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Star Ocean: Till the End of Time PlayStation 2 Official Website

Published by Ubisoft
Developed by Square Enix/Tri-Ace
Release Date : Out Now
Price : £39.99

Having never played any of the previous Star Ocean games I really didn't know what to expect with Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. What I never expected was to be playing one of the best RPG's on any platform this year but that's exactly what I think of Star Ocean. Those of you who know your console RPG's will know that this isn't the first game in the series and that the game has been out for well over a year in Japan. It's often been the case that quite a few of the best games have never been released outside of Japan but if Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is anything to go by, this is something that has to change because games of this quality deserve to be played by as many people as possible.

As you might expect with a title like Star Ocean the game is set in the future, SD 772 to be exact. Young Fayt Leingod and his parents are on holiday on the planet Hyda. Also with them is Fayt's childhood friend Sophia Esteed. The game begins with Fayt and Sophia in a hotel and all seems fine until an alien race, the Vendeen, attack Hyda. Fayt and Sophia manage to escape the clutches of the Vendeeni but Fayt's parents, Robert and Ryoko are not so lucky and it initially seems to Fayt that the Vendeen have killed them. Fayt and Sophia board a military ship bound for another planet in order to escape the devastation on Hyda. However they are pursued by the Vendeeni and with their Spaceship under heavy bombardment Fayt and Sophia part ways to escape in individual escape pods. I found the game's story to be very enjoyable and it's very noticeable that Star Trek has been a big influence to the developers as spacecrafts go to warp speed (known as gravitic warp), transporter type devices exist in the game and even a kind of Prime Directive (the UP3 or Underdeveloped Planet Preservation Pact) has to be obeyed. Non-Trekkies needn't be worried though as it makes the game even more interesting.

One of the major differences between Star Ocean and a lot of other RPG games is that the control system is a real-time one instead of the classic turn-based systems that are used in the Final Fantasy and other major console RPG's. You can take three characters into battle but because of the real-time nature of the game you can only control one character at a time. Thankfully though you can choose battle tactics for the AI controlled characters. That said, it will take you some time to come to grips with the battle system. Attacks are divided into major and minor attacks. The minor attacks can be executed more quickly but are not as effective whilst the major attacks are more powerful but take time. Magic skills are also present, only in Star Ocean it's known as Symbology. Real-time battles are not the only difference either as battles don't randomly happen and most can be avoided by simply walking around the enemy instead of walking straight into them. Whilst this initially seems a good idea and one that cuts out a lot of frustration, you must remember that boss battles are unavoidable and going into them with an under developed character is simply asking for trouble so it's best to battle as often as you can in order to level-up your characters.

What appeals to me most about Star Ocean is that the main characters in the game are actually interesting. In so many other RPG's the peripheral characters are usually quite poor but for some reason I find most of the characters interesting. Aside from Fayt and and Sophia you have Cliff Fittir, a Klausian who for some reason has to take Fayt to his boss (although intervention by the Vendeeni prevents this). Then you have Nel Zepher, an Elicoorian who frees Cliff and Fayt from imprisonment providing they agree to help her people. You also have the strange Menodix named Roger S. Huxley and the Velbaysian Peppita Rossetti who looks more like your usual Final Fantasy character. One benefit deaf gamers will have is that you won't be aware just how irritating some of the character's voices are. Peppita in particular is horribly voiced (although a character named Norton who you meet early in the game is also pretty irritating) and she's actually a lot more acceptable with just subtitles.

If you're used to Square Enix's other titles such as the Final Fantasy series then the graphics in Star Ocean will come as a big surprise. Instead of using the tried and tested method of putting 3D characters against 2D pre-rendered backgrounds, Tri Ace have made the entire game in full 3D. Usually a move from 2D to 3D means the game doesn't look as good but Star Ocean actually looks very nice indeed. Some textures are a bit bland but overall it makes a very welcome change. Because of the 3D nature of the game you can now rotate the camera using the L1 and R1 buttons which works surprisingly well in that you never have your view obstructed by any objects. The character models are in the usual Anime style and look very good. The battles, as you can probably see from the screenshots, have a good range of effects and also look good. Square Enix are known for their quality CGI and Star Ocean does not disappoint in this respect and some of the movies look absolutely fantastic.

It's always good to see subtitles in a game but Star Ocean's subtitle options are rather special. When creating a new game you can choose how you want the subtitling to be in the game. You can either have the text appear onscreen and disappear automatically or you can choose to have the text remain onscreen (the method I chose) until you press the X button to continue, so in effect you can read the text in your own time. The dialogue boxes have a soft light green background to them and the text is white which means it's really easy on the eyes and with the text being quite large it's very comfortable to read even on a small screen. All the information is shown in text and Tri-Ace have even included a Dictionary which acts as a glossary for all the items and concepts in the game and is a valuable source of information. The game manual is a little sparse and vague to be honest and I suspect it's inadequacies will drive many to purchasing a strategy guide (or search the Internet for one).

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time has really surprised me and it's fair to say that Square Enix has another series that is of the same calibre as their Final Fantasy series. I truly hope that we get to see other games in the series and that they are not just kept for Japan. The real-time combat system will initially come as a shock to all those who are used to the traditional turn-based system and even after spending a lot of time with the game I'd still admit I'm not completely comfortable with it and would switch back to a turn-based system, if the option were there. However I honestly think this is to do with not having complete control over every character but thankfully the AI routines to a pretty good job of controlling 2 out of the 3 characters for you. Fortunately though the quality of the game will encourage you to get used to the combat system. The ability to create your own items, gain battle trophies, acquire different costumes for each character, participate in a fight mode are all extras, which we haven't gone in to detail about, that only add to the charm of the game. To make things even better the game has multiple endings so replay value is excellent.

Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10
Definitely one of the best RPG games of 2004 and easily one of the best yet on the PlayStation 2. The game has a lot of replay value and a lot of depth and should appeal to both experienced and casual RPG gamers.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems at all for deaf gamers and thankfully it's wonderfully subtitled.