Strong Pieces That Don't Click
Star Ocean 3 just seems like a waste of potential, save for most of the music. There are so many good things to say, though everything good has to include a "but" clause. Coming from Tri-Ace and SE, I had some high expectations and was ultimately let down. SO3 suffers from being diminished in the shadows of peers. Its presentation and VA lag behind even early cycle entry FFX, while the story driven space opera narrative doesn't hack it with Xenosaga.
The story was interesting at times, but overall felt a little small and pointless. For example, everything starts out in space. Some strange and epic things are starting to happen. Now, let's dick around on a planet for a few hours. Back to space! Just kidding, now let's dick around on another planet for 30 hours. Lots of planetary politics and fetching. But all so we can maybe someday get back to space! SO3 ultimately is diminished in the shadows of its peers: FFX was an early PS2 gold standard for presentation, and SO3 just languishes with a poor narrative and really janky cutscenes. Xenosaga, for all its little flaws, really pushed a compelling space opera through extended cutscenes, and all I get out of SO3 is extended cutscenes. All in all the story was alright and had some fun twists on old JRPG themes, but two thirds of the game just seemed pointless.
I loved the music. Motoi Sakuraba could take a dump and I would award it five stars. I have enjoyed everything he has ever done, and this was no exception. This set of tracks had a strong electronic vibe and theme. While that's not to my specific taste, hey, it's Star Ocean, and it really worked. The late game battle music was a little weird though. Voiced singing was cool with Persona, not as much here. Overall, it wasn't as good as say, Valkyrie Profile or Baten Kaitos, but was still awesome.
Graphically, the game was very sharp, particularly some character models and animations, but hard some noticeable weaknesses: facial animations were weird; environments were massive but repetitive and very noticeably composed of repeating models. CGI cutscenes were average and brief.
Battle was a strong point. No random encounters was an evolved and appreciated touch. The system is a fast paced live action setup, similar to SO2 or what you typically get from a Tales game. The setup was a little overdone, requiring mixing and matching of character abilities. Control is limited to one of three characters, with the other two being controlled by an AI. The AI can be set to certain somewhat ambiguous generalizations, but often it chooses to run and hide in the corner unless it is set to "all out whoop ass." The battles themselves could be very rewarding when executed well though, with a great combo and juggling system. The challenge level was mixed; the majority of the game was very simple, while
General gameplay was pretty soft. There is a map percentage complete for each area that is mind-numbingly poorly implemented. Chests litter every location, but the contents are almost universally pointless. There is a cool invention system to create gear, but it is never explained, randomly expensive, and borderline impossible to really understand and utilize without some kind of reference material. There too are numerous inventors to recruit, but again this is right on the edge of impossible to do hallways, much less to the fullest, without a guide. Being that this is a Star Ocean game, there is a ton of extra content in terms of the endgame and replay. By the time I had slugged through the main story though, I just didn't have it in me to get into that part of the game as well.
So at almost every level, there are some good points and ideas, but these are thoroughly muddied in one way or another. The developers and writers seemed like they were tripping over themselves and each other the whole time. Despite all of that, it's not a bad game; there are many much worse out there. SO3 just wastes its great potential by being thoroughly disjointed. It's a three star game at best, I'm resisting the temptation to drop this piece to two stars because of my disappointment....No, leaving it at three. Moving on with my life now.
Last shout out to Motoi Sakuraba: I love you man, never stop!