L'Office de la langue française strikes again!


It's not a fight without colored smoke and numerals.


A cameo by the Judgement Ring?

The token hottie.

Fate meets a standard RPG enemy on the field.

Decisions, decisions.

Gutless swine!

A summonin' good time.


Finally, the end of the waiting time.
Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer: tri-Ace
Publisher: Square-Enix
Rated Teen

So, what exactly was Enix up to between all those unseemly Dragon Quest delays? Part of the answer involves the sci-fantastic Star Ocean series. The development company tri-Ace was responsible for bringing the third installment, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, into existence, but Enix's plans for publishing the title in North America lost their momentum due to a number of reasons - the company's merger being one of them. So, now that it's finally coming over, what does it have that can set it apart from such contemporaries as Xenosaga?

Its unique battle system, for one. The fast paced, mostly real-time combat begins when the party encounters one of the enemies visible on the field. The player controls one character out of the party of three. He or she can move about the battle arena at will, but at a cost of depletion of Guts. A character's Guts is portrayed as a percentage, and when it is full, the character can unleash super attacks. A push of the X and O buttons results in the party member striking the nearest foe with a regular attack. Only by calling up the menu does the action stop.

Artificial intelligence controls the other two party members, but they can come under the player's direct domain by the L1 button. Moreover, inactive members can replace one of the three at any time, as in Final Fantasy X. The fun of the battles comes from performing elaborate combination attacks, and even juggling foes between party members. This exceptional system may give some players difficulty, but the developers have included a fighting simulator to help out.

The technical specs are another plus. The graphics are impressively detailed and don't look any worse for the wear of being a couple of years old. The soundtrack, composed by Motoi Sakuraba, is rhythm infused symphonic fare. The style, if not always the execution, is befitting for an epic.

So, to what end all of this? Undoubtedly for many it will be the space-opera plot that endears them to the game. The story takes place 400 years after the events of Star Ocean 2, and it unfolds through numerous cutscenes that use both CG and the game's regular engine. The Star Ocean universe is ruled by a galactic society that, mirroring Star Trek's Prime Directive, forbids contact with planets that are below a space-age development level.

The previewer as impartial commentator: Surely, such a distinguished group of RPG developers could have come up with something entirely original.

The previewer as undying Trek fan: Livin' long and prosperin', man!

At any rate, imagine Fate's (the main character; for more details, please see our character bios) chagrin when he finds himself on a Victorian-era planet after his vacation abruptly comes to a close.

Beyond all that, things remain, for the most part, unchanged from Star Ocean 2. That game's skill system and item creation system are present, but they have been toned down as they were found to be too troublesome. Players still navigate trap-filled dungeons from an overhead perspective, and engage in all the typical RPG activities.

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time manages to combine a gripping narrative with an original battle system. Although the series has stayed under the North American radar thus far, the release of this title may put it at the forefront of the console RPG market. Now, who's for some swimming?


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