So after trying out some Fallout 2 this past week, I went ahead with Star Ocean: Til the End of Time since I was already on a roll following Star Ocean: The Second Story. I’m not sure why Tri-Ace saw the need to over-engineer the combat system, but they tacked on a whole slew of changes that pretty much turn it into a micro-management suckfest.
What’s the point of this? Experience in the game compared to Second Story has been heavily nerfed. We’re talking encounters that give maybe only one or two experience points early on and difficult encounters later that give only a fraction of what they should be worth. The Battle Gauge is a mechanism that is built up during combat and once it tops out, carries over to all over subsequent battles as long as it doesn’t “break” when an enemy gets in a lucky hit. The Gauge offers up all sorts of bonuses the longer it stays filled, such as doubling the money earned in combat to…you guessed it…tripling the experience earned which, in my mind, is merely building it back up to a “normal” level of what players should be earning anyway. The tiny amounts of experience that are given in each encounter only encourage the player to fill the Gauge back up and then try to maintain it in combat.
This has several problems. First, it almost forces the player into repetitive combat in order to build the Gauge up and then maintain it long enough for the bonuses that they want…such as tripled experience…which makes the grind even more annoying since the experience earned while building the gauge up is pathetically low. Second, maintaining the Gauge gives combat a throw-away sense of being temporarily “normal” with its rewards, which makes losing the Gauge feel like a waste of time when it breaks. Not a good feeling to have when you simply want to enjoy the game. Third, the Gauge is a gimmicky attempt to make combat more exciting and rewarding which doesn’t work for the reasons above…it feels too much like a gimmick to keep players interested in combat. At least Second Story didn’t have this problem, experience earned was reliably consistent without the need to burden the experience with a forced mechanism whose only purpose is an attempt to make it “different”. Well, sorry, that might work in an FPS or a platformer with power ups, but in an action RPG like this one, I’ll take reliable and consistent results over this. Enough hours are going to be spent on the game without having to fight for its version of “normalcy”.
One of the things that had also changed from Second Story was that enemies can no longer be beaten while they are down. You can’t juggle them anymore. Granted, they can’t do the same to you if you’re knocked down, either, but that was only something to avoid in Second Story, was manageable without being too much of a problem, added a sense of urgency to the battle in order to get to weaker party members and defend them from breath attacks that could juggle their HP away, and was incredibly efficient in helping you kill monsters much faster. In TTEoT, that’s no longer an option so your characters will tend to whiff air even if their weapon appears to “connect” with an enemy because the gameplay gives it a temporary reprieve. This forces you into the scissors-paper-rock mechanic that has been emphasized with this change making battle more of a technical exercise in running around and waiting for the opportunity to hit the enemy again as opposed to going in and whaling on them with everything you have to keep them off-balance.
Combat has become somewhat boring because of the loss of juggle as I have to wander off and wait a second or two just to hit the enemy again, which leads me to…
Short and Long Range Attacks are Stupid
When the hell did Star Ocean turn into an RTS? Oh, that’s right. Tri-Ace wanted to make this one stand out from the last with even more improvements to the battle system, and one of those is with short and long range modifiers to your attacks. If you’re far from an enemy, you are considered to be at “Long” range and depending on what you have attached to your buttons skillwise, you will initiate an attack that corresponds to this modifier. The same with “Short” range. While this might appear to be a fascinating and intricate combat system, it is really far more annoying to work with than it sounds. Unlike Tales’ superior button skill system or Grandia’s, Tri-Ace opted to over-engineer things with short and long range attacks because they couldn’t think of anything more efficient in mapping their controls for efficiency. At least that’s what I think. That or they didn’t want to appear to borrow from the competition which is somewhat too late. The whole scheme feels like they tried to stuff the controller with too much crap and this was the only solution they could think of to make four different types of attacks work with two buttons. Compared to the simplicity of Second Story’s scheme and, if you really want to go back further, the SNES’s version, this new mechanic just adds another cumbersome layer of garbage to the whole control scheme. Valkyrie Profile 1 and 2, from Tri-Ace, sport far better control schemes in handling combat skills than this does. Seriously, what the heck?
WTF? No more skills?
It looks like that the huge number of skills that players could have learned are gone, but granted, I’m still early in the game so that might change. You still earn skill points each level-up, but the large number of skills that you could improve throughout the game from Second Story appears to have been pared down into a miniscule handful of generic ones. Of all the places to streamline, Tri-Ace decides to do this with what I thought was one of the best aspects of the last title. Console RPGers aren’t stupid, we thrive on this stuff, but I guess in the interests of appealing to the action/battle crowd, they decided to do away in managing skills and devote their efforts in ruining most everything else that I thought was fun about combat in the game.
I’m going to stick out TTEoT until the end, if only to finish it. The combat system is manageable and somewhat fun…it’s not a complete disaster as long as I don’t dwell too much on the above points…but so far, it feels inferior to the last two Star Oceans in this regard. Infinite Undiscovery is coming out next month, so Gamestop’s schedule says, and I’m looking forward to that moreso now than I had been before with Vesperia looming just at the end of this one, so we’ll see.