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Turmoil: a son torn from his parents.
In a little over a month, Square Enix will release the tri-Aceís long-awaited PS2 sci-fi RPG, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. The game marks not only the series premier on next-generation hardware, but the grand return of the epic RPG in the recently stagnating genre. RPGFan had the distinct pleasure of spending a great deal of time with a pre-release version of Till the End of Time, and from what weíve played Ė the experience has been well worth the wait.
When young Fayt Leingod accompanies his parents and his childhood friend, Sophia Esteed, on a luxurious vacation on the beautiful planet Hyda IV, life seemed normal. That is, until a mysterious enemy attacks the planet, driving Fayt and his friend away from his parents in the scramble for escape. Assuming the worst, both youths find safety in a secret Hydan refugee shelter, but their security would only be fleeting, for the enemy would not stay their attack on the planetís surface. Eventually, Sophia clings to Fayt during the evacuation of the refugee bunker as the attack worsens, turning the face of Hyda IV into a smoldering inferno. With no time to spare, the refugees board a Galaxy Federation cruiser in hopes of fleeing the war zone. Entering Gravidic Warp, the civilians thought they could breathe a sigh of relief, but they were wrong. The ruthless enemy would pursue Faytís vessel with murderous intent. Managing to reach the escape pods, Fayt and Sophia flee the crumbling ship and would be separated in the resulting explosion.
Helpless and alone, Faytís pod enters Gravidic Warp, destination: the closest life-sustaining planet furthest away from the enemy. After several hours, he lands on the under-developed world of Vanguard III. Alone and frightened about the fate of his loved ones, Fayt leaves his vessel to interact with the locals, for who knows how long he would be marooned until the Federation rescued him. To further complicate matters, as a citizen of an advanced civilization, Fayt must conceal his origins and his technology from the denizens of the planet or risk violation of the Universal Planet Preservation Pact or UP3.
Eventually, Fayt would leave this world only to end up marooned on another as his pursuers endlessly search for him. Fayt would come to discover that not only the attackers on Hyda IV were hunting for him, but another faction outside of the Galaxy Federation as well. Could it be his fatherís work in Symbiological Genetics? With his father captured, or worse: dead, what could they hope to gain from him? What would they want with a simple college student? Fayt would journey across the stars and find himself involved in conflicts ranging from a reluctant villageís servitude to a madman on one world, to a seemingly endless war between nations between another.
From what weíve experienced so far, the depth of storytelling and characterization through the beginning of Faytís journey has been remarkable. Square Enix spared no expense in gathering an incredibly capable selection of voice talent to give life to Fayt and crew. Anime fans will recognize more than one voice-over along the journey, and the experience is memorable thanks to not only impeccable acting, but well-developed characterization as well. The score by industry veteran Motoi Sakuraba is also incredible, sporting new tunes and arranged versions of some classic Star Ocean anthems.
Even though the game is over a year old, the visuals donít fail to impress. While the character models are simplistic compared to those found in the juggernaut Final Fantasy XII, they are portrayed in solid anime-style, which lends well to the in-game cinema sequences. A number of pre-rendered CG sequences also deserve praise for their visual appeal. The overworld maps are laudable, with a striking attention to every minute detail. Battle effects are also impressive with enough blazing arches of luminescence to wow even the most jaded gamer.
Combat in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is an exact replica of the system found in Star Ocean 2. Unfolding in real-time, the player takes control of one character, while the computer controls the others based on the tactical stance you choose. During battle, the player can switch between manually controlling any party member, at any time. Ally A.I. can also be adjusted on-the-fly as well. While a standard attack is delegated to a single button, players can set a host of special attacks and abilities to the X and O button based on distance from the enemy. All actions consume a characterís Fury gauge, especially special attacks, so players will have to weigh their offensive actions, as well as take time-out to rest so that the gauge can refill. As enemies are defeated, battle skills are upgraded and new abilities are learned. Leveling-up nets the character points used to purchase statistical upgrades. The system is confusing at first, as the standard progression of skills are player-customized instead of automatic Ė but once you get a working understanding of how the system works, youíll see how remarkably flexible it is. Again, RPGFans who have played Star Ocean 2 will feel right at home with almost every aspect of Till the End of Timeís play mechanics.
Thereís so much I can say about how thoroughly impressed I am with Square Enixís efforts in bringing this release to North America. The fact that weíre also getting the Directorís Cut version of the game speaks volumes about how dedicated they are to making this game a success. Even with just under a dozen hours of playtime, the fast-paced nature of both the combat and storytelling has left me enamored. I can see that completing the game will require a solid investment of time. The attention to detail, both in visual appeal and play mechanics is refreshing and long overdue. I can honestly say, from what Iíve experienced so far, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time offers the most solid and compelling gameplay experience Iíve enjoyed in years. RPGFans have been waiting for this game with bated-breath for a very long time, and Iím pleased to say that so far, the game appears to meet and exceed almost every expectation.
While Enix was suspiciously silent during the first year and a half of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time's development, and with the game's Japanese release being three months away, tons of new information on the highly anticipated RPG has surfaced. With every screenshot Enix releases, it seems that the final product will indeed be visually impressive, if not stunning. The CG cinemas alone are breathtaking. Contrary to its predecessor, which limited voice acting to battles, Till the End of Time will feature fully voiced event scenes in addition to combat chatter.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time takes place 400 years after the events of Star Ocean: The Second Story. In this time, the Galaxy Federation has blossomed into an almost omnipresent force in the universe, stretching into the furthest reaches of space. With their significant power and technology, the Galaxy Federation had relied on deep-space research and exploration to widen its influence. Sadly, their curiosity went unchecked, and some things were never meant to be disturbed.
