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The long wait is over, but was it worth it?
When Star Ocean: The Second Story hit the shelves back in 1999, players were overwhelmed by its intense battle system and entertaining gameplay. The game had more to offer (gameplay-wise at least) than any other RPG on the market, and quickly became a legend within the RPG genre. Its sequel, Star Ocean 3: 'till the end of time, was actually announced the same year. After some time, screenshots and footage of the game was shown, and the game grew to become one of the most anticipated RPG's ever. More than five years after the release of its predecessor, Star Ocean 3 finally made it out of Japan and hit the shelves in the US and Europe. Was it worth the long wait? Read and find out.
Star Ocean 3 takes place about 400 years after the events in the previous title. This time we follow a young man named Fayt, and his friend Sophia. When the game starts, the two of them are on vacation with both their parents. However, their hotel is suddenly attacked by an unknown military force. In the midst of the chaos, Fayt gets separated from his parents and Sophia, and is forced to take a shuttle out of there alone. Finally he lands on a planet totally unknown to him, and begin his journey to go home again. It doesn't take long before he meets up with various mysterious characters, all of which seem to be after him for some reason. There is something special about Fayt, and the only one who doesn't seem to know about it, is himself. The plot starts out good. It got my attention quickly, and for a moment I actually thought it could turn out really good. It stayed that way for a good 20 hours or so, and after that, everything went downwards in a very fast pace. I can't spoil too much, but if your intensions from the beginning were to play this game to enjoy the battle system, try to keep it that way, and you won't be disappointed. After all, the battles are what the game really focuses on anyway.
And the battle system is indeed a very good one. Following the trend of the series, the battles are in real-time, and they're very fast paced. You can assign up to four different skills to four slots on each character. These are the four battle skills that will be used during battle, and these four only. There are also two additional spots for passive skills. The four skills can be executed by using the X and Circle buttons (two skills assigned to each button). If you're up close, the skill you've assigned to "close-range" will be executed, and if you're far away, the long-range skill will be executed. Once you get a hold of the battle system and how to use the various skills, you'll want to start using "Cancel Bonus". Let's say you use an attack skill on an enemy, immediately when that skill is in progress, press and hold a button to execute one of the other skills you have assigned. When you do that, you will get a cancel bonus, which increases the amount of damage that attack would normally inflict. You can keep doing this, and the counter will not stop until you've reached a 300% cancel bonus, or when your Fury gauge has reached 0%.
The Fury gauge was called Guts in the japanese version, and can be compared to a character's stamina. To replenish your Fury, simply stand still on the battle arena for 2-3 seconds. Rather than using MP, most battle skills cost a certain amount of Fury. Magic often cost MP though. MP usage is something players should be careful with, for that matter, especially if they have a mage in their party. Just like with HP, a character in Star Ocean 3 dies when his or her MP reaches zero. This opens up a lot of possibillities, as you can also kill bosses and other monsters (with battle skills that cause MP damage, of course) by depleting their MP.
Even considering the huge expectations I had about this battle system, it still managed to satisfy me more than enough. The battles are what really shines in this game, and they are pretty much worth buying the game for. They're fast, they're smooth and easy to get into.
Unfortunately, some of the other parts of Star ocean 3 aren't as enjoyable. While I had no problems whatsoever with the translation of the game, most of the voice-actors were terrible (this doesn't come as a surprise in any game anymore), and most of them spoke totally without empathy. And considering that there's quite a log of dialogue in this title, I would rather have had it text-based. As for the interface, most of it is plain and easy to use. I would have wanted a real world map though, rather than having to memorize the right way to each city.
Another thing that falls a bit flat in this game, is the music. Composer Motoi Sakuraba is back yet again with a soundtrack that sounds exactly like everything else he has created (with a very few exceptions). I have to admit that his battle themes are quite impressive from time to time, but the rest is just stuff you forget about within a few weeks. I would've wished for a soundtrack with a little more heart and soul, instead of just plain background music. A small plus for including some of the tracks from Valkyrie Profile though, as well as the classic tunes from the Cave of Trials in Star Ocean 2. Traditions like that are nice and all, but a bit more originality wouldn't have hurt either. The only thing that striked me as a bit different (but unfortunately not for the better) was one of the major plot twists in the later part of the game. The rest is mostly stuff we've seen before.
Star Ocean 3's graphics are very anime-like. It looks good, and the art is nice, but you can tell that the game has been out for quite a while over in Japan. The character models are a little blocky in-game, and none of the environments you run around in are particularly breathtaking. The CG movies were few, but extremely beautiful once they showed up.
Aside from the battle system, what I liked about SO3 was how much optional stuff it offered. There are tons of secret bosses, hidden dungeons (including the Cave of Trials) etc. You can also spend a huge amount of time inventing items and equipment by recruiting various inventors throughout the game. Workshops exist in most cities, and are the source to getting the most powerful pieces of equipment (not to talk about items) in the game. What also makes the game more enjoyable are the battle conditions. In the beginning of the game, you get to create a Battle Collection file on your memory card, where various battle conditions will be stored once you get them (and save them) in the game. Examples of battle conditions might be "inflict exactly 555 damage" or "win a battle without taking any damage". You get various prizes once you've collected a certain amount of battle conditions.
All in all, with the main story and all the optional stuff to complete, you can easily spend over 100 hours on Star Ocean 3. A normal run through the main scenario would end somewhere around 40-60 hours though.
For hardcore fans of the Star Ocean series, I'm sure this game will live up to every expectation. For the casual gamer, the plot will most likely disappoint, but I'm sure that they will be able to enjoy the rest of the game. It sure wasn't worth a five year wait, even with the fantastic battle system it has, but it is nevertheless a game of quality, and I do not regret buying it.
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