Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PlayStation 2) review
"In the distant future a hostile alien race is about to attack. The target: Hyda IV, a posh resort planet where vacationers from all parts of the galaxy gather for sunbathing and slurpies. When the villainous Vendeeni strike, the defenseless tourists are evacuated and scattered across the galaxy. One of these unfortunate refugees is our blue-haired hero, Fayt Leingod, an ordinary college student from Earth. Aside from his famous scientist parents, Fayt has led a simple and ordinary life. It shoul..."
In the distant future a hostile alien race is about to attack. The target: Hyda IV, a posh resort planet where vacationers from all parts of the galaxy gather for sunbathing and slurpies. When the villainous Vendeeni strike, the defenseless tourists are evacuated and scattered across the galaxy. One of these unfortunate refugees is our blue-haired hero, Fayt Leingod, an ordinary college student from Earth. Aside from his famous scientist parents, Fayt has led a simple and ordinary life. It should come as no surprise then, that he is the warrior who is destined to save the universe.
Despite its big name publisher, Square-Enix's latest entry in the Star Ocean franchise fails to deliver on almost every level. Its pretentious and lengthy plot, one-dimensional characters, repetitive battles, and poor dungeon design leave little to be praised. Fortunately, a few bright spots save Fayt's adventures from disintegrating into a total disaster. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is set in an extremely detailed universe; the details can (and do) fill a virtual textbook in the game's menu. This world is attractive and busy; the clear, colorful environments are littered with mini-games, items, and side quests. The characters are anime styled and well animated, and their voices are surprisingly competent. If the storyline and combat system had been given the same consideration the graphics and sound received the result would have been a much more playable game.
Star Ocean's story is riddled with clichés from its sci-fi prologue, through some cookie-cutter fantasy subplots, right down to its overblown, conspiracy driven climax. Warring space federations fight for power; a medieval kingdom is defended by sword-toting, leather clad, ninja wenches; a secret research team uncovers a dire threat to civilization; and a lost boy searches through a vast universe for his tragically captured family. Within the first few hours, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time has already failed multiple attempts to be surprising, touching, and exciting. Its Frankenstein of a plot staggers along, dragging the reluctant player with it. The illusion persists that the story is going to get better, but it never does. The outrageous yet predictable twists keep coming, as though the script was written by a Star Trek fan with Tourette’s syndrome.
Even the most deformed plot can be tolerable if the characters are appealing. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, however, fails just as miserably here. Though Fayt acquires a number of different companions, from the child performer Peppita Rosetti to the subversive leader Maria Traydor, your party members all have two things in common: none will experience any real development during the game, and all will remind you of characters you've seen in other, superior, role-playing games. Take, for example, Adray Lasbard, one of the characters exclusive to the Director’s Cut of the game. Adray will immediately call to mind Final Fantasy VII’s Barrett: a big burly man with a big soft heart. Unfortunately that’s all the depth there is to Adray, and the rest of the characters also suffer from this deficit in personality. Fortunately, you’ll only have to put up with three of these secondary characters through the bulk of the game. Most of the others have purely optional appearances associated with subplots that add little of value to the adventure. When their mini-quest ends, you’ll be relieved to see them go. Of the major characters, Fayt in particular is flat and lifeless. His personality is pure, unadulterated, selfless hero. He follows every rule in the book, takes pity on orphans, and always risks his life for helpless women. He is moral to a fault, and completely uninteresting.
In the course of his many mercy missions, Fayt will stumble into some dangerous situations. Each area has about five different enemy types for Fayt and his party to contend with. These creatures stroll about on the main map where they are easily avoidable by anyone with reasonable skill in the fine art of walking. Avoiding them, however, is inadvisable. While rushing headlong into a battle may leave you killed or maimed, failing to fight every monster you encounter will leave you with pitifully few experience points. Without the constant grind to level up, your characters will quickly fall behind in skills and stats. Since a character is knocked out if either his health or magic falls to zero, you’ll need all the experience you can get to defend your party members from themselves. Yes, themselves. In battle, the player only directly controls one character at a time. The AI that controls any remaining characters is so frightfully bad that your back-up is effectively reduced to walking meat. Your teammates are such incompetent fighters that they will virtually self-destruct. Keeping these characters healthy is such a big job that it barely leaves room for you to attack. Controlling a character with healing magic helps, but maintaining your magic level requires the use of items which are by no means plentiful.
The combat experience reaches its true pinnacle in the game’s dungeons. Each one is a tedious slog through a different RPG stereotype: the sewer crawl, the abandoned mine, the ruined temple, and the bandit-filled forest. To make matters worse, these pits are miserably long and filled with a startling lack of puzzles. The average dungeon involves making your way through a giant maze in which every corridor looks the same, while attempting to survive fifty or so encounters with low level creatures that can still sometimes kill you in a single hit. All this must be done without depleting your reserves of health, magic, or healing items. Finding your way through requires time, patience, and Theseus’ ball of twine. If you make it you’ll be treated to a boss fight which works exactly like a regular battle, only longer. If this kind of grueling micromanagement doesn’t appeal to you, you won’t find much to enjoy in Till the End of Time’s dungeons.
The last faint hope for enjoyment in this game involves its extensive item synthesis system. Early in the game you’ll meet the ridiculously named Welch Vineyard who runs the inventors’ guild. Welch will teach Fayt the basics of the system and how to recruit craftsmen to work under him. These recruiting side quests are unnecessarily involved and not very intuitive. For example, the alchemist Ansala will only join your party if you give him a Philosopher’s Stone. There are two ways to get a Philosopher’s Stone: to defeat a difficult optional boss in one on one combat, or to invent it yourself – a hit-or-miss process that involves recruiting several other alchemists to help you. Because the recruiting process is so complex the invention system becomes just another time-consuming chore. The problem is compounded by the fact that the inventors’ guild creates all the equipment upgrades in the game. New weapons and armor do not become available in shops until they have been invented, and the price of equipment produced by independent parties is much higher.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time contains an excessive amount of extra content. Costume changes, map completion bonuses, battle trophies, and additional bosses are all available to the dedicated few. Most players, though, will be hard pressed to finish the cumbersome main adventure, let alone invest the tens of hours necessary to complete the extensive side quests. The presence of so much bonus material in such an inherently tiresome game is like propping up the sides of a sandcastle. No amount of extra sand can change the fact that this little beach house is just a cleverly disguised pile of mud.
Featured community review by sophina (August 29, 2006)
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