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    There's A New Star Ocean And tri-Ace Refuses To Own Up To Its Biggest Mistake (i.e., Till the End of Time's Plot Twist)

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    ZombiePie

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    Edited By ZombiePie  Staff

    So They Are Making A New Star Ocean Game! (Also, SPOILER WARNING!)

    Oh... this sure looks like PSO2.
    Oh... this sure looks like PSO2.

    Star Ocean: The Divine Force was announced recently for the PS4 and PS5 with a 2022 release date. That coincides with the franchise's 25th anniversary, and while many were speculating something big from tri-Ace, a full-fledged game seemed low on the list. With Star Ocean effectively hibernating since the 2016 release of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (aka Star Ocean 5), most fans suspected an HD Remaster of one of the older games as a more likely outcome. But here we are, and the press release and debut trailer for The Divine Force surfaces a lot about what to expect from the game. Much like its predecessor, it looks like a pseudo-MMO in the style of Monster Hunter and Xenoblade Chronicles. The game's reveal trailer showcased vast open environments and an assortment of anime-ass characters murdering hapless monsters. The best way I can put it is to call the sizzle reel incredibly "safe."

    Nonetheless, you might be surprised to know the first thing I did when the game was announced was to check the press release to establish the "Stardate" for the story. You see, while there is some sense of a continuous narrative with the Star Ocean franchise, each game has haphazardly navigated the series' continuum in leaps and bounds. Star Ocean: The Last Hope (aka, Star Ocean 4), for example, is technically the furthest back in the series' timeline, and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (aka Star Ocean 3) continues to be the franchise's awkward endnote and more on that in a little bit. Disappointingly, I discovered, after a bit of sleuthing, The Divine Force's start date is listed as the year "583 SD." This date means the game takes place after Star Ocean 5 but BEFORE Star Ocean 3. Which I suspect will frustrate long-time fans of the Star Ocean franchise because it is YET ANOTHER sign that tri-Ace continues to be in denial about how badly they fucked up the Star Ocean canon with their godawful plot twist in Star Ocean 3. Speaking of which, let's talk about the plot twist in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time.

    Let's Talk About A Plot Twist So BAD It Almost Killed A Franchise!

    Not gonna lie, this shit is all fucked up.
    Not gonna lie, this shit is all fucked up.

    For those of you who look at Star Ocean as a bit of a pipsqueak in comparison to JRPG titans like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, The Legend of Heroes, and the Tales of games; you would be correct. Even during the series' "peak," which I would estimate is Star Ocean: The Second Story (aka Star Ocean 2), it always lived in the shadow of bigger and better games. Even glowing reviews of Second Story at the time couldn't help but declare it as a decent companion piece to Final Fantasy VII. That said, the franchise has its defenders who have followed it as far back as its initial offering on the Super Famicom. And much like the games they are compared to, the Star Ocean games constantly endeavor for a level of mechanical quality other Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest knockoffs do not usually aspire to all the time. Shit, even Blue Sphere, an early GameBoy Color release, is worth checking out as a solid proof of concept of a bite-sized handheld-based JRPG experience. Narratively, Star Ocean definitely showed its Dragon Quest influences. While its early games certainly had stories, they felt ancillary to their mechanical innovations to genre standbys. Personally, I enjoy Star Ocean: The Second Story's action-oriented battlefield and gameplay far more than its Tales of contemporaries. I find Second Story snappier, and its skill and crafting mechanics far less convoluted.

    All of this nostalgic musing suggests the first handful of Star Ocean games were pleasant experiences. You will never see me put a Star Ocean game on my proverbial "Greatest Games of All-Time" list, but you might see me suggest a few titles as gateway JRPGs for newcomers. Unfortunately, that is far from the case with Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (aka, Star Ocean 3). In the lead-up to the game's release, tri-Ace promised an epic story, as well as an improvement to the real-time JRPG combat fans had grown to love. In comparison to previous Star Ocean games, Till the End of Time's sense of scope and scale dwarfed its predecessors by a considerable margin. To highlight, single acts and one-off environments doubled the in-game world of the first game. For many, seeing tri-Ace pine for the skies of JRPG stardom was worth the price of entry alone, and I would be one of them had it not been for the game's final act. Overall, Till the End of Time is a fun and fast-paced adventure for upwards of 80% of its playtime. Sure, you have to get over some groan-inducing moments and the expected anime tropey horseshit endemic to this genre, but the story, for the most part, holds its own. Likewise, while you whale away on trash mobs and allocate points into characters, the worlds you explore are stunning. Sure, the protagonist is named "Fayt Leingod," but the game successfully conveys a spectacular space-faring galaxy.

