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Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time [PS4]

If you are a fan of RPGs, then it is hard to pass up on the large library of titles the PlayStation 2 has to offer – containing thousands of gameplay hours between them. In my opinion, one of the great things about many of these games were that despite technological limitations of the time, they delivered complex experiences which required thought at almost every turn, while also bringing many creative ideas to the table. Out of my entire gaming collection across all platforms, Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time is the RPG which has amassed the most playtime.

Offering some enticing yet challenging gameplay, an intriguing storyline better than more recent instalments and a number of features which prolong the game’s replayability such as a multiplayer versus mode and Trophy system – it offered almost everything I could have asked for back in the early to mid 2000s. Especially in the wake of more lukewarm Star Ocean games in recent years, I have regularly said that Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time deserved a port on a current-generation gaming console, especially with Square Enix (the publisher of the Star Ocean series) putting resources into remastered versions of their classic RPGs like Final Fantasy X, XII and VII (the latter two in the works as of writing).

While it was disappointing to hear that developer tri-Ace was not going to offer a Remastered version of the game, it did come as a pleasant surprise that they were going to be offering this now long out-of-print game on the PlayStation 4 in its original form. More than a decade since the game first launched, it still holds up as a strong RPG, with 10s or 100+ of hours of potential playtime. Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time sees you take control of male protagonist Fayt Leingod, who lives in an era where humans are now capable of space travel and have made a mark on the stars.

Along with his prominent researcher parents and childhood friend Sophia Esteed, he is stuck on the holiday planet Hyda IV when it comes under siege from an alien civilization known as the Vendeeni. Managing to escape the planet but subsequently finding the rescue vessel under siege, he ends up left on an “underdeveloped planet”, and begins his quest to make his way back to Sophia and his family. Not unlike other recent Star Ocean games, a considerable portion of Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time takes place across two “underdeveloped” planets rather than those more technologically advanced: Vanguard III and Elicoor II, with the latter being of most interest.

Not able to be subtle about his arrival on the planets, Fayt and his growing number of party members find themselves getting involved in planetary affairs. Despite not focusing too heavily on the traditional sci-fi genre elements you may expect, the story is pretty good. The remainder of SO3 does focus on more sci-fi elements, covering a surprising event that threatens the entire universe.

The writers have thrown some solid concepts into the mix which were for the most part delivered well, even if the two sections of the game are considerably different from one another. However, I would say that while the concepts were good and there was a lot of content which builds upon the Star Ocean universe, there are chunks of the story which were cliche, and moments which felt a little too awkwardly handled in terms of writing.

Partly due to how the party composition is handled in the latter half of the game as well, some characters receive a lot of development, while others receive very little attention with only a few lines here and there. This is a shame given that some of the characters don’t receive much attention in SO3’s first half, and they ultimately feel underdeveloped by the end. The game is visually adequate, although offered nothing special for the PlayStation 2 at the time.

Town designs were well detailed and open for players to roam around, cinematic sequences a pleasure to look at and the dungeons pretty well designed for RPG’s of its time. However, the overworld maps separatingg each of the towns were very basic and looked like little attention had been given to them in comparison to the rest of the game. Character designs also maintained a 3D anime-style, and can be changed through a number of different unlockable costumes found throughout the game world.

Although I would have loved the development team to completely overhaul the visuals to make it on-par with other PlayStation 4 games, the port does benefit from the a solid emulation, with HD up-rendering improving non-cutscene content through the reduction of jagged edges among other visual improvements. It may not visually go up against recent RPG releases, but at the very least looks good enough on modern televisions. One of Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time’s high points is its music.

Motoi Sakuraba was the powerhouse behind the RPG’s soundtrack, which hits all the right notes – offering epic battle themes, music which can pack an emotional punch when necessary and everything in between. It remains in my personal opinion one of Sakuraba’s best work to date. The English voice acting on the other hand is rather average, despite having some big name VA’s involved in it including Michelle Ruff, Wendee Lee and Crispin Freeman.

Battles take place in real-time within an open arena, with the player taking direct control over an individual character’s movements, while the other two are handled by an AI which doesn’t cause too many major issues.. The battles themselves require your consistent attention, as you run around the arena throwing a barrage of ‘minor’ and ‘major’ attacks at your foes using the X and O buttons respectively.

While each of these buttons have standard short-range and long-range variants, you can shake things up by associating different attack skills to them. For the more magic inclined characters, there are also an array of ‘symbology’ (aka. magic) spells that can be cast during battle for a variety of different effects. Both skills and symbology are a lot stronger than standard attacks, but as they consume either HP or SP, battles can come down to balancing these so you don’t but yourself at an offensive or defensive disadvantage.

In one of my favourite twists from a strategic perspective, the MP gauge also doubles as a health bar. So should a party member of enemy consume all their HP or MP, they will be knocked out until resurrected. Even with this system the battles tend to be fast-paced, although offer enough challenge to not encourage button mashing.

Outside of battle there are a number of other well-implemented, and in some aspects more unique, gameplay systems. One of these is a fairly in-depth ‘invention’ system for the time, allowing players to recruit and manage inventors from around Elicoor II to produce new items otherwise not available in stores. Another one of my favourite systems is the trophy system, which provides bonuses for a range of tasks ranging from the simple “Win 100 Battles” to defeating the final boss with a particular Level 1 character.

One of the more unique systems on offer is a multiplayer fighting mode, which when unlocked, allows you to pit characters with pre-determined skill sets against one another either by yourself or with a friend. Outside of PlayStation trophy support (separate from in-game trophy support) and a few other minor features you may or may not use, there hasn’t been much in the way of new additions to this game.
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While I am a little bit disappointed that this release may result in my hoped “Remastered Port” never coming to fruition, I am glad that Square Enix have finally decided to make Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time available for purchase once again, this time on current-generation platforms.

Offering tens if not hundreds of hours of players, this port offers the good storyline, decent visuals, fantastic music and enticing gameplay which has seen this sci-fi RPG gain and continue to hold my attention for more than a decade.

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