Top 100 PS2 Game: #58 – Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (2004)

I Think I’ve Had Enough.

The late game difficulty spike was an aerial body slam to my already fading interest.

IGN’s Ranking: #58/100
My Rating: cropped-star.jpgcropped-star.jpg

I’m almost ashamed to write a negative review about this interesting ditty of a game. When I put it out there that I was playing it, people came out of the woodwork to tell me how much they loved it.

I mean, look at these comments:

  • “Oh damn, loved this game!”
  • “Definitely one I’d love to erase my memory of and replay again blind, such a classic.”
  • There’s a few moments in this where I at the time I remember being totally blown away. I hope they still stand up now!

So now I have the inglorious task of talking about all the things I didn’t like and skewering people’s beloved experience. If you ever take a stroll through video game twitter, you can see how toxic it can get when people start slinging opinions around, especially about JRPGs (looking at you Final Fantasy Fan Boys). So, please forgive me for the following transgressions because I’m going all in:

This game has so many problems.

[OVERVIEW]

Star Ocean is a second tier franchise that has released multiple games over multiple platforms over multiple years with their last game being released in 2016 for Android and iOS. The core characteristics are futuristic settings, space opera genre, and active battle styles. Originally IP of Enix, it has been part of Square Enix since their meger in the early 2000s.

Till the End of Time is the third game released in the series and was the first to boast 3D graphics. The gameplay, while still active, was different from its predecessors as it no longer was about menu selections but entering commands during free flowing battle (think: FF7Remake).

The story follows Fayt Leingod, a 19 year old who plays too many videos games, and begins with him vacationing with his family and friend Sophia. It ends, in typical JRPG fashion, with Fayt now a genetically-modified machine of destruction fighting to save the very fabric of the universe from being erased.

Star Ocean doing Final Fantasy 12 before Final Fantasy 12 was made.

[ANALYSIS]

I struggle to see what there is to praise.

In a weak sense, the game does have some forward-looking parts. There are expansive regions for you to explore in an open world format that was unique at the time. The characters (well two of them) are whimsical enough to garner some interest. The music is pretty banging – this song alone was almost enough to bump it up to a three star review:

The problem is everything is couched in these unpolished and half-baked mechanisms.

Destination: Unknown.

By far the worse offender is how the game manages your sense of direction. Modern games fix this by having quest markers or clearly delineated paths that funnel you to the appropriate location. Sometimes that’s overkill, so I appreciate some meandering in between points of interest to explore the world organically and discover new things.

Till The End of Time isn’t meandering; it is about being lost.

The game will drop you off in a new location and tell you to go to some generic mountain or lake that you have not discovered. So you do your best to figure out where to go, but often this leads to an early death from overpowered enemies or fruitless discovery.

The game tries to fix this by offering a dictionary. Yes, a dictionary. When someone mentions a keyword, you can look it up to learn more about it. Sometimes by looking up the location in your dictionary, you can surmise more information of where you are specifically suppose to go, but it doesn’t always work out like you think. In one instance, I went to the right part of the world (Western Peterny) but took a branch off the trail and was thumped by powerful beasties 10 feet off the main road.

Woah. 12 rooms that look exactly alike and I get to explore them all!? 😡

What to do?

The second sin goes right along with no sense of direction: objectives. There are many times where there is no clear objective for you to obtain. The game LOVES to put you in an enclosed area where you can’t leave but doesn’t tell you what you need to do to progress.

Early on, I had to look online what to do because I was stuck on a spaceship. I had to talk to all 11 NPCs in the hallway to proceed. With another instance, I was stuck on a spaceship with multiple rooms. These rooms all look alike and do not hold treasure or meaning. You have to go through each room talking to every person and then hopefully it triggers what the game is looking for. In one particularly frustrating sequence, the game won’t proceed until you talk to your party members in a big sprawling city, but it gives no indications that’s what you need to do. Miss one party member in some shop and you will be going in circles just trying to trigger an event.

It’s not fun. It’s not wholesome. It doesn’t enrich the game.

Hobby Lobby.

One of the main “side feature” of this game is inventing. You recruit characters that have strengths in one of the available expertises (such as alchemy, compounding, engineering, smithing, etc) and put them to work on creating new items. Sounds like a cool add-on feature…

…well it isn’t. The game doesn’t tell you much about what’s happening behind the curtain. You line up your inventors on lines, press start, spend a bunch of money, and then usually you create ass-items like broken swords and food that kills your party members immediately. Eventually you find stronger inventors with higher skill levels, but you still don’t understand exactly what to do.