    This fucking guy....
    This fucking guy....

    BUT HOT DAMN IS THE ENDING FUCKING STUPID! And it's not just the game's ending that is "problematic." The final act of Till the End of Time continues to be a sore point among fans and in the Star Ocean continuity. You see, near the end of Star Ocean 3, the game starts to ramp up its digital artifacting and even starts spouting out game code as if you are a character in The Matrix. Eventually, the characters of the game encounter a man by the name of "Luther Lansfeld" who reveals he is a "Fourth Dimensional Being" and the entire world of Star Ocean, from beginning to end, has been a parallel universe that his race has been utilizing as an MMORPG. Yup, the whole Star Ocean metaverse is outed as being a game within a game. All of the characters you loved and enjoyed in the previous Star Ocean entries were just avatars controlled by an ancient alien race. Obviously, the game implies that these fourth-dimensional beings are you and me and Luther Lansfeld is our representative. So, it's "Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions" but anime. Predictably, the characters of Star Ocean 3 reject this reality, claim they have achieved sentience, and promptly delete Luther Lansfeld to prevent him from erasing the universe they know and love. The entire epilogue of the game involves you controlling the main character and asking every member in your party how they plan to live their life. That might sound compelling on paper, but in execution, you get one lecture about human consciousness after another for about two hours. It is undoubtedly one of the most painful video game epilogues I have ever witnessed in my life.

    Regardless, it's worth mentioning how Star Ocean 3's plot twist has its share of defenders. Some view it as an interesting inversion of the isekai genre, whereas others applaud the story for rejecting standard epic storytelling conventions.One of the more interesting defenses of the game comes from Kotaku's Ethan Gach, who, in 2017, shared why they found the narrative ambition of Star Ocean 3 far more compelling than the mechanical rigmarole of Star Ocean 4 and 5. Obviously, I entirely beg to differ, but there's no denying tri-Ace went for it in Star Ocean 3. What continues to rub me the wrong way is how Star Ocean 3 entirely discards decades' worth of worldbuilding for the sake of a cheap one-off twist that the series has repeatedly failed to make good on since it happened. Yes, Star Ocean 5 is essentially an MMORPG, and because of its mechanical trappings, it somewhat leans into the possibility of its world being an MMO. Nonetheless, the in-game story barely addresses the implications of your characters being avatars of an alien race or if anyone you control has achieved consciousness. To me, tri-Ace refusing to own up to their fuck up by either retconning the ending of Star Ocean 3 or doubling down and making it the series' raison d'être proves they had no idea what they were doing.

    The fuck you say?
    The fuck you say?

    One of my all-time favorite memories of 1Up.com was when tri-Ace brought Star Ocean 4 to their office, and the site's usual JRPG reviewers refused to let a PR representative dodge questions about if the game addressed the ending of Star Ocean 3. Eventually, tri-Ace was forced to recognize that "all stories in the Star Ocean family are to be respected, but each game is its own story," and that has been the stance they have maintained since. Star Ocean 4 is a prequel to all previous Star Ocean games and entirely dodges the issue as a result. And as I mentioned previously, every time I bring up this fundamental issue with the world of Star Ocean, someone chimes in about Star Ocean 5. These commenters tend to claim that the series slowly becoming a single-player MMO is the developer recognizing the legacy of Star Ocean 3. But if that were the case, they should make this the whole point of the games moving forward and explicitly communicate it to the audience! This roundabout ambient storytelling is WEAK SHIT! In my opinion, the creative leads at tri-Ace are a bunch of fucking cowards, and they need to decide on what they want to do with this part of the canon. Otherwise, why the fuck should I care about any of these characters?

    But What Does Any Of This Mean For Star Ocean: The Divine Force?

