More than three years in the making, and backed, perhaps, by the biggest budget that an Enix game has ever had. Star Ocean 3 was an RPG groomed for greatness. But all of those factors don’t necessarily make a great game (See Legend of Dragoon). However, given Tri Ace’s (the Developer) excellent recent track record (Star Ocean 2: The Second Story, and Valkyre Profile) Star Ocean 3 being anything less than great, would have been nothing short of a huge disappointment.
Fortunately for us fans of the Star Ocean series, SO3 is enough of an improvement over its PS1 predecessor to earn the title of “instant classic” from this Reviewer. However as with SO2, SO3 will likely be an instant classic for the hardcore RPG fans as opposed to the mainstream fans, as only the hardcore will have the patience to not only finish the game, but to uncover the many secrets that the game provides.
One complaint that I had from the first game was that the graphics did not match the quality of the artistry, as they seemed to be a full level below the first class RPGs of its era. Fortunately, Enix apparently poured the amount of budget necessary to make Star Ocean 3 the greatest looking traditional RPG on the PS2 (I know FFX looks a little better but you can’t rotate the camera in that game, so you are only seeing the graphics from the same distant perspective.) Nice textures, beautifully animated characters and massive fields make Star Ocean 3 a pleasing eye candy experience. The visuals here are definitely much better than those seen in Xenosaga.
Also, you can rotate the camera 360 degrees ala Grandia. The characters feature an anime look, but they are much more pleasing to look at than those of Xenosaga as their eyes aren’t as big or as eerie. The FMVs in the game, while few and far in between are gorgeous.
One of my favorite sights was the city of Aquios, as it had incredible architectural structures, and beautiful water bodies surrounding it. Finally, I can say that the graphic quality matched the great artwork of Tri Ace’s artists.
Musically, the same applies as in the graphics. With a bigger budget at their disposal, Tri Ace finally gives series composer Motoi Sakuraba, a decent orchestra so that his compositions are finally on the same level of aural quality as Square’s latest stuff. I feel that musically, this game improves quite a bit from SO2, which had a very good soundtrack itself.
While SO2 didn’t have a lot of voice work in it, the battle voices were annoying, in SO3 the battle voice work returns again. But being that the actors do such a great job during the cut scenes (In fact, most of the dialog of this game is spoken) this time the voices are bearable.
Now onto the gameplay…this is where the Star Ocean games have always differentiated themselves from the rest of RPGs of the world. SO3 keeps that tradition intact by refining the real time action battle system of SO2 and by redefining the item creation system, which was the bread and butter of SO2.
The battles now play a lot like those in Kingdom Hearts. You are free to attack as you please but have to go into menus to cast spells and use items. However, the movement on the battle ground is now more fluid than it was on SO2 which is an improvement. You can also assign special attacks that you learn with SP earned through leveling up, to individual buttons to use them as you please during a battle.
Eventually, you will almost completely have to rely on these attacks to successfully defeat the bosses in the game, Like in SO2, you can only control one party member at a time, while you can switch to other characters whenever it’s needed. The characters that you are not controlling are controlled by the computer and they will act according to the way you set their battle tactics settings up.
Besides the normal HP and MP bars that SO2 had, SO3 adds now to it the Fury meter which is more like a stamina meter. Simply put, if the fury gauge reaches “0” during a battle, you will just have to make that character stand still for a second or two before the gauge reaches 100 or close to that again in order to keep on hammering the enemies. So in the end, the fury meter felt more like a nuisance than anything else, even though I must say that if there was no fury meter, some battles would have been substantially easier.
The only new feature that I found particularly annoying in the battle system is the MP kill, meaning if your characters run out of MP, they die. Now, this sounds a bit pointless, after all, the player will just have to watch the MP gauge and stop using MP spells when the meter is low, however, like everything in SO3, the whole mess isn’t that simple. Most bosses in the latter half of the game have attacks that quickly deplete your MP points, thus killing your characters unexpectedly.
One of the reasons why Star Ocean 2 was aimed at the hardcore crowd was because of its difficulty, and the fact that you had to spend sometime with the item making system in order to encounter success in the game. Well SO3 is …twice harder than SO2 was, yep I thought that the game series couldn’t get any harder but it did.
To start, the item making system is much more complicated here than it was in the previous installment. While in SO2 you pretty much relied on combining the right items in order to create stuff, in here not only must you combine the right items, you also have to combine the right inventors with the right amount of money. So in the end the whole item system feels like a huge guessing game… a huge guessing game that could keep players busy for more than 80 hours, before (if a guide is not in hand) they randomly stumble upon a winning combination that can give then a powerful item. Of course, this entire process will be very costly as now you need to actually buy shops in other to create items, so prepare to fight quite a lot in order to gain money and level up. Even though, as many players will find,, leveling up doesn’t help in this RPG if your weapons are not enhanced through the item making game.
In my case, I was stuck in a boss near the end of DVD (disc) 1. Seeing that I had no chance at beating him I decided to focus on the item creation game and after many hours of trial and error, I managed to create an item called Orichalcum, which when synthesized to my weapons it could give them a 500 point ATK boost. Since you can synthesize up to seven of them to one weapon, you can add to a character a 3500 ATK point boost that will make them gods, as you will be able to simply walk through all the bosses in the game with the simple addition of this item to your weapons.