Due to an outrageous difficulty spike (which we will talk about in the next section 😞) I caved and looked up online how to craft the best items. It was even worse than I thought.

When you invent, it randomly rolls what you are trying to make and gives you a money amount. More expensive items actually aren’t the best. Certain items correlate with a range of money. So if you want to make a powerful amulet to get past the difficulty spike, you need to get the cost to be around 2000. But it is random, so you just keep clicking to keep rolling in hopes of getting that “special” number. Most everything else is junk.

My cat is playing with a toy in the background 🙂

Having fun yet?

Difficulty Spike

While a late comer to the party, this was the one that finished me off. The game was very easy with the exceptions of when I wondered into a high level area without knowing it because the game didn’t tell me where to go or what to do (see points 1 and 2 above). Then all of a sudden the game decided it had enough of that and became an impenetrable wall.

At the penultimate location before the end of the game, I couldn’t get past anything. I decided to grind it out but learned another scary fact — I was too strong to earn experience but to weak to earn experience. What is this cockannany?

In Till The End of Time, you can earn a bonus to experience by filling up a gauge meter. This is the only way to make your grinding go from several hours to a couple. If you are too strong for your current enemies, you don’t get the gauge bar for bonus EXP — makes sense. However, I wasn’t getting the gauge bar but I also was getting wiped out by the people I was fighting. Logically, this meant my level was high enough to easily dispose of them, but something else was missing such as equipment or strategy.

I took to ancient neoseeker/gameguide message boards to find my answer. The camps were split in two: some people thought the difficult spike was impossible to get through while others didn’t realize there was even one. What was the defining feature? Those who took advantage of the broken invention system and those who didn’t.

Those who didn’t experience a difficulty spike spent hours rerolling the random nature of inventing until they got what they wanted after looking up in guides what to do. I started to go down this path until I realized how unfun the invention system is, even when you know how to break it wide open like an egg.

Junk Drawer of Complaints.

Here are my rapid fire other problems.

Early on it is clear that there is a reward for getting 100% on a map. As I have a type A completist streak, I felt like this would be an enjoyable thing to do until you see how it is executed. Walking around the main map usually leaves 5-10% of the map gauge unfilled. What you then have to do is walk around the borders of the map, wiggling controller back and forth, to pick up several tenths of a percentage around the edge to get to 100. If you look at the picture posted below, you can see it went up .10 of a % when I hugged the wall and took a few steps.

It’s a complete waste of time. Another grindy task that was poorly executed. I got one map to 99.67. I’m not sure where the other .33% lived.

The game has “puzzles” to “solve” as you walk around the world and they are AWFUL. Early on, you have to get out of a mine by riding haulers that all have different temperaments that unlock different locations. It is a labyrinth of frustration that is wholly counter intuitive. It also takes tons of time — menus, loading screens, restarts, dead ends. The juice is never worth the squeeze in this game.

There is a puzzle later on that involves playing a flute by either pressing the O soft and fast, soft and long, hard and fast, or hard and long. It is insane. It is one of the puzzles that even when you LOOK UP and read a guide on, you still can’t execute it because everything is so finnicky.

This game continues to give you characters until the very end but invests very little. What’s worse is here I am getting my ass handed to me at level 60 and the game gives me LEVEL ONE characters.

While you hear people complain about the plot twist, I’m actually going to leave that alone. It was almost…refreshing to be so kitsch? Is that a thing?

Battle is clunky and frustrating. Hope you like wasting powerful attacks on invincible enemies because any enemy picking itself up off the ground is completely omnipowerful. I wish air was an enemy because I would have killed that sucker in the first 30 minutes with how often you swing at empty space.

You earn trophies for certain things in battle but as far as I can tell they don’t do anything. Each time you get one, you have to save your game or you lose the battle trophy progress. Another great time waster.

[CONCLUSION]

There are just too many things that are wrong to make it enjoyable.

Other People’s Takes:

  • GareBlogs: “Well, this is a solid example of an otherwise decent game swiftly going downhill due to a certain story reveal. When I started Star Ocean 3, I was having a blast — by the time I got to the final dungeon, I just wanted my suffering to end.”
  • Hexa Blog: “As usual with RPGs, the other major aspect of the game play is combat. To put it lightly, I have not the faintest clue what they were trying to do with the combat for this game.”
  • Lady Geek Girl: “I found the game to be extremely well made and fun, even though the story did have some problems. Also, a couple of the voice actors are really bad. Like, exceedingly ear-bleeding bad.”

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