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If you want to lure new players, note to Japanese design team: Don't open with a textbook. Star Ocean: The Last Hope does, and I wasn't amused. It's like an autonomic trope with the so-called Japanese-style role-playing genre — you have to learn the entire game before you're allowed to play it.
After a brief intro that visits all the stereotypical post-apocalyptic beats about World War III and international ignominy feeding another dewy Roddenberry-esque vision of some utopian future space exploration program, you're deposited inside a battle simulator like an action figure inside a plasteel rotunda. A menu appears, and you realize it's a lesson planner designed to school you in the entire realtime battle system off the plate.
Before you've wiped the smirk off your face after learning the main guy's named Edge Maverick (which I'll grant is better than Blade Cowboy) you're hurtling across the room whacking vaguely Tron-like dudes and learning how to pull off blindsides (sneak attacks) and chain combos and fill your rush gauge (like a limit break) and... Yeah. It's the wrong way to start a game. Any game. You want to ease players in, not chuck the entire manual at them.
That said, I am amused by the game's earnestness. It's so serious. When Edge parks his head in his hands after taking command of the Calnus before soliloquizing about responsibility and duty, he's so intense. For a feathered-blonde androgyne with a trace inferiority complex, anyway.
If you're not new to this particular branch off the RPG trunk, you're probably shrugging about now. Intro school session, check. Silly characters, check. Operatic story replete with cliches and constant cutscenes, check and check. Fair enough, and I'm just saying for everyone else's sake.
Eight hours in, my only complaint's that I've been fighting the same medley of bugs, wasps, and crab-things times a hundred for a dozen character levels. I'm cool with dashing about collecting stuff and filling the gaps between plot points with my thumb tattooing the attack button. As long as what I'm doing's interesting, that is. It's not here, and since I'm digging the tactical engine's idiosyncrasies, I've got to lay blame with the difficulty settings.
"Easy" and "Normal" are available, but "Universe" and "Chaos" are locked until you finish on a lower difficulty setting. Which is ridiculous. I've got time for one pass here, and if I'm creaming the opposition on "normal" with one-two hits and taking one hand off the controller to stifle yawns, that's a design flaw. Since when did difficulty settings become their own end? Since the last century, that's when. Time to wake up in the 21st century.
My favorite bit so far: Want to skip the cutscene? Tap a button. No surprises there, but how about a quick text wrap-up detailing what happened? You got it. Best of all, you can access those synopses anytime you like from your characters' menu overlay, eliminating foggy bouts of "two weeks since I played and I'm doing what again exactly?"
8 Hour Verdict: Worth Another 8
For more gaming news and opinion, park your tweet-readers at twitter.com/game_on.
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