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The Tri-Ace developed, Square Enix published Star Ocean series appears to be all the rage at the moment, with the first game of the series hitting U.S. shores for the first time as a PlayStation Portable remake in late 2008, a PSP version of the second title due out in early 2009, and a fourth original game in the series set to hit the Xbox 360 sometime later in the next calendar year. With the other titles in this epic sci-fi action RPG series getting so much attention these days, we thought it might be a good idea to go back and take a look at the often overlooked third title, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, which was released in North American for the Sony PlayStation 2 on August 31, 2004.
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While Till the End of Time takes place in the same fictitious universe as its two predecessors, the story it tells is largely a self-contained one. Playing as Fayt Leingod, the son of two brilliant scientists, gamers will experience an alien attack while on vacation at a resort planet. When all of the guests are forced to evacuate, Fayt gets separated from his parents and his childhood friend, Sophia Esteed, and winds up landing on a world that is bereft of technology. Eventually, he meets up with other companions (including Sophia) and becomes embroiled in an intergalactic conflict, part of which has to do with some kind of special power he is supposed to possess. Eventually, there's a Matrix-like plot twist, one that has met with mixed reactions from RPG gamers over the years. On the whole, though, the writing in Star Ocean 3 is of fair quality, and the storyline should keep fans entertained throughout.
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Graphics and Music
With the technological advancements in console gaming since the game's initial release, it is difficult to accurately gauge Star Ocean 3's visuals. On the one hand, the character designs and 3D environments are much more detailed than the 2D sprites and old-school locales of Star Ocean: The Second Story (originally a PlayStation title before its PSP re-release). On the other hand, recent Xbox 360 and PS3 RPGs, including the upcoming Star Ocean: The Last Hope, totally blow this game out of the water. On the whole, I'd have to say it's an average effort, which is to say that it's not bad to look at but it won't wow gamers who are picking it up for the first time. One thing that definitely isn't merely average is the excellent musical score by the always reliable Motoi Sakuraba, who has worked on most previous Tri-Ace games, including every entry of the Star Ocean series to date. Top-notch stuff, to be sure, and the English voice acting's not half bad either. Overall, this is a solid four-star effort.
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When it comes to Star Ocean games, gameplay is king, and that holds true for Till the End of Time as well. Combat is done in real time, as players control one character out of a party of three (not necessarily Fayt) and wage war using regular attacks, special moves and magic. All of the action takes place in a small, self-contained battle area, but characters can move about freely, switching targets at will and helping bail out a teammate if necessary. There are no random encounters, as all enemies are visible on the world map, and after each battle the party gains experience points that will help them level up and become more powerful. Unlike many RPGs, Star Ocean 3 offers action-packed and fast paced fighting, and is a tremendous amount of fun to play.
The game is also exceptionally deep as well. There are hidden levels to explore and sidequests to undertake, which helps increase the game's longevity. Also, the item creation system from previous entries in the Star Ocean series makes a welcome return, as gamers can go to workshops and try their hands at cooking, creating healing items, forging weapons, and so forth. Once they do, they can file a patent and the item will become available for sale, thus granting the party profits from their creation, just like in real life. Trust me, the item creation system is endlessly addicting. Finally, the U.S. version also includes the one-on-one fighting minigame and the unlockable battle trophies from the Japanese "Director's Cut" edition of the game. Add in multiple difficulty levels and the ability to continue playing after completing the storyline (and thus unlocking additional areas to explore), and you're looking at a game that will keep gamers enthralled for an absolute minimum of 50 to 60 hours.
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Whether it's due to the 3D graphics, the characters, the infamous plot twist, or another reason, the fact is that there are a number of dedicated Star Ocean fans who simply don't like Till the End of Time, and I for one can't understand why. It has all the depth and all the sci-fi trappings of previous games in the series, and the combat is as fun as ever. The graphics aren't bad by any stretch of the imagination and the music is epic, as always. Despite what some may argue, this is a proper Star Ocean game, and whether you've ever experienced this series before or not, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is a worthwhile addition to any RPG fan's library -- even more so now that the game is readily available for well under $20 both online and at most gaming retailers.