That was the item that beat the game for me. However, it was not as easy or as quick a proccess as many will think. First of all, getting the inventors that were proficient at Alchemy was a chore. Second, producing one Orichalcum was incredibly costly as it probably took about 60,000 to 100,000 Fol to make one and in some lucky occasions, two. Third, synthesizing them in to the weapon was also expensive. The best way to get money in the game is by fighting monsters so producing the 13 Orichalcums that I synthesized on the characters weapons was a 15-20 hour endeavor that featured at least 500 battles. I was lucky to find that combination at the 45 hour mark in the game if I hadn’t found it, my goodness, I would still be playing the game, as leveling up by itself will never get you strong enough to get by if you don’t have the right items. I must point out that I was successful by purely abusing that item, but that there are also a lot of other items that you can create that could make the game easier.
So in the end the item system is a very complicated mess, a huge guessing game, that only those with almost monk like patience will be able to exploit (unless you have a guide that is). While the flashy graphics will lead many mainstream fans into SO3, the game is geared toward the hardcore crowd, just like SO2.
The game controls like most 3-D RPGs out there, while Star Ocean 3, like most post PS1 era RPGs does not feature a real time world map, the exploration and immersion don’t suffer much. Instead of having the map with “dots” that Suikoden 3 and Arc the Lad Twilight of the Spirits had, Star Ocean 3 features fields that you have to traverse through when you leave a town or a dungeon.
Sure you can say “well Final Fantasy X had those too and you still complained about them” well yes, but FFX’s fields as well as Suikoden 3’s were linear fields. SO3 features wide open fields in which you can rotate the camera to look around the environment to see towns far off into the horizon, not only that, but some fields feature multiple paths to take. Because of these features, SO3’s immersion in the game world never seems to break.
The dungeons in SO3, however, need some help…they are huge, and full of enemies, not only that, but they seem to be built in a labyrinth format, and since the bigger ones have many areas that look alike it is fairly easy to get lost in them. Some mini games are down right frustrating also, while most are optional some have to be completed in order to progress through the game. Exploration wise, there are tons of chest containing items throughout the game world and dungeons, of course you won’t find any rare weapons or armor in them, since those you have to create yourself.
Other than the extremely long dungeons and the frustrating item making system, there is not much to complaint about in Star Ocean 3’s gameplay, yeah some battles are impossibly tough, but again they are interconnected with the item making system. If you master the item making system the battles are fairly easy, if you don’t then a ton of hell and frustration await you.
Now onto the story, while Star Ocean 2 had nice character development and an epic tale, its story let something to be desired.
Star Ocean 3: Till the End Of Time, however, features what perhaps might be the best story to have come out of SquareEnix (Both companies merged) since Square’s Final Fantasy X. SO3 story surpasses the scale of that of FFX in terms of grandeur. Yet, Enix couldn’t quite nail down a good love story in the process, (SO2 couldn’t really nail down the love story either, but it did a better Job that SO3 in that regard).
At first SO3 feels like it’s going to be another Xenosaga sci-fi tour de force (which I found quite boring) thankfully, however, SO3’s story takes the main character Fayt into a medieval planet soon after the game starts and it stays on that medieval planet for half the game (anywhere from 30-60 hours) before finally taking players back into space. So, there is enough in this game to please both sci-fi and fantasy buffs. Indeed, the game felt a lot like SO2’s story (medieval planet with a main character than comes from outer space), but at the same time it also took the tale to space after the conflicts on the planet were done away with.
While the planet segments are quite predictable, and after a while turn a bit boring, near the end of DVD 1 story twists begin to appear, and from there, shocking revelations will take the story to an unexpected climax. The planet section of the game was pretty much done in order to provide us with a gorgeous medieval world and with some solid character development (Mainly between Cliff, Nel, and Fayt).While at the same time re-enforcing a theme that it’s present throughout the story… a theme, which I won’t spoil here.
I found myself bored for most of the first half of the game until the story took a turn in to greatness with some of the late DVD 1 plot twists. Twists that while somewhat cliched seemed original and not out of place within this story.
In short, if you manage to stick with the game all the way to the beginning of DVD 2 there won’t be much stopping you then as you will keep playing (and enduring the long battle stretches) in order to know what happens next in the story.
The finale of the tale was long and well done.
Much credit to Tri Ace for creating another great RPG. In fact, SO3 might quite possibly be the greatest RPG (behind my personal favorite Suikoden 3) on PS2 today. It is for sure one of the longest traditonal RPGs ever (Also one of the hardest), and it was worth the wait. If you are a fan of the SO2 or an RPG fan in general, you must check this game out, as it might stand in the end, as Square Enix’s only great game on PS2 (that is if FFXII does not meet the quality standards that Square has been known to have in their FF series.)
Gameplay: 9.0-The frustrating Item Creating System is back and more frustrating than ever, yet if you have the patience, you will find that there are ways to exploit this system even if they are costly and time consuming. Also the exploration, in this game is welcomed, as most RPGs today feel a bit linear when compared to the old school classics.
Graphics: 9.0-The new king of RPG graphics on the PS2. Beautiful environments.
Music: 9.0-Some of the best acting in an RPG. The music is finally on Square’s caliber.
Story: 9.0-Takes it’s time to get interesting, but stick with it and you will be shocked. Could have scored higher but there was a lack of a strong love story, in fact, an argument can be made that there was none.
Addictiveness: 8.0-It takes “till the end of time” to finish (over 60 hours easily), but for those who go beyond the hardcore mantle, like in SO2, in SO3 the miniquests and super secret dungeons await!!
Overall: 9.0- A well deserved 9, SquareEnix’s best game in the year, and its best game since FFX.
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