    Yeah... this looks like some weird Monster Hunter x PSO2 hybrid.
    Yeah... this looks like some weird Monster Hunter x PSO2 hybrid.

    Here's my big prediction about Star Ocean: The Divine Force. tri-Ace does jack shit to resolve any of the dozens of questions people still have about Till The End of Time. Like the last two games, as well as the awful free-to-play mobile game, they are likely going to plug their ears and pretend no one remembers Star Ocean 3 exists in the first place. MAYBE, there are "hilarious" references to the fact the universe of Star Ocean is a fake video game world. I would not discount there being a single NPC that spouts a random line about knowing the machinations at play that govern the franchise's shared metaverse. However, will any plot holes this premise presents ever get resolved? NOPE! Never say never, but the chances tri-Ace even gives a shit is virtually zero.

    And I don't know, the game in the trailer looks incredibly mediocre? With the series increasingly erring towards the mechanics of Monster Hunter, I honestly hope tri-Ace does something stupidly ambitious with their storytelling. Otherwise, I think they run the risk of exposing their low-rent sensibilities. The games they develop independently cannot possibly hope to stand on the laurels of tight mechanics or marginal innovations, as they did in the PS1 and PS2 era, with the RPG market as crowded as it is today. Which, honestly, is why I want them to do something crazy. tri-Ace had a massive role in making Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns. I get they only provided additional programming and design help in those games, but they are no strangers to the "right kind of schlock." That would at least lead to something more compelling than yet another Monster Hunter clone. And with this game, what do they have to lose? The franchise has been in a rut for over five years, so now is the time to shake things up!

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    DocHaus

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    #1  Edited By DocHaus

    So it's going to be like the Devil May Cry franchise where every game was a prequel to DMC2 because no one wanted to admit they fucked up until they finally retconned the whole timeline with the release of DMCV?

    Also I keep forgetting that Integrity and Faithlessness was even a thing. That game dropped with almost no fanfare that I can remember.

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    swthompson

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    I guess I don't really care much about one of the previous games since I have the magical ability to ignore stupid canon, much like I do with Star Wars.

    I think the bigger mistake here is the creepy child anime doll art style they continue to go with, despite their low-end technical engine features not really working well with that look. The game really just looks extremely off-putting, and both 4 and 5 suffered from this. At least 3 looked nice since the PS2's limitations made that anime look fit the capabilities of the time.

    Ah, maybe they're related! The universe of Star Ocean just features a lot of fans of making child dolls in their MMO world. I take it all back, it makes perfect sense!

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    Efesell

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    I was super angry about that plot twist back in the day and it’s hard now with time to really understand why that is. I cared more about “CANON” back then on fuckin Gamefaqs I guess.

    I wish they would just double down on it instead these days. Go all in.

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    ZiegfredZSM

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    The plot twist was great and Star Ocean 3 was the last good entry in the series. I will never see eye to eye with the haters and someday we too will break through to 4D space and kill our own Luther.

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    kid_gloves

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    #5  Edited By kid_gloves

    The plot twist in 3 didnt destroy the series, the quality of the 4th and 5th entries is what killed it.

    Here is hoping this one is actually not a complete disaster like 4 or clearly budget and boring like 5.

    Also slight nitpick, 3 doesn't say the characters in the games are player controlled they are AI so essentially its the we all live in a simulation theory before that became in vogue. I don't think it ruins any of the story building in previous games, most of which simply doesn't deal with that scale anyways, in practice its just like any other universe.

    I feel like people overly focus on the twist in 3 because its the last game in the series that was any good. Why does no one talk about how in 4 the characters travel to an alternate universe, end up being the roswell crash aliens, then proceed to accidentally destroy that entire universe murdering trillions upon trillions of beings? because the game was bad and no one cares.

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    ZiegfredZSM

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    kid_gloves

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    @ziegfredzsm: Kinda right?

    The characters aren't players, and the universe isnt strictly a game. Its a actual digital universe that was created that people in "4D space" can enter and interact with the inhabitants, its not a MMO and all the characters in the games are AI that came about naturally in the universe simulation. Any 4d people entering to interact would have their own different avatars and I dont think there has ever been an example of one in the games.... maybe welch?

