Star Ocean: Till the End Time
Easy-bake RPG! Enjoyment for all!
-Take one melodramatic/aloof/introverted young male with several minor psychological issues -combine with an heroic or otherwise abnormal name
-add one physically inept/magically inclined female quasi-love interest; smother hero
-stir in one not-so-eloquent beastman, man-beast or some other brand of strong, silent type
-add other characters to taste. add as many as you like, since only two will actually be pertinent to the story
-whip your way through hundreds of random encounters and talk to countless NPC's who offer a bare minimum amount of helpful information. CAREFUL! Not talking to every single NPC could severely affect the filling of the game, causing it to fall short
-bake for 20 hours until the actual plot becomes apparent, then bake on discs 2 thru 4 for an additional 30 hours or until burned out
Give or take a few ingredients, this is what could be considered the industry standard WYSIWYG RPG formula. I suppose it goes without saying Ive developed a distaste for the current flavor of the RPG genre, however, I am always willing to give a game a chance if it claims to have something new/hot. Which leads me to Star Ocean - Till the end of Time; one part new hotness, two parts old and busted.
What sets this game apart from the cookie-cutter RPG's is it's combat system. This is actually one of the only things setting it apart from every other game in the genre. The new system is only slightly new, adding an intricate and malleable combo system and more hands on control over the outcome of the battle. Switch allies, cast spells, use items and special techniques or just plain attack, all in real-time. Reigning over the chaos is the Fury Gauge; sort of a timer to keep you from mashing or otherwise going crazy-go-nuts. Keep your Fury Gauge full, and your opponents weak attacks will be deflected and potentially cause damage, depending on the skills you've learned. Run out of Fury and your attacks will fail frequently, resulting in a recurring "game over" screen. Luckily the other members of your party require little to no human interference in a brawl, however stock up on revival items, since your artificially-intelligent comrades will often valiantly run off and get themselves killed. RTS players will find an easy time with this, as micromanagement is an absolute must. The payoff comes in the form of Bonus Battles, your reward for success in battle. Do well in combat and you will find yourself on the receiving end of a 300% exp multiplier, or an increased chance of getting that rare monster drop. The bonus' stack up, too! Combinations of bonus exp, money and increased rare items await those skilled enough to keep the bonus chain going. The downside to this one critical hit received by you or either of your party members renders the bonus' you've accrued null and void. Also new is the Battle Trophy system, a halfhearted attempt at getting some replay out of the game by giving you false rewards for such accomplishments as pulling off 100 combos or taking 10,000 steps in battle.
As with most other RPG's, the time spent between your character entering a brave new world and actually figuring out what he's supposed to be doing in it is long and drawn out. Most of our story takes place on one planet, and not spanning multiple galaxies as the back of the box and all the print ads proclaim. While the story is still quite intricate and entertaining, most of it can still be classified as filler and does nothing a few side quests couldnt have easily handled. The story progresses a bit to linear, robbing you of the "explorer of galaxies" feeling that should be associated with this game. The are amalgamations and twists on standard RPG issues; world domination, subjugation of an inferior race, characters with hidden powers who hold the keys to the salvation of all life as we know it...you know. That kind of stuff.
Another feature of the game is the Item Invention. Here you can randomly create either a weapon, food item, potion, accessory or armor using materials you collect on your travels. The success or failure of your creation depends on the aptitude of the characters involved. Choose a character with proficient blacksmith skills to increase your chances of getting some nice weapons, or use the same character to create an accessory and watch him fail miserably. All original inventions can be registered, and a small bit of royalties are given. A bit overwhelming at first, but is more than justified by the rewards and an absolute MUST for surviving some of the later conflicts. Just expect to be loading your saved game over and over in an attempt at the juicier items. Another change in the aforementioned RPG formula is the omission of random encounters. I would happily trade a random encounter or two in this game for a bit more exp earned or an easier to beat boss creature. In fact, the absence of random encounters only enhances the tedium. Not only are you still forced to run the level-up treadmill, you must reload the map to reset the enemies once you defeat them all. the distribution of exp is fallible, especially in the earlier levels. I cried on the inside after defeating my first group of enemies only to see I had gained 1 exp, and needed 15 exp to reach level two. It's almost impossible to skate by and follow the left-hand wall in this game, unless you want to spend a lot of time on healing and reviving.
Making the experience even less enjoyable is the English voice "talent". I'm still not quite sure who made it OK for a grown man to do a voiceover for the character of a young girl, but it doesn't sound appropriate. The English version of the title track (which in its Japanese form sounds ALOT like something from FFX-2) could've been optional...as a matter of fact, I propose something new. In the spirit of all that is fair and good, would it be too much to ask for maybe a Limited Edition of an RPG with optional Japanese dialogue? Not that I have a problem with my native tongue, I just can't listen to one more bad dub. Just do yourself a favor when you come across the NPCs Tynave and Farleen in the game and turn the volume down. Consider this the first spoiler you'll be happy to read.
While you're staring at the muted screen, I am sure you'll notice how good this game looks. From the detail in the player-character models and the NPC's to the colorful pallet and fancy lighting/particle effects, the games graphics are impressive. The level design and overworld levels/towns are bland and standard however, with the requisite box puzzles and fragile ice caves. The ability to destroy aspects of the dungeons is a nice touch, however not by any means new or creative.
Overall, this isn't a new taste sensation; rather a pizza-chili-burrito-sushi-dog in an instant ready-to-eat single serve package. A standard RPG with a few welcome twists and an abundance number of clichés. The upside is it takes about 40+ hours to finish (also par for the course), justifying a purchase or an extended rental at the least. My only quibble with the game is that it doesnt offer any significant innovations to the conventional RPG style, unlike the caliber seen in the Final Fantasy series. Nevertheless, the third installment is a solid RPG with all the proper working components and points of articulation.