Magical Mondays: All Alien Planets Are the Same

I love space. I am absolutely obsessed with outer space, exoplanets, and various other things that I don’t fully understand because I don’t science for a living or even go to school to learn how to science. But as someone who reads every science journal I can get my hands on about space and the possibility of extraterrestrial life, I think I’ve reached the point where I have at least a rudimentary understanding of things like gravity. Since I find science super fun, I’ve always been interested in exploring it through a fictional medium where I can vicariously travel to different planets and meet alien life. Stargate, Star Wars, Star Ocean, the new Star Trek movies—why do so many titles have Star in them?—and even Dark Matter and Jupiter Ascending are all right up my alley.

But one of the things that has always annoyed me about these stories is the lack of variety on the planets they go to visit. This is significantly less true for Star Wars and Star Trek, which feature a wide array of alien life and habitats, but in the end, the only way I can conclude that physics works the way it does in too many of these stories is because of magical plot convenience.

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Magical Mondays: Time Travel in Storytelling

stargate-sg1Time travel is not my favorite storytelling trope, if only because if not done well it can leave a narrative more than a little confusing and hard to follow. This can especially be a problem when a narrative jumps around in time completely out of order and without warning, which is something that both Final Fantasy XIII and The Grudge did. This trope’s big crime, however, is that it all too often results in plot holes or creates events that either cannot happen or that nullify the importance of other events. Worse yet is when the time travel in question has no actual impact on the rest of the story and ends up being a pointless waste of time. A good example of this would be Star Ocean: The Last Hope, where Edge goes back in time to an alternate reality of Earth, blows it up, and the entire subplot serves no purpose other than to turn an otherwise generic protagonist into a detestable murderer.

That is not to say that time travel itself cannot be used well. Plenty of stories have utilized it in ways that improve their narrative and add to the plot and worldbuilding. There is, however, a wide chasm between creative and cliché, and for every good use of time travel, there’s a dozen or so bad uses.

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Fanfiction Fridays: Drag by Pikachumaniac

Star Ocean posterWith the new game coming out soon, I’ve been on a bit of a Star Ocean craze. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is certainly one of the better games I’ve played for the PS2, but one of the things it lacked was LGBTQ+ representation. Fanfiction to the rescue.

Trigger warning for rape and trauma after the jump.

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Throwback Thursdays: Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

Star Ocean coverStar Ocean: Till the End of Time is quite possibly one of my favorite games. Released in 2003 for the PS2, I found the game to be extremely well made and fun, even though the story did have some problems. Also, a couple of the voice actors are really bad. Like, exceedingly ear-bleeding bad. That said, overall, this game is certainly better than Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Not only does Till the End of Time really go out of its way to develop its worlds, it doesn’t rely on or subject its characters to pointless and offensive stereotypes. While this game does follow a male protagonist and was clearly marketed to boys, I can’t quite say that there was ever a time when the roles given to the female characters made me groan in disbelief and annoyance.

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Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, Hope for the Future, and Character Designs

Star Ocean 5Well, guys, it’s finally happening. The fifth Star Ocean game is almost upon us, and I don’t know whether to be happy or horrified. I really want this game to do well, if only because I love the Star Ocean series—well, I love the third game, at least—and considering SO4’s less than stellar reception, I can only hope that Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness will be the improvement the franchise needs it to be. Unfortunately, there are some things about what I’ve seen of the game so far that have left a rancid taste in my mouth.

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Magical Mondays: The Last Hope and the Virgin Sacrifice

Star Ocean SarahIt’s been a while since I’ve played Star Ocean: The Last Hope, and to make a long story short, I was significantly unimpressed with the game. Although the game does boast many female characters—more playable women than men, even—it does deal in several offensive stereotypes. And those stereotypes are hard to ignore.

We have Reimi, our main female lead who constantly cries rape and sexual harassment for no reason—and if there is a reason, the narrative uses it as a source of humor. We have Lymle, our five-year-old who ends up in a pseudo-romantic relationship with someone at least ten years older than her. There’s Meracle, our scantily clad cat girl. There’s also Myuria, our obligatory big-busted girl who the camera can’t stop zooming in on. And last but not least, we have Sarah, our mild-mannered, angelic, virginal Featherfolk—someone born with angel wings—who is kidnapped by an evil syndicate to be used as a blood sacrifice in order to call forth a powerful deity that will rein holy hell down upon a planet. And the syndicate in question chooses Sarah because she’s a virgin.

