The latest game in the long-running Star Ocean series from Tri-Ace, Star Ocean: The Last Hope is actually mainly detached from the other games and is set hundreds of years before any of them. Rest assured then if you’re not all that familiar with the series, as we must also confess to be, then you won’t be left behind by the plot of the game.
Prequels generally don’t require an in-depth knowledge of the back-story and it’s of vital importance that you know that Star Ocean: The Last Hope is a prequel for two main reasons.
The first reason that fact has to be hammered home is that RPGs - Japanese RPGs in particular - do have a reputation for super-complex stories that rest uneasily on the precipice of utter nonsense, and the fear of getting lost in a sea of obscure references and names is something that tends to put a lot of people off playing epic RPGs, which is a bit of a shame if you ask us.
What would happen if she rolled onto her side in her sleep?
The second and more relevant reason we’re still talking about Star Ocean: The Last Hope being a sequel is because at the start of the game it’s quickly apparent that in terms of the plot, this fact is the most distinct thing about it. Yes, as the game goes on some strange stuff happens and you slowly get sucked into an epic quest that sees you fighting for the survival of everything you hold dear and blah, blah, blah – but it’s pretty predictable stuff.
It’s a bunch of androgynous teenagers with neon-coloured hair being proclaimed as humanities only hope and teaming up with a robot-man and a couple of pointy-eared anime girls. That’s a rather cynical and dramatic reduction and debasement of the plot, but it’s also true. Even the relationships between the characters, especially the two leads, Edge and Reimi, and their I’ve-known-you-forever-you’re such a pain-but-I-love-you-really vibe feels like its been photocopied from earlier JRPGs. On a macro level The Last Hope initially seems utterly indistinct from dozens of other games.
Walk softly and befriend big robot men
There are some differences between this game and others though, lying mainly in the details. This time, our trusty band of L'Oreal-endorsed teenagers are the crew of an exploration vessel that’s been sent to the distant planet of Aeos to find humanity a new home after nuclear war has all but destroyed Earth. Yours is one of five ships in a fleet that, courtesy of a strange meteor, end up crash landing on the planet and getting into all sorts of trouble with the local wildlife – which mainly consists of animals that are somehow resistant to railguns but vulnerable to most melee attacks.
As time goes on and you explore more and more of the initial planet, the setting for Star Ocean: The Last Hope gradually expands, giving you more and more room to play in and more party members to play with. It’s kind of like Mass Effect in that regard, with you eventually getting to direct where you want the ship to go as you explore new planets in your quest.
It’s also worth pointing out that, although the story and characters are woefully generic at the start of the adventure, developer Tri-Ace has spared no expense in fleshing the protagonists out over time in the usual Japanese style; lengthy cut-scenes. As you get more familiar with the characters their generic gloss eventually falls away and they become a bit more distinct from the clichés they originate from. Reimi isn’t as defenceless as the cutesy voice and schoolgirl-esque uniform might suggest and Edge isn’t the exactly the self-confident and flawless hero you expect him to be.