Star Ocean: The Last Hope's Thrilling Combat Is Still Unmatched

A flawed game with one incredible aspect.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope
Square Enix
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Star Ocean has long been one of Square Enix’s most overlooked franchises, never garnering the attention of NieR, Mana, or Final Fantasy. A big part of the reason is that every entry after Star Ocean 2 has proved incredibly divisive, and nowhere is that more true than Star Ocean: The Last Hope. The series’ fourth entry is bloated with an incredibly convoluted story, but at the same time, it has the best action combat system to ever grace the RPG genre.

The Last Hope is a prequel to the entire series, but it’s kind of like in Star Wars where technology in the prequel feels far more advanced than the stories that take place later. The technological jump from PS2 to Xbox 360 also worked wonders for Star Ocean, allowing The Last Hope to be far more ambitious than anything developer Tri-Ace had done before. While that ambition doesn’t always land with its story and world, the battle system is where The Last Hope really innovated, and every other Star Ocean game since has taken cues from this underrated title.

The Last Hope’s story has some interesting ideas and characters but is also chock full of tropes.

Square Enix

Just like the rest of the series combat is entirely action-focused, but The Last Hope manages to drop all of the janky stiffness that infected previous games. Everything feels tight and responsive, while three key pillars make the game’s combat tick: a sense of speed, a new feature called Blindsides, and fantastically varied party members.

To that first point, The Last Hope plays buttery smooth, even more so in the 4K remaster released in 2017. There’s a fantastic sense of ebb and flow in battles as you transition between furious attack combos and backing off to play defensively. The game also does a great job with its skills system, making sure skill activation seamlessly flows into your basic combos. On top of this is a new Rush Combos system. As you attack and use special moves, each character builds up a Rush Gauge, which when full can execute a massive Rush Combo. It’s a smart system that encourages you to stay offensive and keep up that sense of speed and frenetic tension.

The Last Hope’s combat is flashy and frenetic, playing at a blisteringly fast pace while still feeling tight and responsive.

Square Enix

Tied to this is another system called Blindsides, the most innovative idea the series’ combat has seen. Hitting the evade button at the exact right moment lets your character swing behind the enemy for a back attack that has extra power. Blindsides are emphasized with a fantastic slow-mo and camera pan effect that makes pulling one off feel incredibly satisfying and again helps make everything feel more frenetic. Blindsides have been used in every single entry since The Last Hope, including the recent Star Ocean 2 remake, and it’s easy to see why.

The cherry on top of all this is the characters themselves, with each party member feeling incredibly distinct and equally enthralling to play. The main character, Edge, is a quick swordsman great at blindsides and hit-and-run attacks; Arumat is a powerhouse with combos that overwhelm and stagger enemies; and Sara is a support character who focuses on buffing and healing but needs to avoid taking damage. Every party member has a special skillset and role in combat, and they’re all inherently easy to pick up because of those core combat mechanics that are so strong. It’s also simple to swap between characters on the fly, letting you adjust to any situation a dangerous boss might throw at you.

The Last Hope does a fantastic job of making each playable character feel unique, with loads of different party compositions.

Square Enix

The Last Hope’s combat system hadn’t been matched by another RPG until another Square Enix title, Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Interestingly, the combat system of both games bears a lot of similarities: swapping between characters on the fly, a fast frenetic place, distinct party members, and an emphasis on staying offensive.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope stumbles a bit throughout the experience, but it’s so rare to see a 100-hour RPG that’s worth playing for its battles alone. It was a turning point for the franchise, and even if its story didn’t quite land, there’s no way we would have gotten later entries, like The Divine Force, without the foundation set by The Last Hope. Hopefully, someday Star Ocean can hit those same gameplay heights again.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope - 4K and Full HD Remaster is available on PS4 and PC.

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