Till the End of My Patience.
Something always goes wrong on vacation. No matter how hard you try, that pesky Murphy and his inscrutable laws are going to catch up with you. You're relaxing at some sunny beach resort, not a care in the world, Traveler's Checks to keep away the thieves and a platinum Visa because it's everywhere you want to be, when suddenly aliens invade and kidnap everyone around you. What now?
If you're anything like Fayt Leingod, star of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, you'll turn tail and run, embarking on an arduously long and terribly unspectacular adventure. He should have gone to Club Med instead.
I suppose the best way to hold aliens and adventures at bay is to simply not have such a tragic RPG hero name. Fayt Leingod? If this guy were named Bob Johnson, he'd still be relaxing on the beach while the kid next to him, Destino Dragonface, would get the alien anal probe. Stupid parents.
The game is set in the strange, outer space universe we first experienced in Star Ocean on the Playstation. Fayt Leingod (sigh) and his family are tossed into their story after they're attacked by evildoers during their vacation. Fayt then sets out to find his crew and make things right.
Unfortunately, the characters are awkwardly designed and poorly developed. I don't know whether to blame the ineffective English translations or whether the Star Ocean series has always been this way, but the cast of stereotypes makes it hard to care much about anyone. There's Fayt, the do-gooder who is friendly, thoughtful and boring as hell. Then there's the tough guy, the comic relief, the cutesy girl, and so on. Hours and hours in, and I still feel like I'm playing every RPG released since 1985.
Appreciably, Star Ocean breaks from tradition by getting rid of random encounter battles, opting instead to visibly show you the enemies and thus allow you to dodge "em. This is a nice way to solve the classic problem of constant, irritating combat as you wander around, but it's so easy to avoid monsters that you can quickly find yourself underpowered. Hence, you'll find yourself fighting enemies you normally would walk right past just to keep your character leveling up appropriately.
If only the actual combat was fun. Star Ocean allows you to have a party of three; you control one character while the computer controls the other two. It's all done in real-time and requires you to endlessly mash standard and critical attacks at the enemy. As you level up, special attacks become available in addition to Symbology, Star Ocean's equivalent of magic.
In the previous Star Ocean, the battle screen was flatter and wider since it dealt with smaller bitmapped characters. As a result, more than three team members could be fighting concurrently. The pace of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time's combat is a little too frantic. While you mash away, you have to keep a constant eye on your teammates' health, lest they be struck down from a one-hit blow. It's almost better to switch to the team's healer and just stand off in the corner, intermittently healing your buddies, while the CPU controls the bulk of the action.
The only real hope is to somehow level up enough so you don't have to worry so much or to simply exploit the system entirely. This is easily accomplished via health recharge spots, where you can go back and forth between the enemies and recharging until you have had your fill of experience points. It's simply not a well-balanced RPG.
Much of your time will be spent in the game's many dungeons, which border on confusing and frustrating. You could be wandering for an hour in some big dungeon with no way out, only to discover the solution is to talk to an NPC before you even head down into the dungeon in the first place. It turns out you need magical hammers from the NPC to break down some magical dungeon walls, which would have been a nice bit of info before they let you waste an hour doing pretty much nothing. It's supremely annoying.
Why must they place the magical walls all the way in the back? Why not at least have one characters remark, "Gee, I think we need to go back and get something to break through this crumbling wall?" This sort of thing is not fun, and sadly, this is not a singular example. It's the kind of lame design that might make for better Hint Guide sales, but it does not make for a happy gamer.
Star Ocean offers a bit of innovation in its invention system. Many characters in the game are members of the Craftsman's Guild and can create items; you can hire other inventors by first finding them in the various towns. After inventing items, they become available at the shop. On one hand, this forces players to be diligent about talking to random NPC villagers since one of them might be the next Edison and will wind up building a sweet new set of armor. On the other hand, the whole system could use some better instruction and more streamlining. The rewards don't always justify the trouble.
The original Star Ocean had some really good music. This one just feels blas" and generic. Likewise, the visuals are pretty basic. The environments and effects are fine, but the character modeling is strangely outdated. One artistic incentive for giving characters big googly anime eyes is for a larger range of expression; here, the giant eyes barely animate, resulting in creepy, soulless faces. The CG, however, is done very well.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is simply steeped too deeply in old role-playing game conventions and standbys. Games like Star Wars: KOTOR have changed the landscape, while more similar titles like Final Fantasy X and Xenosaga have a better battle system and a more epic feel, respectively.
Despite a few nice concepts, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time will only try your patience and make you wish you were playing better a RPG. Unless you're a sucker for the past, spend your vacations playing something else.