If you get tired of the combat habits of a particular character, another can be switched to mid-battle. This can offer a refreshing and welcome change in pace; magic users such as the young Lymle handle very differently in battle than melee heavy characters such as the scythe-wielding Arumat. For harder enemies, knowing which character to use and how to get the most out of them is key to victory.
What makes the combat even more interesting is battle trophies; in game achievements awarded for meeting certain requirements in battle. These might include killing a hundred undead enemies, completing the battle in a certain amount of time, or stringing together a 10-hit Rush combo. What's more, each character has a hundred trophies, meaning there are 900 of the things to collect - a feat that'll take even the most persistent gamer a serious amount of time to do.
Aboard the Calnus, players can initiate Private Actions with the rest of the crew, a nice little addition to the game that attempts to offer insight into the lives of the characters. The ship also features a room with a holodeck, putting you in contact with the erratic Welch. As well as providing comic relief, Welch also offers services in item creation and synthesis. Although this may daunt the casual player, experienced role-playing fans will relish the sophistication of it all. There's also the opportunity to strengthen weapons and armour through synthesis. If you have a weapon with enough synth slots, it's possible to create some truly devastating tools of destruction. Take my Imperial Sword for example; it causes poison on touch, has an increased critical hit chance, and grants 60 per cent extra experience per kill. Jealous?
Should the main story lose your attention, the vast Star Ocean features numerous distractions to take your mind off the stresses of saving the universe. Roak's Colosseum, for example, features hundreds of arranged battles, not just for your party, but individual characters too. There's also Bunny Racing, a clear nod to the Chocobo Racing of Square Enix's Final Fantasy universe. And on top of that there are the countless side-quests that can be undertaken from towns and villages, as well as item collection quests given out at shops. In short, The Last Hope is a big, big game, and there's never a shortage of things to do.
Once you've completed the main game, The Last Hope offers one of the best post-game challenges since the dark aeons of Final Fantasy X. The Cave of the Seven Stars and Wandering Dungeon plays host to the most bad-ass and punishingly hard enemies in the game. Just be sure your characters have some serious levels under their belt and their weapons are synthed to the max, otherwise you won't last more than a few seconds. For those with the right credentials, the post-game can potentially double your existing game time.
If you've played the game on 360 already, you've probably been waiting to read what's new in the PS3 version. First is the option to play through the game with the original Japanese dialogue (hence the ‘International' in the title), which makes the awkward dialogue mentioned previously a lot more bearable. The 3D character portraits that accompany your characters' stats in battle can also be swapped for more traditional anime artwork, which, to my eyes at least, is far more attractive. There have also been a few tweaks made to the combat system, but these make little difference to the experience as a whole.
For JRPG fans, there's little to compete with The Last Hope on the PS3. It not only offers one the most enjoyable battle-systems of recent times, but also an overall level of depth JRPG fans have been deprived of in this generation of consoles. If you own both the 360 and PS3 and have been holding out until now, there's no reason to deny yourself the game any longer. Last Hope International is the definitive Star Ocean 4 experience, and as far as I'm concerned, the best next-gen RPG money can buy.