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Star Ocean: The Last Hope

Yeah, here’s another thing I’m getting to really late, but oh well. Whatever, right? The Star Ocean franchise reminds me very much of Final Fantasy. Except where each Final Fantasy takes place in different worlds that do not impact the other games, Star Ocean spans across one universe for all four games, just at different time periods. Now, I haven’t played the first two games, so I don’t know where they fit into on the timeline; however, I do know that the third one takes place almost four hundred years after the latest installment, making The Last Hope something of a prequel.

More accurately, this game is called Star Ocean: The Last Hope – International, as it includes a very welcomed option to play with the original Japanese voice track, as well as the option to change the HUD back to its original design which looks more anime-esque. While I rejected the latter, because I thought it was ugly, I very much love the Japanese voices, and that’s one of the things that sold me on this game.

To start off, let me just say that the plot sucks. Not at first though. It pulls the player in with a more-than-decent beginning and fun gameplay. The Earth is doomed. Our two main characters, Edge and Reimi are post-WWIII kids, who worked hard to get into the SRF program, so they could travel together to other planets and find a suitable place to live. Along the way, they encounter Faize, an Eldarian boy, and it’s from Faize that they learn of the existence of intelligent alien life and that the Earth has been in contact with the Eldarians for quite some time. Something goes wrong, however, and one of the other SRF ships crashes and the remaining one piloted by Edge’s best friend Crowe disappears. Thus, Edge, Reimi, and Faize embark on a mission to find it. Pretty simple, right? It’s a good start to what could be a great game. And as I said, the gameplay is fantastic. The battle system is fun and the visuals are pretty damn good.

All of that goes to hell pretty quickly once we get our first taste of the characters’ personalities, which I’ll get to in a bit. I should also mention that while the main plot does rear its head from the beginning, a lot of shit that has nothing to do with anything happens along the way. We even get our own filler arc to introduce the character Meracle, because introducing her during the actual story would be much too simple.

Somewhere along the way, our crew gets sent back in time through a black hole. They end up orbiting the Earth and decide to land ship in Area 51, because why the hell not there? This is where they find Meracle, our resident cat girl, who Welch very appropriately calls out for looking like an anime character. I love when Welch sees Meracle and comments on her catlike appearance, claiming she feels as though she just walked into an anime convention, because yeah, that’s how this entire game feels. It really is like someone turned a manga into a video game and slapped the Star Ocean label onto it.

Some shenanigans happen, and Edge fucks up and explodes the Earth. But thankfully it’s from a different reality, so don’t worry. Now, I have so many problems with this. But here’s the main three:

  1. Edge’s reaction. Yes, he does feel sorry and down about what he did, but that’s all he feels. I kind of wanted more emotion from him other than :(. Edge’s character is kind of like a competent Naruto who’s not a complete dumbass. He’s the every hero who has every-hero thoughts and does every-hero things. He just wants to help people and become the best. His cocky attitude takes a leave of absence once the alternate Earth is dead and he realizes that he’s killed about six billion people. And then he sadly mopes… with sadness. Then, in an entirely-too-long cut-scene some character that we never see again bitch slaps him with words and Edge decides to get over what happened. My problem here is that he learns nothing. He goes from cocky to 😦 to cocky again. And the other characters just cannot stop giving him little emotional ass pats while he’s being all depressed and trying to tell him what a wonderful person he is, because as a Gary Stu, not even blowing up a planet and mass murdering people can make the other characters not endeared to him. And yes, blowing up the Earth is his fault. Entirely. The difficult situation back in Area 51 aside, he knew exactly what he was doing and the possible repercussions of it.
  2. Meracle’s existence and her knowledge of things from the ordinary timeline. It should be stated that other species discovered space travel before humans did. The game never exactly explains whether or not Meracle traveled back in time or whether she was from the alternate past reality and just crash-landed. I’m going to assume the latter, since she has trouble recognizing her home planet in the regular timeline. And it never explains whether or not that’s where she’s even from, but regardless, she’s heard of a woman named Elenya, who’s a bit of a soothsayer and Meracle’s favorite person ever, so I think it’s safe to assume that Meracle is from Roak. So just to recap, Meracle’s from over a hundred years in the past, and yet a woman who couldn’t have possibly been born yet is her role model. Furthermore, the planet they live on is not advanced enough to have space travel, so how Meracle even ended up on a ship and crash-landed on Earth is one big gapping plot hole. Granted, despite how much I greatly dislike Meracle’s introduction into the series, her relationship with the professor who first found her and his love for his crazy wife makes the whole in-the-past part enjoyable. It’s a little sad that both he and his wife don’t make it off planet, but they are likable characters, and the ending scene with them makes what’s happening have some sense, even if it doesn’t add up with the rest of the story. Which brings me to my next point.
  3. Going to the past could have been entirely cut out from the game and nothing would be lost. It affects nothing, and not even the big bad trying to destroy the universe has anything to do with time travel. Before the game shoves Area 51 on us, we see bad things happening and maybe they’re not the most interesting things, but they certainly keep the player going. But traveling to the past played as though the game wanted to take a break from itself. Multiple times through this game and I still cannot figure out why it happens.

