Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2004
Over the years, Tri-Ace have been gaining notoriety as an extremely competent (and very much underrated) RPG developer. Their games have packed a punch that other big name RPG companies have been lacking: unique and engrossing story lines, action-oriented and combo-based battle systems, very heretical RPG music, untraditional world designs, and above all, an unprecedented level of character customization. Indeed, the folks at Tri-Ace know how to make an innovative, all-encompassing RPG that will keep you playing for hours. Sadly, few, if any, of these hallmarks can be found in Star Ocean 3.
The game starts out well enough. Fayt Linegod, college student and whiney teenage protagonist, is on a summer vacation cruise ship with his parents and his lady friend, Sophia. Without warning Fayt is forced to escape when his cruise ship comes under attack by unknown assailants and is forced to evacuate, separating himself from his family and Sophia. Fayt manages to escape, but his escape pod lands upon a developing planet akin to 16th century Earth. Fayt must hide his technology so as not to excite the people of the planet (and in doing so violate intergalactic codes), and must rely on the sword and other more primitive implements in order to make his way. But sadly, Star Ocean 3 immediately goes downhill from the moment you fight your first battle.
The most original and engrossing aspect of Tri-Ace’s games has always been the fast-paced action oriented battle system. In Star Ocean 3, it has been reduced to a clunky, unresponsive button masher. You have two standard attacks: “normal” and “heavy.” normal attacks are fast and can be comboed, but cannot penetrate enemy shields. Heavy attacks can destroy an enemy shield but are slow to execute. Additionally, both players and enemies have protective shields which block certain attacks. When the players gauge is full, his or her shield activates. Sadly, however, it is this “shield” that makes the battles in Star Ocean completely unenjoyable. The enemies’ shield will almost always block your normal attacks. Heavy attacks will likely miss. Ultimately, you stand in place, wait until your gauge is full, let the enemy attack you and hit your shield, attack a few times when you get the chance, lather, rinse, and repeat. This is unbelievably tepid and monotonous, and ruins the pacing entirely. Additionally, most of the special attacks your characters learn are useless: the enemy will almost always either block them or it will simply miss altogether. If that wasn’t enough, the character AI is piss poor, and whichever character you are not controlling is guaranteed to end up dead in a short while.
The characters in Star Ocean 3 are boring and one-dimensional. I care neither about them nor their endeavors. Additionally, the dialogue between said characters in dull and uninteresting, and offers little reason for the player to care about the events that take place. The plot moves at a frustratingly slow pace and goes nowhere, often to the point where I had to step back and try to remind myself the reason I was navigating dungeon X or going back to town Y in the first place. The world design is extremely drab, and most towns you will visit for the first half of the game are very uniform and offer little diversity. If the goal of a good RPG is to engross the player, to make him or her feel completely and totally integrated with the world it presents, Star Ocean 3 accomplishes little, if anything, to this end.
Which brings me to Star Ocean 3’s biggest problem: the complete and total lack of consistency in the atmosphere it attempts to create. One such example of this is an enemy that reappears throughout the game: an 18th Century Colonial American nobleman, dressed in stockings and a whig, who bumbles around the battle screen, tripping and dropping all his cash while screaming “My money! My mooooney!”, and, once he has taken enough damage, gets on his knees and cries, begging you to spare his life, in exchange for an item. Now, imagine these “enemies” present in absolutely every scenario for the first half of the game. One such event involves a prison break: the ambience is very tense as you wind through the twisting, endless corridors of the multi-floored prison. Motoi Sakuraba’s synth-rock epics chug along at breakneck speed, urging you to hurry and accomplish the task at hand. But then suddenly, without warning, you must do battle with your most fearsome opponent yet: a helpless, 18th Century nobleman in a prison that is, according to the games storyline, supposed to be equivalent to 16th century Earth. To me, this is tantamount to playing through the opening scene of Final Fantasy VII (the exhilarating, adrenaline pumping assault on the Mako reactor) fighting wave after wave of Cactuars. It completely ruins the mood and just doesn’t make any fucking sense.
As if that wasn’t enough, Star Ocean 3 has several cosmetic flaws as well. Walking around the obnoxiously large towns is a chore, due to the lack of a decent map/compass system. Load times are unreasonably long for a PS2 game. Worst of all, the game is plagued with horrible slowdown, not just in battles but even in towns and dungeons. Star Ocean 3 is by no means a bad looking game, but I’ve seen much better looking RPGs on the system that had no such problems. There really is no excuse for this other than sheer laziness on Tri-Ace’s part. Additionally, the enemies in Star Ocean are insanely difficult from the get go, and the player is forced into doing an absolutely ridiculous amount of leveling up during each scenario, which might not be a bad thing if battles were fun to fight. And to make things even harder, there’s an insanely low cap placed on the amount of items you can carry: only 20 items each. Given how often you will have to heal your characters, you will find yourself going back to town in the middle of a dungeon numerous times to restock.
The game has a few good qualities, if not redeeming ones. First of all, the music in Star Ocean 3 is absolutely resplendent. Motoi Sakuraba weaves incredible prog-rock operas that truly get the player’s blood flowing. Squealing guitars, odd drum rhythms, and incredibly complex keyboard solos all serve as a unique change from your generic RPG soundtrack. In addition, the game offers a very innovative item creation system. You can make your own weapons, armor, food, and even make patents for them and sell them around the universe. This feature is a Star Ocean hallmark, and it thankfully remains intact.
But ultimately, these features cannot make up for the fact that Star Ocean 3 was clearly rushed. It fails to engross the player the way an RPG should, offers a slow and clunky battle system, and has several frustrating cosmetic flaws. I am a huge Tri-Ace fan. I am also a huge Star Ocean fan. But with the release of the first Tri-Ace game I’ve played that simply screams “rush job,” I’m unable to recommend this to fans of either.