So here’s the thing about Star Ocean, I’ve always thought it was an okay RPG series until Star Ocean: Till the End of Time released and my expectations for the series rose far higher than I ever imagined. Years later, I was finally able to play Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope on the PlayStation 3 through the “International” release and I recall being impressed with the size of the game including its story, but I grew bored quite fast and left the game halfway through.
So when Square Enix announced a remastered release of Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope on PlayStation 4 and PC I was excited to give the game another chance. Call it wishful thinking, but maybe with my added years of gaming experience I could find more enjoyment in the game than when I first picked it up. Sadly, after playing, that didn’t end up completely being the case, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a much better experience than when I first played the game.
The first issue of Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope shows up pretty early as it involves the story. Right from the start, you have to sit through a lengthy cutscene that attempts to explain the issues planet Earth faces. When there is this much story content inserted at the beginning of the game, it’s difficult for the player to even care about the any of characters or what’s going on in the world. This is a story that should have developed organically around the main protagonist instead of inserted all at once throughout multiple cutscenes.
As for the characters, we meet Edge Maverick and Reimi Saionji, two members of the Space Reconnaissance Force (SRF) who grew up together and have a fairly believable friendship. Evidently, Earth has become uninhabitable after World War III and humanity moved to underground cities where they are slowly running out of resources.
To find a new Earth, the SRF was created to explore space and map the solar system. Throughout the game, other characters will join the party, and each one has their own personality and battle style. When it comes to Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope’s story, I must say that the more exciting sections come later on in the game, but at that time you might be too confused to even understand how the story got to that point.
I must admit that there are times when I don’t like Edge, and it’s not because of his cringe-worthy voice over. Often, I just didn’t think he was capable of handling some of the responsibilities that the SRF was giving him. We see this early on when Edge is jealous that his best friend, Crowe Almedio, became a captain before him. However, other times he shows true bravery as someone who will do anything to protect his friends.
On the other hand, I found the other main characters, like Reimi and Faize more likable and also more dependable than Edge. Everyone else just seems to be more grounded in their emotions and personalities when it comes to making a decision. I wish Edge played more of the captain type than the young and inexperienced soldier who was at the right place at the right time to become captain.
One of the newest system introduced in Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope is the option to pilot a spacecraft and travel to different worlds and locations. This happens to be one of the features that I enjoy most about the game. Exploring planets gave me the freedom to take the game at my own pace. There isn’t a real rush to leave a world after the mission is complete; instead, you are free to explore further or travel back to a previous planet and use new skills to access different areas or farm for crafting materials.
Players are also able to explore the ship at their leisure, but there isn’t too much to do besides trigger some cutscenes and interact with party members. However, these cutscenes have the potential to add new skills or increase the affinity between characters. Furthermore, players can craft new items from materials found on planets.
Traveling to different planets means fighting enemies, and Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope has plenty of them. Although some of the enemy designs are questionable, there are plenty of different types that you’ll encounter throughout your travels. The battle system uses similar mechanics to past Star Ocean titles, like mapping special skills to the shoulder buttons and having a standard attack action.
Although this seems relatively straightforward, the battle system can be somewhat deep if the player is willing to learn the BEAT system, which stands for Battle Enhancement Attribute Type. This is where players can switch between party members’ fighting styles and rank up to unlock more advanced techniques. Additionally, characters can dodge attacks or trigger a Rush combo in battle that requires some quick time button presses.
Something that has been lost in the more recent JRPG releases is the art of level grinding. With games like Final Fantasy XV having items that could double experience, there doesn’t seem to be much time for players to spend grinding out a few levels. Well, Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope is not like this at all. To put is simply: Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope is hard. Yes, there is a difficulty setting that could make the game easier, but ego wouldn’t allow me to go any lower than normal.
Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope requires the player to spend a decent amount of time level grinding and improving each character’s skills in combat. To be honest, there are times that I miss spending a few hours reaching a high enough level so that enemies are a breeze. Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope brought me back to that nostalgic place, mainly because I was tired of dying on every enemy or exhausting all of my items. The only advice I could give is: save the game often.
Being that the explorable planets are so big, some dungeons have puzzles that require a little bit of thought to progress through to the next area. The problem with this is that the there is no indicator on the map to let you know if you are going the right way or even doing the right thing. Sometimes the only way to progress the story is to speak to a specific NPC, but the game doesn’t prompt you as to which NPC that is.
Navigation is a big problem with Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope, cutscenes will trigger only if you are in the right area, such as with talking to a particular NPC, there isn’t a prompt or map indicator to let you know where to go. Now, this wouldn’t be a huge problem, but again, these planets can get big and backtracking or finding yourself in the wrong area could lead to you being lost for a while. Also, if you leave the game for a few days and return to the story, it’s entirely possible that you won’t remember what to do to progress the story.
As for the 4K Remastered version of Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope, this game looks gorgeous. The main characters, *cough* Reimi, have nice designs and being that the camera likes to get in close it’s possible to notice the improvements quickly. The battle system seems a bit more balanced, and I didn’t experience as many frame rate issues as I remembered from the PlayStation 3 version. I should also point out that load times between areas are particularly short, which ended up being a plus since I found myself lost on the ship a few times.
Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope is a decent RPG that has many ambitious mechanics and puts a lot of focus on story development. Sadly, these extended cutscenes confused me early on because the game has a hard time getting the player to care about these character’s situation. Players who find enjoyment in the battle system will appreciate the game far more than those who don’t because it’s not for everyone.
In the end, Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope brought me back to a time when I had to sit down and thoroughly shut myself out of the real world and immerse myself into this world — more specifically the star ocean. Exploring space and discovering huge new worlds creates a great playing experience, and with this remastered version this game only looks even better. Even though a few years have passed, Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope is close to the same game I remember, but I appreciated the nostalgic reminder that games are challenging and autosave wasn’t always a thing.