As someone who played the previous installments of the Star Ocean series, I was somewhat skeptical on what Square would bring into the mix of one of the most fun RPG series to date. What Square brought is highly enjoyable, long lasting fun in a world where many games fail to hold my attention for more than 10 hours.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time's story starts out as one might expect from an RPG nowaday. The main character is introduced in a care-free environment in which he is hanging out with one of his childhood friends. Soon enough, the childish fun to be had turns into turmoil as they find themselves under attack by a then unknown force. The story by no means is the greatest ever, and it doesn't come close to the complexity of Xenosaga, but it does get the job done. Many people could care less about some of the more "political" aspects of the plot, but it all makes sense within the story, which is a plus.
But Star Ocean really isnt about the story so much as it is about the gameplay. After all, any game could have a great story and still be no fun to play, right? Of course! What Star Ocean excels the most at is its addictivly simple battle system that can quickly become a very complex issue of what-to-use-when. Battles take place on a seperate screen, as they have in the past. They also take place in real time, unlike the last installment. The RPG genre is very quickly moving towards complete real time as a whole, and Star Ocean definately helps nudge it in that direction.
Each battle can take anywhere from five seconds to a somewhat lengthy five minutes. The longer battles can get tiresome, especially against some of the "normal enemies", or enemies that are not bosses. Thankfully, these marathon battles don't take place too often, and are easily enough avoided. Which brings me to my next feature of the battle system: battles are no longer random. Each enemy appears on screen (minus some bosses), and is also visible on the map in the lower-right hand corner of the screen. So if you are the type of gamer who does not like being too high of a level, or wasting your time on senseless battles, it is extremely easy to get around 90% of the battles.
Moving forward with the map, Square Enix did a wonderful job of mapping out each area. However, the gamer himself/herself must map that out. To do this, players must uncover parts of the map by looking towards that specific section or by walking to that area. Many of the little squares that can be uncovered must be accessed by turning the camera towards that spot. Overall, mapping is a great feature in a game like this, and the developers reward those who are patient enough to map out entire areas.
Should one map out the entire area, they will recieve a particular item. These items are mostly worthless to your character, but they sell for 9000 gold in the beginning, which greatly helps the player's available funds. These extra funds greatly help the player with new weapons, better armor, healing items, and restoration.
Something else I would like to talk about is the Invention system. Each character has a certain skill level at inventing things. There are many different categories, ranging from cooking to smithery. New and useful items can be created with the right amount of time and money. However, completely pointless things can also be made. Many times, the player will make something that they do not need and can only be sold for very little, but overall the system is a great way to kill time and try to earn more useful things.
Overall, Star Ocean is a great game that should be added to any serious RPGer, and even those that aren't as serious. While it certainly isn't as revolutionary as Final Fantasy 8 (you read correctly, 8 not 7!), it certainly should open up a greater range of people to the Star Ocean series.
Rent or Buy: I honestly would suggest buying this game. Even if one were to rent it, the whole game can take upwards of 60 hours, often times even more. I guess you could rent it to make sure you like it, but I'm confident that Square Enix has delievered another great title that many people can enjoy.