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July 2018

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

Platform(s): PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: May 23, 2017


PS4 Review - 'Star Ocean: Till the End of Time'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 15, 2017 @ 1:45 a.m. PDT

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time presents the journey of Fayt Leingod and his childhood friend, Sophia Esteed, as they discover the greatest secret in the Star Ocean universe.

Buy Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

Star Ocean is not quite a niche franchise, but it's never been a blockbuster series either, even by JRPG standards. It's the most well-known and successful of developer Tri-Ace's games, but it's averaged one game per console generation since the SNES. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time was the third title in the series and the most cohesive and well-designed of the lot. It lacks the charm of Star Ocean: Second Story, but the game design is less awkward. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is a decade-old game, and even a slightly upscaled PS4 port can't do much to change that.

Till the End of Time follows the adventures of the eccentrically named Fayt Leingod, who's a normal teen living in a Star Trek-inspired society when a sudden attack leaves him trapped in an escape pod that promptly crash-lands on a world of fantasy monsters and magic. Fayt has to find a way to escape from the planet and reunite with his friends and loved ones. Along the way, he has to deal with the complex politics of the world and the mysterious alien invaders who attacked him in the first place.

For the most part, Till the End of Time has a fun cast of characters. Fayt is a blank slate of a protagonist, and there's a better cast of side characters. It can take a long time to get your full cast, though, and the nature of the game means you won't be able to see every character and every event in a single playthrough. This adds some extra replay value, though perhaps not necessarily enough to play through a very lengthy JRPG multiple times in order to see it all.

Unfortunately, Till the End of Time does the usual Star Ocean thing of starting off the game with space adventures and then plopping the player on a generic JRPG planet for a huge portion of the runtime. This isn't the end of the world, but it means the titular Star Ocean doesn't play as much into the game as one would like. Once you leave the fantasy world, things pick up, but the game suffers nonetheless for spending so much time in a fairly generic fantasy world. The story ends up meandering until the moment the space stuff comes into play.

There's a pretty large elephant in the room when discussing the plot, and that is the last quarter of the game, which introduces a massive plot twist and recontextualizes the characters, events and story in a drastic way. It's such a drastic change that every successive Star Ocean game was a prequel to this. It's impossible to discuss without spoiling the twist, but it's controversial and can sour a player who was otherwise onboard with the rest of the game.

Much of Till the End of Time is pretty standard. It's by no means a bad JRPG, but it doesn't do anything particularly exceptional. You travel between towns and dungeons, vaguely following the plot until later in the game, when you get more freedom. There's nothing wrong with this, but die-hard JRPG fans probably won't get much excitement from it. The dungeons and most of the locations are bland. The game gets more exciting in the endgame, and the area after the dreaded plot twist is one of my favorite places to explore, but it takes a while to get there.

The combat system is from the same lineage as the Tales of franchise but goes in a different direction with similar concepts. It's an action-based RPG system where you move your characters in real time and string together attacks and combos to do maximum damage. There's more of a focus on interacting with the mechanics than in sheer reaction, but like Tales, there's a reward for understanding how to play the game. You'll be able to combine various abilities to create complex combo strings, and with some clever usage of abilities, you can outmaneuver significantly stronger enemies.

Once you understand the crafting and combat mechanics, it's very easy to shatter the system, turning what should be ultimate challenges into more of a joke. A couple of characters have very specific moves, so the optimal way to play them is to reuse one move over and over again. This can turn the end game from an interesting challenge to a repetitive slog where gear alone determines who wins. You don't have to play it that way, but beyond a certain point, it's difficult to find a balance between abusing the system and playing the game.

Speaking of gear, Till the End of Time has an awkward, convoluted and involved crafting system. You'll recruit characters (or utilize party members) who can invent items of various complexity and attributes. This is amusing early on, but by the end game, you can craft weapons that eviscerate enemies. The game doesn't explain the crafting system well, and you don't need to fiddle with it much to finish the story. It's mostly there for harder challenges or difficulty modes. It's a neat feature, but years of better gear crafting in JRPGs mean that this feature hasn't aged well.

Till the End of Time is a pretty solid but bare-bones port. There aren't any significant issues that weren't present in the original game, but there are no meaningful changes, so it's just a slightly cleaned-up port of an aging PS2 game. Considering the high-quality updates and remasters of PS2 and PS3 games in recent memory, it's tough to get particularly excited about this title. It's perfectly serviceable, runs well and has no serious issues, but compared to something like The Zodiac Age, it's entirely subpar.

Visually, the game hasn't held up at all. The character models are done in an exaggerated anime-style design but lack the extremely stylization that made it work. The character designs haven't aged well, the cut scenes are frequently off-putting in a way that's difficult to ignore, and the slight visual improvements haven't done much for it. The environments and setting are a little better, though it still looks like a decade-old game. It's not fair to blame the game for looking aged, but when you compare it to other PS2 remasters, it's not a great-looking game. Likewise, the voice acting is a product of its time. There are some good performances and a lot of stilted and awkward dialogue that struggles to convey the proper tone. Anyone who's familiar with PS2-era voice acting will be OK with it, but you shouldn't expect anything too great. However, the soundtrack is quite good and does a lot to improve the rest of the product.

All in all, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is an adequate and enjoyable JRPG. Nothing about the game or the port is particularly exceptional, but aside from one particularly controversial plot twist, it doesn't do anything particularly wrong, either. It's a fun JRPG with a lot of replay value, and anyone looking for a nostalgic trip or to experience a somewhat obscure game will have a good time. A higher-quality remaster or port could've done a lot to elevate the game to the next level.

Score: 7.0/10

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