After the opening cinematic, in which we’re introduced to the newly-formed USTA – the Universal Science and Technology Administration – as well as the SRF, Space Recon Force, we have our first run-in with the slimy piece of flubber known as Deputy Director Shimada.
Everything about this man is designed to repulse, from his looks, to the silly way he moves, his voice and mode of speech, and especially his personality. In a game where the main antagonist is an incomprehensible entity from beyond the void (or whatever), it’s a really good idea to have a human sub-villain for the player to hate first, before the Big Bad is introduced. And boy oh boy does Star Ocean 4 deliver.
Not only is Shimada himself a thoroughly detestable piece of unripe manure, he also has three yes men with him, as if he couldn’t get any nastier. He’s the sort of man who only thinks of himself, doesn’t care about the mission or humanity or the SRF, and is literally only in it for his own personal self-aggrandisement and gain. Bravo, Tri-Ace, this is pretty much the perfect example of a drama first bad guy.
Meanwhile, we’re introduced to our hero for the story, Edge… Maverick. Star Ocean 3’s Fayt Leingod was already pushing the boundaries of good taste when it comes to character names, but Japan always finds new ways to outdo itself. This is truly the edgiest of names. I also sort of have to wonder if perhaps someone on the writing team was a fan of Top Gun…
Incidentally, in the Japanese dub Reimi pronounces Edge’s name more like ‘ecchi’, which is the Japanese word for… well, I’ll let Wikipedia fill you in there in the event you’re not aware. Take a guess what my Edge spent the entire game renamed as? Yep.
(Note, the screenshots for this series are all from Youtube as I don’t have a capture card for the PS3, alas. So no ecchi for you, I’m afraid.)
After a brief intro to Crowe, a character who’ll be important later on and ties heavily into Edge’s own development, we’re soon thrown into the countdown to mission start. Personally, I’m not all that into fiction works where everything is dark and gritty – edgy, if you will – and tend to prefer a lighter tone. Star Ocean nails that tone pretty nicely a lot of the time, with colourful characters and a hopeful and enthusiastic atmosphere.
Hope is a big theme in this game (I mean duh, it’s right there in the title), not only for the SRF mission and the stakes involved (Earth and humanity’s survival), but also for the characters themselves. Edge, Reimi, and Crowe are all Seeds of Hope, genetically engineered super humans created as part of a secret project we’ll get to later. And hope in one way or another serves to inform effectively every character on the cast.
Edge and Reimi hope for a better future for Earth and humanity, though Edge also dreams of finding his own paradise planet after a trek across post-apocalyptic Earth. Lymle hopes to avoid another tragedy like the one in her home village, and Faize hopes his people will find a new home. Meracle hopes to find her home and return to her own people.
Bacchus’s hopes are centred largely around ensuring peace and prosperity for the peoples of the galaxy, but when Edge is lost in depression, Bacchus also hopes to regain that lost ‘heat’. Myuria hopes for revenge against the ‘red-haired man’, and Arumat’s hope is seen more from the point of view of redemption for his past failure.
The Cardianon’s hope is twisted to become desire for conquest and a new homeworld settled by force. And the Grigori are the antithesis of hope, perverting and destroying everything they touch. It’s interesting to consider the following: hope isn’t a particularly helpful survival trait, and in fact flies directly in the face of evolution.
And let’s not forget Shimada’s disgustingly twisted hopes for his own advancement, at the cost of everyone and everything else if necessary.
The other big themes of the game are that of loss and evolution, specifically natural evolution (good) and the perverse forced evolution of the Grigory (bad). The Eldarians are on the verge of losing their homeworld as a result of their sun dying, the Cardianon lost their homeworld as a result of the Grigori, the Morphus created a new and artificial world for themselves in EnII, and Earth is so badly ravaged that it might never fully support life again.
Even an underdeveloped world like Roak teeters on the brink of annihilation as a result of Asmodeus’s imminent resurrection (this is a nod to SO1 if you’re not aware), thanks to the dumbasses who worship him. And of course there’s the alternate Earth that flashes out of existence thanks to Edge’s lack of forethought combined with being far too naïve. And on a small scale, Meracle has lost her homeworld in the literal sense; she doesn’t know where she’s from and therefore can’t return home.
The best games – at least story-wise – for me are the ones that have one or two solid themes that are integrated into more or less everything that happens in the story. Much like Fallout: New Vegas, Star Ocean 4 pulls this off with more than adequate aplomb.
Next week, we finally head to Aeos, planet of the bugs.