources. As your skill level improves, you can find more and better stuff.

Combat is much better, playing like an improved version of Star Ocean 2. Special attacks have been returned to the shoulder buttons, rather than being tied to pressure buttons, making them easy to pull off.  A new mechanic, called Blindsiding, amps the pace of battles, as well as giving you more to do. Party AI, though still lacking all the options that SO2 had, is much more reliable. Characters that are equipped with ranged weapons will now actually sit back and fight enemies from afar, rather than jumping into the mix of things. The game actually seems a bit easier because of it, since your party isn’t constantly in danger of dying. A rage-system has been thrown in, where characters who attack or are hit enough to fill up a little bar can go into a fury, where they have improved combat abilities and other perks. This is combined with the game allowing you to set your characters into two different combat styles, a defensive style that places along better with the fury system, and a more offensive style that goes more for the Blindsiding. Styles also have an effect on your characters stats. These two styles level up as you use them, unlocking better stat bonuses and other ability perks. There is a third neutral style. This one doesn’t level up, but it gives you the stat bonuses for your current levels in both styles, though you give up the ability perks. The combat bonus board has returned, and it’s much more managable. You don’t loose your bonuses as easily as you did in SO3, and there are multiple bonuses that you can get depending on how you fight.

On the down side, I hate the character designs for some of the characters. I don’t get this trend by RPG developers to design characters with busy outfits. Claude from Star Ocean 2 wore jeans, a black undershirt, and a tan military jacket. Edge of Star Ocean 4 has all sorts of different armor pieces all over him. I mean, look:

From this

To this

They try to explain Edge’s design away as being a quirk of a new type of spacesuit, but it’s just an excuse to keep with the typical anime designs. Can’t win them all, I guess. RPGs really need to go back to more simplistic designs.

The game is really pretty. Though the art direction blows the big one for many of the characters, the game’s different settings all look very neat, save for the one icey world and the alien mothership. The visual do have some minor problems. Most noteably, since everything is shiny, it’s way to easy to miss treasure and harvesting points. Honestly, if it weren’t for the automap, players would probably miss a ton of stuff and probaby even get lost pretty often.

The sound really isn’t anything to write home about. Much of the music is typical Sakuraba, so it’s all pretty interchangable. I will say that the remixes of tunes from Star Ocean 1 are pretty solid, if not really great. The voice acting is also fairly decent, especially considering how bad SO3’s turned out, so that’s a plus.

I think the best summary is that Star Ocean 4 is a mediocre but fun game that manages to at least overpower its flaws with its quality portions. It also won’t give you cancer, which Star Ocean 3 probably can’t say*.

*May not be scientifically proven.

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