Some time ago, one of the Bitmob editors wrote a comment about Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, also known as Star Ocean 3. I thought it was too frustrating when I first played it.
I decided to buy it and play it again this week. Although the flaws still bothered me, it is actually more remarkable than when it first came out. Star Ocean 3 was one of the first adventures that dared to introduce open-world game mechanics into the Japanese RPG genre.
There is a moment after the Airyglyph Aqueducts dungeon, that demonstrates how revolutionary this game is. After the main characters escape from the city, they venture into a dazzling snowy wilderness. The camera literally zooms to a low angle, to show players the vast expanse of land surrounding them.
Star Ocean 3 also has many features that were clearly ahead of its time. All the characters have voice actors speaking for the majority of the game. Most of the cutscenes use in-game polygons, rather than pre-rendered CGI cutscenes. The open-world maps include a wide variety of landscapes, such as meadows, rivers and mountains. The towns even have workshops, where my characters could craft items in an unwieldy fashion.
The battle system also has an intense style that looks very similar to Final Fantasy 13. However, Star Ocean takes the experience a step further, by letting the player control a specific character directly. This allows people to take control of a wide selection of characters, ranging from a ninja to a futuristic woman with a gun.
The fights are more intense than any other RPG I have played thus far. I wouldn't say that it is as grueling as Dark Souls, but it is very challenging. It's amazing to see how quickly the difficulty ramped up by the time I descended into the Shrine of Kaddan. Even though Star Ocean 3 looks like an innocent anime-style RPG, the monsters can brutally punish players with a flurry of heavy magic attacks and hard-hitting slashes.
Star Ocean 3 even implemented heavy metal into RPGs years long before Persona 3 and Xenoblade Chronicles. In fact, I would argue that Star Ocean: Till the End of Time has one of the best soundtracks I've ever heard in an RPG. The exhilarating sounds of the electric guitars and the futuristic synthesizers pulsate through every open-world map in the game. Composer Motoi Sakuraba literally busts out all the distorted guitar feedback imaginable in the song "Expiration." This song plays throughout many of the dungeons, turning most of the game into an epic heavy metal marathon.
The only drawback to Star Ocean 3 is the story, which is more like a low-grade anime. For most of the first half, the horribly dubbed dialogue follows many of the boring stereotypes of a bad anime series. It didn't pick up speed until I was 12 hours into the game. In spite of all this, the game pushes the JRPG genre in many ways which the Final Fantasy series never could. I usually hate games from Tri-Ace, the company who develops the Star Ocean series. I'm surprised that I'm actually enjoying it.
I started this RPG, thinking that the dungeons would end up irritating me. Instead, it became one of the most exciting hardcore games I've ever played. Hopefully the non-linear style of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time will inspire other Japanese developers to make similar role-playing games. It is a remarkable masterpiece that accomplished far more than many other adventures ever could.
Are there any other Japanese RPGs that have made daring experiments with open-world environments and non-linear exploration? Feel free to write about them in the comments below.