    Either way its a kinda silly twist that isnt completely pulled off the best way, but also its not bad and doesnt ruin anything.

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    ZiegfredZSM

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    #8  Edited By ZiegfredZSM

    @kid_gloves: yea Welch is a player which is why she was added to the remakes of 1 and 2. I was in High School when the game came out and I loved it. It was a fun twist and while it might not have been super original I was young enough that it still felt fresh to me.

    I'm always happy to see people talk about it, even the haters.

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    Igort

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    I adored this twist back in the day, though I had never played Star Ocean 1 or 2 so didn't really have any connection the larger series. I don't even know what drew me to Star Ocean 3 but I really have a soft spot for that game. Shrug.

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    epidehl

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    I love the plot twist in 3 (I guess I should note, the first game in the franchise I played), but do also think they're total cowards for not running with it in the future. My absolute favorite thing in long-running franchises (with a single continuity) is when something wild comes up and every later entry has to deal with it somehow. It doesn't happen a lot (hell, one of my first thoughts is Red vs Blue), but I think it's creatively way more interesting then retconning/rebooting.

    I'll also agree with others that the plot twist didn't "almost kill the franchise", the other games were just bad. Also "decades of worldbuilding" is a pretty grandiose way of describing a whole 2 games.

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    kid_gloves

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    I'm just glad that tri-Ace isn't dead, I kinda feared the worst when their only recent output was remasters of ps3 era games and after how poorly Star Ocean 5 did....

    The gaming world needs tri-Ace weird in it and while the Star Ocean games really went downhill the other games they have made have been good like Resonance of Fate, and despite the jokes about it Infinite Undiscovery was perfectly ok!

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    Onemanarmyy

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    Okay, which one of you is Luther and who gave you the go-ahead to intrude into this series? I don't remember voting on the JRPG panel.

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    Efesell

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    Yeah while I left Stat ocean 3 on a sour note it would not have had any lasting effect on the series for me if… you know.

    Blame beloved star ocean 4 protagonist “Edge Maverick” a little more.

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    Daavpuke

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    Star Ocean III Till the End of Time is a contender in my top 10 video games of all time. It's the only game I felt strongly enough about to buy figurines from.

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    chibi_kaji

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    Till the end of Time was my first and last Star Ocean game. Something about the twist just completely soured the whole experience for me. I kinda stated away from the franchise ever since.

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    Dareitus

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    I don't think the ending of 3 is the problem, I think the decision to continue the series without ever doing anything with it is the problem. With 3 they established the world is a video game. Love it or hate it, that's the story. Now either just end the series, knowing that it ends as 3 does and that the greatest mystery of the Star Ocean Universe is solved, or continue the series with these answers in hand, exploring what it means to be "artificial" and perhaps have them work to reach the "real" world or something.

    Instead you get 4 - the safest/lamest way to go about it - a prequel that ignores the entire canon because it is "before" anything we know. Then 5 which at least shares some ideas but again, ignores 3 by being before it. Why are these games called Star Ocean 4 and 5? They don't enhance the world of Star Ocean at all, they don't serve a purpose other than to exist. Why not just call them "Space Story 1 and 2?"

    Star Ocean is dead because they haven't made a Star Ocean game since 3.

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    theonewhoplays

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    I'm going to be a downer and say I couldn't even make it past the first couple of hours of 3. I think of myself as having a reasonable tolerance against tired anime tropes and bad writing, but 3 was still too much. And the characters looked creepy already in 3. It's a shame because when you look at the concept art Tri-Ace characters usually look OK, they just completely fail at translating them into 3D models.

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    Paliv

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    Star Ocean: The Second Story was one of my first JRPG experiences, and one of my favorite game experiences to date. I love that you have put your thoughts to digital pen and paper. I remember being so excited for Till the End of Time and being thoroughly vexed by the end. I didn’t play another JRPG until Ni No Kuni 2. It was the final nail in the coffin for that genre for me…or almost was.

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    takayamasama

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    I loved 3's ending, though I had no experience with 1 or 2. My love of it was largely due to how out of nowhere it was, and also how it let the game get weird. Before that, even though it was called "Star Ocean", it was mostly planets that were generic fantasy-era and really disappointing. I think the series should have grabbed onto that ending and kept going with it in future titles.

