Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is an action JRPG developed by tri-Ace and published by Square Enix in 2004 on PS2. It was also rereleased on PS4 as a PS2 classic in 2017. The story follows the college student Fayt Leingod (sic) after he crashes down on an underdeveloped planet after getting separated from his family following an attack that starts a galactic conflict.
Star Ocean 3 really opens by farting in your face, as not only is the intro section lame as hell, but it's full of the absolutely terrible female character models present throughout the whole thing. The dudes are ok (but still kinda crappy for the time), but the women have such giant eyes that you can't help but cower in fear whenever they try to act human.
The eyes work in the 2d art, but after translating it onto 3d, it looks abhorrent. Good thing I can get past bad first impressions! And terrible voice acting from side characters!
Still, I gotta give props to the game for having properly animated bedsheets. That's rare even now!
The plot of the game is certainly its strongest point. The narrative is essentially split into two halves (almost divided by the discs, which would've been cool).
The first half deals with Fayt's interaction with two underdeveloped planets and the drama brought on by his position as a human with more knowledge than the medieval populace. The first planet is a shorter story of little consequence, while the second one is the majority of the game.
Here, he and his newly made space ace friend Cliff get involved in an armed conflict between two nations after getting rescued by a rogue named Nel working for the country they weren't captured by. From that point on, she tries to get them to help the war effort, knowing that their ship is a sign of their mechanical knowledge.
Slowly and surely, as Fayt learns more of the two countries, he decides to break the Prime Directive and help out in order to save as many lives as he can. It's a nice development for him, supported by the relationship between him, Cliff and Nel. Hell, I would've been ok with those three going all in on power of friendship stuff. Would've been a nice finish if the game only had this part as a story.
The second part is pretty nuts. This is where revelations related to Fayt come to light and the game presents a truly profound idea. I won't say what it is, but I can say that it's extremely ballsy. Sadly, so little of the actual story beats happens after this point, so the game doesn't really have time to explore this idea properly. It seems like they just wanted to wow you and didn't wanna go much beyond that.
You really just go through the motions with a party that's kinda done with character growth and find your way to the final boss, who you barely interact with.
The biggest sin I can point out is that the two halves of the story barely interact. I can easily see the people of Elicoor II changing in interesting ways with a rewrite if they were given knowledge of the final boss, which would've been both an efficient reuse of assets and presented an oppurtunity to subvert what you've come to expect of the place after your first adventure.
As it is, the story gets a pass, but there's still some irksome pieces to it. The way party construction works makes it so a good deal of party members get next to no screentime, even though many of them could've added to the plot if they were assured to join you at certain points in the story. Roger is also an asshat and being voiced by Terriermon doesn't save him.
The combat system of the game is a complete jank-fest. Let's start with the basics.
After running into a foe on the field, you get transported to a flat plane where combat takes place. Here, you get a Fury gauge that acts as a stamina bar for all attacks. Every character gets unique light and heavy attacks, both of which are modified by the distance to your targeted enemy.
The jank begins here, as when you press a button to attack, your character will always run into the proper range for the selected attack. This sounds good on paper, but it's often such a slow process that you can get locked into a move for a while, even before the actual wind-up of the attack.
This messed with me a good deal, especially those rare times when my character had to run around in a circle around an enemy due to a party member standing in the way. But the jank doesn't stop there.
The game is an action JRPG. And yet, I can barely string attacks together. Just doing regular attacks is much harder than it has any right to be. The input buffer for chaining is just completely wrong, which is only worsened by the unpredictablity of when a hit will land, due to the aforementioned navigation issue.
And to make things worse, enemies are completely invincible when knocked down. So if you're far away, hit the button to start running, a party member can come in, knock them down and make you miss the attack you waited a relative eternity to accomplish. This is incredibly infuriating.
But it doesn't stop there! It's pretty easy to eat shit in a fight due to two things. The first being that the battle skills (special moves you unlock as you level up and activate by holding an attack button) cost HP. And wouldn't you know it, the good ones cost a pretty piece of your health bar.
This wouldn't be an issue if healers did their job, but even after setting their tactics to the task, they still don't spam AoE heals at every waking moment, which is what I want them to do. Taking care of healing yourself is more or less the optimal strategy, and the less frustrating one, since the character you're controlling isn't the one dying.
The other problematic aspect is something that makes the game pretty unique. Running out of MP actually kills a character, just like running out of HP does. Same goes for the enemy, except that draining MP is only viable on like 1 boss.
The problem is that many enemies have multi-hit combos that deal boat-loads of MP damage. Not to mention that the physical fighters have a pathetic MP pool unless you spend precious SP on upgrading it. It's like HP is their MP and MP is their actual health. Not a fun time.
Dodging is based on the direction a character is facing and since battles are so hectic, it's not worth the effort to try to dodge. Blocking can be done with a full Fury gauge, but enemies are very likely to throw a heavy attack at you, which breaks the block, so I didn't rely much on it.
Ok, last few things. The targeting is kinda crap to control, but I managed to learn how it works. Kinda. The input for Battle Skills is also a bit weird. There were many times when I wanted to do a normal attack by tapping, but the game decided to do a Battle Skill instead. The reverse also happened.
Then there's the fact that new party members don't match your level, which stinks. With proper use of the bonus gauge (Which goes up if you fight well and seems to break after a random amount of hits taken.), you can trigger the triple exp bonus, but it's still a needless grind.
The combat gets more palpatable as you learn decent skills, but it wasn't ever fun.
Exploring dungeons features some cool ideas, but man can the gimmicks be tedious. The turtle riding and dragon flute especially. Those things would be really good if they just adjusted a few things, but as is, it's just really annoying. The turle riding is pretty complex, but takes an eternity to reset before you get another go. And the dragon flute relies on tapping and holding circle at different pressure levels, which is very easy to mess up, which earns you a random battle.
You have a map, but for some idiotic reason, the thing lies to you. Or rather, it's an accurate represantation of the area from a birds-eye view. Which means that any passage that goes under an object looks like a wall. This sucks. It's also full of clutter from the area, making it more accurate, but also a bit of an eyesore.
The game rewards you for exploring a map fully, but I only did it once, since the radius that fills out the map is absurdly tiny, meaning you have to walk along every wall and go into every corner to even stand a chance of filling it out. And even then, it's easy to look at a map, consider it filled, but then have the game claim that you missed 3% of it somewhere. They could've easily been more leenient here.
Also, there are multiple dungeons where you have to backtrack through the whole thing once you're done. And even the ones that feature shortcuts manage to be annoying, as the shortcuts are often available before you're done and only work one way!
The game features a creation system that is nigh-incomprehensible. Nothing is explained, and from what I gather, even when you know what you should do, it's still random and takes an eternity to give you something worthwhile.
I did what I thought the game wanted (put party members with a high talent related to what you want to invent together), but that gave me nothing, even after multiple tries. You probably have to hire more inventors and set them to work as well or some crap. I ignored it completely after that point, thinking it would only give me crap filler items.
Turns out, I was half correct. It's one of those systems that you don't really need until the final dungeon and in the post-game. By that point, you can create some truly disgusting equipment that breaks the game in half. It's really a lose-lose situation though. Either you ignore it and suffer at the hands of the final boss, or you burn a few hours and ridicule the last pieces of content the game has. Either way, it's not a good time.