Meanwhile on Earth, 19 year-old Fate Lingold and his childhood friend, Sophia Esteed are preparing to travel along with Fateís parents into space. For years, Fate and Sophia spent much of their time together like brother and sister while their parents worked on a research base in lunar orbit. When Fateís family decides to take the two teens to a federation-protected planet on holiday, the wheels of destiny are set into motion. The adventure begins in a recreation facility where Fate, his parents and Sophia are enjoying their vacation. The relaxing atmosphere doesn't last long, however, as the planet comes under heavy attack from unknown aggressors. During their escape, the four hurry to the emergency evacuation site only to discover the invaders are already there, awaiting their prey. Against all odds, Fate and Sophia manage to escape the ambush and make their way to a refuge, but Fateís parents are nowhere to be found.
During their adventure, the two will be joined by the good-natured, white-haired dancer, Souffle Rossetti and the enigmatic Cliff Fitter. Despite his human appearance, Cliff Fitter is of alien descent, hailing from the third planet of the Claustro system. Cliff's physical strength and durability well exceed that of every human. Along their journey, the quartet will also team-up with the mysterious Nell Zelpher, a 23 year-old spy whose motives are entirely unclear.
Not to be outdone by its predecessor, Till the End of Time uses a turn-based battle system with a twist. There are three major stats that will play a major role in combat: Hit Points, Mental Points and Guts. While the first two are self-explanatory, Guts can be thought of as movement points. If a character's Guts percentage reaches zero, he or she won't be able to move. On the right side of the screen, just beneath the small radar display, a SPECIAL meter is visible, though details about its use have yet to be revealed. Though the number of party members has been reduced to three, it is now possible to change them during battle ala Final Fantasy X. Till the End of Time will also distinguish between status and battle skills; the former will include techniques that will affect maximum HP/MP, base statistics, or the ability to learn new skills. Each character comes with his or her unique set of six weapon-dependent battle skills: two short range, two long range, as well as two support abilities. Fate, for instance, relies on his swords to perform these special maneuvers, which include multiple hit combos and a burning sword attack among others. For this third installment of the saga, Star Ocean: The Second Story's infamous private actions will return, but exactly what form they will take remains to be seen.
Star Ocean: Till The End of Time is shaping-up to become the next high-profile PlayStation 2 RPG to hit Japan this year, following Genso Suikoden III and Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht. Till the End of Time's combination of cutting-edge visuals, a promising storyline, and involving combat may set a new standard for console RPGs when released in Japan this November. While no official US release date has been set by Enix America, the game has been announced for American release.
It was in March 2000 that Enix officially announced the development of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time for Sony's black box, which had just been launched on the 4th of March in Japan. Afterwards, Enix went silent about the progress of the anticipated third installment of its second major series of RPGs behind Dragon Quest. Rumor had it that the project was cancelled and the new Star Ocean would appear on GameCube instead of PS2. Finally, in September the first two screenshots surfaced and since then Enix has broken its silence, even showing off a trailer at the recent Tokyo Game Show Autumn.
Following the path of many recent incarnations of formerly sprite-based RPG series, Star Ocean's world and characters will shine in full 3D, employing the two standard techniques of pre-rendered CG (for important cutscenes) and 3D polygons.
While the detailed backgrounds look impressive, spells and characters, despite looking decent, are not in same league as their counterparts in Final Fantasy X. Contrary to the fixed camera angles of Final Fantasy X and Xenosaga: Episode 1, Till the End of Time features a freely rotating camera on the overworld map as well as in dungeons and towns. To make sure players don't get lost in the unfamiliar 3D environments, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time offers a little orientation help in the form of a radar screen at the bottom-right corner of the screen.
The game's battle system, on the other hand, promises to be a familiar experience for fans of the previous incarnations, featuring a rather fast-paced, more action-oriented battle system than the usual turn-based battles in most representatives of the genre. Fighting in real-time has an almost action/adventure-like touch, as you try to attack your enemies while seeking refuge from their counterattacks by quickly retreating after a successful assault. You can have three party members at once in your party.
So far, little is known about both story and setting. The first two (presumably lead) characters, however, have already received official names, Fate and Sophia. The earlier carries a wireless communicator around his wrist as well as a big sword, while Sophia is the brunette female lead. The (official) names of the remaining cast have yet to be revealed; only another female character was shown in the TGS demo, namely a girl with dark skin and a tail.
The game is set to take place in a world reminiscent of a near future earth with different ancient civilizations having inhabited the planet throughout its history. It's still unknown how the third part of the Star Ocean saga will connect to its two predecessors story-wise. In the trailer, several dates are highlighted, and it looks as if from 2087 AD onwards, humans start using a new calendar system, the so-called Space Date calendar. Two key events are mentioned afterwards, the "Planet Rook" incident about 300 years later and the destruction of the well known Sorcery Globe again 30 years after that. In Till the End of Time, all these events are ancient history, as the game begins in the year 772 Space Date or in other words 2859 AD.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is Enix/Tri-Ace's first major RPG since Valkyrie Profile, and (apart from some Japan-only graphical adventures) the company's first project on PlayStation 2. Thus it should be interesting to see how both the developer and this highly acclaimed and popular RPG series manage the transition from 32-bit to a next generation console, in this case the PS2.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is set to be released in Japan in March 2002. No stateside release has been announced so far, but considering that Till the End of Time will be a major title for Enix, and given the fact that the company re-opened its American branch again last year, expect a US version to be announced sooner or later.