And that’s hardly the only thing that doesn’t add up in this story. Like the big bad, for instance. It has no origin. It’s just there, because why spend time coming up with actual villains and backstories when you can just throw in some space phantoms? Of course, my favorite part about the Grigori is their artificial and lifeless planet having enough oxygen for the heroes to not suffocate on. The best, though, is the asteroid belt they run across. It also has suitable atmosphere and temperature.

Out of all Star Ocean games, I’ve only played three and four, and I’ve only beaten one of them. Oddly enough, I’d say three is my favorite of the two, despite the fact that I stop playing every time I finally make it to the second disk, if only for my disdain of not being able to take both Nel and Albel off world with me at the same time. I grit my teeth at the inability to collect all the characters every play through, but overall, I’d say it’s the better story. Of course, I may only think that, because between the two of them, at least the third one knows whether or not it wants to be a game or an annoyingly long anime. The Last Hope can’t decide.

This game has infamously long cut-scenes. I remember playing it one day before class. I had fifty minutes to catch the bus, but the cut-scene I had gotten to just would not end. I didn’t start timing it until partway through, but when my annoyance finally pulled me around to doing so, it was over half an hour long and I was about to miss my ride.

I suppose the cut-scenes wouldn’t bother me too much, if they had some point to them. A lot of them have no impact on the overall-arching plot, and that’s not to say they shouldn’t exist in those cases, but they could at least be shorter. They just go on and on.

Now, I know this may not be fair to say—though it is without a doubt entirely accurate—but I finally realized my biggest issue with this game and why I loathe all the characters. The Last Hope is much like a manga turned into a game. Again, it’s not a fair comparison as I’m sure an actual manga was not involved in the making of this game, but I base this on how the story progresses and I don’t think this conclusion is at all surprising, considering the game is from Japan. The story arc progressing like a manga is not a bad thing. I love manga. And dare I say it, so do many of the writers here at LGG&F. The Last Hope unfortunately is like a stereotypical manga filled with every cliché character type and plot point Japan has ever given us.

So, yeah, the plot is a little dull, and when it’s not dull it makes no sense. Plot alone does not always carry a story. Even if it lacks cohesion, if the characters are interesting enough, many of the story’s flaws can be forgiven.

The characters in The Last Hope are not that good.

I’ve already talked about Edge, but let’s talk about him some more. His Gary Stu-ness knows no bounds. All the other characters rely on him, and even if they manage to beat him at something, they’re always quick to amend that it was for some non-feasible reason and that Edge really is the best. Hell, Edge is so awesome that he beats the character Bacchus at a chess-like game the second time he’s ever played it. Upon winning, Bacchus comments that he’s the galactic champion of the game and that now Edge gets the honor of the title. Edge is the topic of discussion for most of the dialogue as well. The game likes to break from the story so the other characters can talk about how wonderful he is.

Of course, Edge’s character is nowhere near as annoying as Faize’s. While the other characters praise Edge for everything he does, Faize exists solely for the purpose of worshiping him. He has no other identifying characteristics. Hell, even when the alternate Earth blows up, Faize comments, “Don’t be so gloomy, Edge. As far as we’re concerned, you made the right choice back there.” Even the few times Faize does grow a backbone and manages something for himself, his character almost immediately reverts back to the constant Edge worship. My best comparison for Faize would be Roger from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. Roger is the most annoying character that has ever been introduced in a video game. Surfing the internet, I cannot seem to find one person who actually likes this kid. But at the end of the day, I can’t hate Roger too much. Yeah, he’s obnoxious, but he’s meant to be that insufferable. We, the audience, are supposed to hate him. Faize, on the other hand, we’re supposed to like, but I can’t like someone who’s completely incapable of doing anything for himself without his crush holding his little extraterrestrial hand. Even at the game’s end when he’s off being evil and possessed, I couldn’t think of anything but how much I wanted him dead and that he and Edge should stop having their lovers’ goodbye and leave the soon-to-be exploding planet they’re on.

