Star Ocean IV: The Last Hope

In the future, there was a nuclear war and as a result mankind developed the power of warp space travel. Using this power they were able to visit distant galaxies they call “Star Oceans”. Who will survive in a world of… STAR OCEANS!

So that actually sums up the basic plot behind the game. This game is a prequel to any other Star Oceans and stars off with World War III nuclear strikes ravaging Earth and decimating it’s population. Soon after mankind looks to space for survival and five ships are tasked with colonizing a new planet. You play a crew member from one of those ships named Edge Maverick (parents must have got the name from a list of generic space heroes).

Likes

Non-fantasyesque story. The first thing I noticed is how vastly different the feel of the game is from Star Ocean 2, the only other Star Ocean game I played. Where Star Ocean 2 felt more fantasy than sci-fi, Star Ocean 4 feels defintely more sci-fi than fantasy. So people who are looking forward to a JRPG that breaks the typical storyline mold shouldn’t be disappointed.

Battle pace. First off no random battles makes me a happy camper. Two new mechanics, blindsiding and rush, help break up monotonous button mashing. Blindsiding allows your character to sidestep around an enemy to get a free guaranteed critical strike in. Rush is like a super meter that, when full, can be activated to get increased stats for awhile. It’s definitely something new and makes battles feel more dynamic and like a fighting game-like.

feature_star-ocean-4_01
Uh Reimi, it's not what you think! Oh hell, so... wanna join? ^_~

Dislikes

The dubbing. I know that JRPG’s can have good dubbing as made evident by Tales of Vesperia and Eternal Sonata, but I would rank Star Ocean 4 even beneath Infinite Undiscovery! (Listen to Welch and tell me this isn’t true). It makes it even worse when you hear the same two victory quotes after every battle. However even Infinite Undiscovery’s dubbing grew on me so we’ll wait and see how it pans out.

Lots of story, no action! Like most JRPG’s, there is a lot of exposition you are given before you get to actual gameplay and when you do it suffers from what I like to call “I don’t know where to go next”-itis in which sometimes you’ll be wandering around for a long time before you figure out the next trigger for the storyline. This has always been a huge pet-peeve and I hope that it doesn’t happen as often in the future.

Generic characters. Yeah the overall story is cool so far, but the characters you play as  have felt very flat and one-dimensional. I’m hoping that we see some actual depth to these characters as the story goes on.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for another JRPG to get sucked into, you could do a lot worse. However with stuff like Eternal Sonata, Tales of Vesperia and Persona 4 out there you could also do a lot better. If you RPG’s that break the mold of the traditional fantasy world (not to say it doesn’t have it’s fair share of swords and sorcery) I would definitely say give it a try. If you already got your plate full with other new releases I think it can be passed for now until a drop in price.

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu

Let’s begin right off the bat. Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu is one of the most disappointing series in the last decade, perhaps of all time. I can see various reasons why Mike decided on the anime (alongside ToLOVEru) for our first episode of the season. Let’s run by the various reasons this series became a review candidate — a cute and popular high school girl who just happens to be an anime fan AND is played by Mamiko Noto: check, a male character that is not completely spineless: check, a premise that involves protecting said girl from embarrassment and ridicule for being an anime fan: check. These are the components of what could’ve been the surprise romantic comedy hit of the summer of 2008. Unfortunately, the folks of Studio Barcelona thinks it is best to take this interesting twist to the boy-meets-girl theme and not do anything at all.

Our story revolves around Ayase Yuuto (Hatano Wataru), our typical high school male lead and of course Nogizaka Haruka (Noto Mamiko), the titular and quirky high school girl. Haruka, like all original rom-com female leads, is Hakujou Academy’s top idol and the girl of men’s creepy fantasies. One day, Yuuto’s crazy otaku friend Nobunaga (Reiko Takagi) asked him to return an anime magazine called Innocent Smile to the school library. As he returns the magazine, he literally bumped into Haruka, with a copy of Innocent Smile flew out from her bag, exposing her most embarrassing secret — she’s an akiba-kei.

(You may have noticed that term akiba-kei for Haruka, and otaku for Nobunaga. The difference between the two terms is that an otaku is a full-fledge fanatic, while an akiba-kei is a person that has some interest in anything that’s related to Akihabara. Well at least that’s what the Wikipedia otaku would want you to know.)

We’ve seen stranger situations before in the boy-meets-girl theme — from a girl turning into some dude’s right hand to a girl reverting back to a mind of a 7 year old — but we have yet to see something a relatively realistic. Let’s be real, a cute girl who happens to be an otaku is just another plot device. I’m surprised that it took this long for this plot device to be animated, especially a few years after the wildly popular Densha Otoko franchise was released to the wild. Despite my cynicism, I had some expectations thinking that this might actually work, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

The staff at Studio Barcelona didn’t exploit Haruka’s secret. Instead, we’re exposed to the same cliches and frustrating story arcs found in practically every rom-com anime since Love Hina. The series is peppered with episodes that are unrelated to the main character that drags the already short 12-episode series. Episodes such as Yuuto dating Haruka’s younger sister Mika (Goto Mai) and, Yuuto and the gang wasting an entire episode trying to learn about the secret love life of Haruka’s quiet maid Hazuki (Shimizu Kaori). Plus, the series’ screenwriters couldn’t figure out how to correctly intertwine a possible love triangle candidate, Amamiya Shiina (Satō Rina) into the existing story! I mean, sure there’s the typical episode of misunderstanding a scene, but unsurprisingly it was resolved quickly. And to add insult to injury, on the last episode, I was expecting Haruka to come out of her closet and admit that she’s an akiba-kei. Instead, we have a “class war” type of episode where Yuuto has to prove that you don’t need fame or money to prove a person’s worth… or some shit like that.

In any case, it just goes back to how Studio Barcelona mishandled a clear-cut premise into something completely unrelated. At the end of the day, Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu is just forgettable and not worth your time. Even though it tries to have some feel good moments, the only thing you’ll feel from watching the entire series is regret.

So Am I Considered Part of G-Unit Now?

So with the last few weeks cluttered with releases like Street Fighter IV, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Halo Wars, and Killzone 2, who knew that the one game I would end up buying would be this one.

When I first heard about Fiddy’s 2nd foray into the gaming world I wondered why anyone was even covering it in the first place. I didn’t pay it much attention until I started hearing about it from some reputable gaming websites. Which if it was an isolated incident I wouldn’t think twice. But when you start hearing favorable reviews from here and here and over here and don’t forget here too, it becomes hard to ignore this the cult status the game has already undertaken.

As I write this my copy of 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is currently being processed by Amazon.com, so look forward in the near future to my take on the game and see for yourself whether or not the game is worth it for teh lulz that everyone claims it will bring. Maybe if there’s enough demand the Unwound Show can do a live blog of a co-op run through.