    Instead we got the major fucking disappointment that was 4, in both story and character design (not to mention English VA that is still the worst I've experienced in a game). I never even gave 5 a glance due to just how abyssal 4 was. Anytime I see people up in arms over Star Ocean 3 I can't help but gesture at 4 as the true culprit of the issues with that series.

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    ryudo

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    #20  Edited By ryudo

    They def took inspiration from Xenoblade X in this new one.

    3's ending sucked balls. 4 sucked and didn't bother with 5.

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    tricerarock

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    I have Blue Sphere on the way for my GBA (repro). Very much looking forward to it. I dropped out of the series around when the characters started speaking out loud...just like most JRPGs, PS2 era. I love the first game on the SNES, Second Story, and First Departure. I'm hoping Blue Sphere captures what made those first games special to me.

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    Hydrox

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    Till the end of time will go down as one of my favorite video games of all time. I 100% that game and absolutely loved the story. No other rpg has come close to beating that gameplay for me, xenoblade being a close second. The story was so off the wall crazy and I feel like it has to be reiterated that this was before the simulation theory stuff was really in the zeitgeist.

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    ZombiePie

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    #23 ZombiePie  Staff

    @hydrox: @dareitus: @takayamasama: @hydrox: @epidehl: @daavpuke: @igort: @ziegfredzsm:

    I'm sorry to batch respond to comments like this but there's a shared thesis among these replies that I want to address.

    A lot of people are pointing out that Star Ocean 3 is a highlight in part because it was their introduction to the franchise. I didn't take this possibility into account, but at the same time, wouldn't change a thing in the blog. Even if you play Star Ocean 3 as an isolated one-off experience, it does communicate at various points that it is part of a shared continuity. However, I will admit that I can kind of imagine the twist here being more palatable if it is viewed as the endnote to a single experience.

    Nonetheless, when you look at Star Ocean 3 from the perspective that it is a part of a multi-console and multigenerational franchise when things get muddy. Basically discarding the life and character experiences people had decades ago with iconic JRPG classics is shitty. It's disrespectful of long-time fans and tri-Ace not knowing that shows how short sided this revelation was long-term.

    Speaking of which, I don't think we should skip the fact tri-Ace continues to refuse to address this plot twist in any form, hence, why think it is entirely appropriate to call it a "mistake." If you are going to unpin everything people know about a franchise, then that's what you stick with for the rest of the series. And if they had no intentions of remaining committed to this, then what the fuck were they thinking?

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    Dareitus

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    @zombiepie: i think we agree its really just semantics for the most part.

    Is the mistake SO3 which causes 4 and 5 to ignore it?

    Or is the mistake 4 and 5 ignoring 3?

    Basically 3 made 4 and 5 bad or 4 and 5 are just bad. Either way the issue is 4 and 5 dont do anyrhing with 3

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    Efesell

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    #25  Edited By Efesell

    @zombiepie: I guess my view on it nowadays is more along the lines of 'but what actually does it disregard about those old stories?" Like alright it turns out they were part of a simulation but...what about it?

    As an aside I would imagine that Star Ocean 3 was a lot of peoples first exposure to the series. The first game had not at the time gotten an official translation and was notoriously challenging to emulate, and the second game was a relatively obscure PS1 release.

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    ZiegfredZSM

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    @zombiepie: I think you did a great job with the write up I just disagree with your points except the last one. Tri-ace should own the decision and make a game that happens after 3. There's a ton of potential in a story where you have two teams and are unsure which is in the "real" world, or a story about the federation hunting down a player characters either for real crimes or for just being players.

    I had played SO2 before SO3 and was young at the time but the twist will always hold a special place in my memory.

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    Undeadpool

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    Where DO you find the time to play AND do extensive writeups on all these 80+ hour games?? Or 100+ hrs in the case of those PS1 games?

    Seriously, this is like a resource for all the paths I never took when I was living through the golden JRPG ages.

    Also wasn't there a Dragon Quest game that had a similar "this is all a videogame/fake" ending? But that one was more "the stories we experience in videogames are experienced by us, therefore valid"?

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    ryudo

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    The new Xenoblade X sequel looks neat

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