What games spring to mind when you think about Square Enix? Final Fantasy? Dragon Quest? Probably. Both games are massively popular both in the west and the east. But you'd be leaving one franchise out of that memory list, and that's Star Ocean, a JRPG series that's getting its "next-gen" debut with the Xbox 360 exclusive The Last Hope. Here, in an interview with VideoGamer.com, famed Star Ocean producer Yoshinori Yamagishi, a man who's worked for Enix for a whopping 21 years, dives into Star Ocean's Star Trek-inspired innards and returns with an inventory full of answers.
VideoGamer.com: Why did you decide to make Star Ocean 4 a prequel? Was it so that newcomers to the series wouldn't be confused by not knowing what had gone before?
Yoshinori Yamagishi: That was not our intention in fact. The Star Ocean series was completed when number three came out, so story wise it was finished. After that the development staff had this urge to inform our users across the world how the Star Ocean universe was created. That was why we set the time before Star Ocean 1.
VideoGamer.com: What are the main evolutions from Star Ocean 3 and 4? What's new?
YY: The basics of the game, there is no change. We didn't want to introduce any drastic changes because that would confuse our fans. But if you take a look at our battle system we've input a few new systems. One of them is called Blindside. And also a few new combo attacks have been added. Because of the capability of the Xbox 360 hardware the graphics are a lot better as well. Particularly the expression of light is a lot more impressive, and also this time we have been lucky enough to collaborate with Visual Works (in-house CG studio) for the movies, so that's a great plus factor as well.
VideoGamer.com: This is the first time that Star Ocean has been on the Xbox platform. How has the team found development on the 360? Are there any advantages or disadvantages compared with development on other platforms?
YY: I spoke to the actual hands-on developers and basically they say the Xbox 360 allowed them to produce anything they wanted to, given time and money. They were able to create really beautiful expressions that are really high quality, so that was a plus point. As opposed to that, it required a lot of effort and technique and time and all the rest of it. I would hesitate to say it was a bad point because it's a good point in a way, but the requirement was enormous.
VideoGamer.com: In Star Ocean: The Last Hope you can only save at specific save points. Why can't we save whenever we want to in Star Ocean?
YY: Technically speaking it would have been perfectly possible to make it possible to save it any time in the game, but it is actually a bit of a Star Ocean tradition to have to save at certain points. We opted for this option this time as well not to confuse our fans.
VideoGamer.com: Star Ocean 4 went in at the top of the charts when it was released in Japan and it looks set to become the highest-selling Xbox 360 game there. Did it exceed your expectations? What was the reaction from the team?
YY: Every single member of staff is overjoyed. Obviously they put in so much effort and they had a really tough time during development so to be number one on a particular platform is really great.
VideoGamer.com: Are there any role-playing games on current consoles that you like?
YY: I personally have been playing only action games, like Halo and Tomb Raider on current gen consoles, so I don't really know!
VideoGamer.com: The Last Remnant was released at the same time all over the world. Why hasn't Star Ocean: The Last Hope been released at the same time all over the world?
YY: To be frank, we would have really wanted to release it simultaneously all over the world. The trouble is, as opposed to The Last Remnant, this game is available in quite a few languages, so obviously it took time for us to localise the game into languages, and also translation had to be done at two different stages. Translating into English first and then European languages, which took up quite a lot of time. So this time around we were not able to release it simultaneously.
VideoGamer.com: Maybe I'm making a mistake but I read somewhere in an interview that you wanted to make erotic games. Is that true? And is there any eroticism in Star Ocean?
YY: I'm impressed that you actually dug out such an old story! This is actually a quotation from a conversation I had when I was still talking with Enix before the company merged with top management people. I said yes, maybe one day I would like to try something more adult content. That's true! But that's not to say that we wanted to create something erotic and ended up with Star Ocean: the Last Hope. That's not the case.
VideoGamer.com: It's called Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Is there any hope for PS3 owners?
YY: At the moment there is no immediate plan. Let me ask you a question. Would you like to see it available for PS3?
VideoGamer.com: If I only had the PS3, yes.
VideoGamer.com: Can the engine you've created for The Last Hope be used to make a PS3 version?
YY: If we just specifically talk about the engine, it's a great engine and it is an engine that is capable of catering for all platforms. So it would be technically possible indeed to do a PS3 version, or even a PSP or DS version.
VideoGamer.com: We've seen exploration, combat and action gameplay in The Last Hope. Are there any other types of gameplay? Can we control the ship in space, for example?
YY: You cannot steer the airship, you can't move it about as you wish in an action sense. But with the airship you will be able to go to planets you've already been to, so in that sense you can use the airship.
VideoGamer.com: I understand the very first Star Ocean game was heavily influenced by Star Trek. Is Star Trek still an influence?
YY: I expect every single member of staff on the SO team are Trekkies anyway, so you can't single out one bit and say it's been inspired by Star Trek, but as a general concept, yes it's always been. Star Trek will live in our work.
VideoGamer.com: Developing relationships with characters has been a Star Ocean trademark. Is it possible in Star Ocean: The Last Hope to influence the storyline and are there multiple endings?
YY: When the game was still 2D there were lots of elements like that. In this particular product not so much because of the technical limitation because it's all 3D. But there are some of these elements you will find in this game as well.
VideoGamer.com: Can you offer any hints or exciting details about where you are thinking about taking the series with Star Ocean 5?
YY: Obviously we have just finished this project, so there is no immediate project for the next one. No plans at the moment. But what SO boils down to is science fiction set in space. So long as the new idea, whatever it may be, satisfies this condition, you can create anything. So, yes we would like to see if there's an opportunity.
VideoGamer.com: The main character, Edge Maverick, looks like many of the anime-style JRPG heroes we've seen before. Did you ever consider creating a different lead or was he always going to be a typical JRPG style character?
YY: In terms of character design there were lots of arguments and debates before we made a decision. The characters from earlier works from the Star Ocean series were very anime influenced. But this time we thought we would create something quite realistic, but still lots of anime elements can be detected in the way they behave or the way they look.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope is due out for the Xbox 360 in June.