Spoiler Alert: Faize dies.

The next main character is Reimi, and she suffers from ‘I’m a girl so I must be incapable when I’m really not’ syndrome. Well, she has more self-confidence than Faize, at least. Reimi exists so the camera can zoom in on her butt and then she can freak out about sexual assault in every other cut-scene she’s in, and her actions are supposed to be ridiculous, because she sees assault where it doesn’t exist, like the time Edge wants to climb down a citadel first to check that it’s safe, and she calls him a pervert for possibly wanting to look up her skin-tight shorts. The game makers actually go so far as to include a supposed funny scene of Edge watching her in the shower so we can witness her overreaction at discovering him. Of course, I fully approve of her loosing arrows at his ass. The sexual-harassment issue brought up with her character wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t used to show how ridiculous the writers feel the issue is. Yeah, some of her reactions are uncalled for because she sees harassment where there isn’t any, but in other situations it does exist and it’s treated with the same flippant attitude.

This, however, is nowhere near as creepy as the love relationship between Faize and Lymle. I should probably mention that Japan is much more accepting of pedophilic relations in fiction than Westerners are; however, this is pushing it. I can only assume that after her character design, the writers also realized how messed up what they did was, so they made Lymle fifteen and Faize eighteen. That’s still a little weird by my standards, especially because Lymle was obviously not written with a teenage girl in mind. She acts and looks like a five-year-old. She draws on the floor, lacks any concept of socially acceptable norms, has the emotional capacity of a small kid, and doesn’t like taking her nappy time alone. I’m beginning to feel as though the game makers have no concept of age. The creepy relationship with Faize aside, Lymle is probably the most adorable character, at least in my opinion.

I think my favorite character, however, would be Sarah. I say Sarah because while she is also completely oblivious and naïve, she at least acts her age. Sure, she’s soft spoken and overly polite. But compared to the other women, she’s not bringing up sexual harassment cases for no reason like Reimi, nor is she shoving a ginormous chest into our faces like Myuria, which is actually the first thing Myuria does. Out of all the female characters, Sarah’s the most realistic. At least to me. There’s no creepy relationship or anything like that; she’s just along for the ride because she sees the other characters as her friends. I may be a little biased, though, because for fear of revealing my identity, we share the same name and we kind of look alike. (It must be the glasses.) That, and I can connect to her on the bases of her utter refusal to pay any attention to the stupidity around her. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that I don’t pay attention to things around me if they upset me or are just not worth the effort, like the Green Lantern movie. That attitude seems to be what Sarah holds for the rest of the Star Ocean universe. The Grigori are trying to kill everyone—well, screw that, ‘cause Sarah can’t even be bothered to remember what they’re called.

One thing that should be said about The Last Hope’s characters is that the females outnumber the males. There are nine playable characters, and only eight in the party, because Faize goes off to become evil when the last one joins up, leaving us with three boys and five girls. Six girls if you include Welch. I did find this surprising my first time through, because I’m used to just the opposite when playing games. The Last Hope doesn’t really cater to either a male or female audience, and with the exception of a few things here and there, most of the genders could be changed and the plot would be more or less the same. I give it props for being pretty gender neutral. I mean, I could go on and take the feminism stand and bitch about the bad female characters who can’t do anything without Edge, but the same applies to male characters as well.

Despite some very questionable decisions in the storyline, it is fun. Maybe I expected more out of a Star Ocean game, especially one that obviously had so much effort put into it. And I’m not going to lie, The Last Hope disappoints me, but I wouldn’t call it completely awful. This is a guilty pleasure. My conclusion is that it’s simply mediocre and that hopefully any negative backlash from this installment won’t be the death of the franchise.

On a happy note, it does have giant bunnies that you can race. They’re so cute that I’m willing to forgive how much the bunny usage in this game is a complete rip off of chocobos.

Can’t you see the resemblance?