At the core of Star Ocean: The Last Hope is an excellent real-time battle system, executed with an ease that casual players can enjoy, but packed with enough features to satisfy the biggest control freak. Unfortunately, it’s wrapped in agonizing cutscenes.

The problem is most acute at the beginning of the game, where you’ll face almost an hour of bad dialogue and poor voice acting before you get into your first real combat. The prequel to the Star Ocean series has plenty to explain; it’s set against mankind’s search to find a new home after World War III made Earth uninhabitable. But the complex space-opera plot is nearly unwatchable, due to drawn-out, poorly paced scenes. To make it worse, you can’t skip some of your inane conversations with one of the game’s more irritating characters.

While it’s technically science fiction, the JRPG quickly slips into fantasy. When guns turn out to be worthless against the first monsters the hero faces, he picks up a sword and never looks back. Eventually everyone in the growing party is using magic and archaic weaponry to fight kobolds and undead.

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Quests and dungeons often force you to fight the same creatures over and over, but there’s plenty of variety easily built into combat. You control one character at a time, with the AI ably manning the rest. Players can set tactics, deciding whether characters should conserve mana or go all-out in a boss fight, and it’s easy to switch strategies and character control, or even rotate in different characters mid-fight.

There’s also an addictive item-creation system where characters are grouped into brainstorming sessions to invent new recipes. Different combinations produce new results, encouraging trial and error to get the best gear and consumables.

Beyond the game: Star Ocean is jam-packed with features for completists, including a database of monsters that can only be fully fleshed out by fighting them repeatedly, and a host of trophies for accomplishments in combat.

Worth playing for: The highly customizable skill-boost system, which allows you to fine-tune your characters’ ability to cast spells, create items, and acquire drops from monsters.

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Frustration sets in when: You finish a long boss fight, then have to keep wandering around the map looking for a save point before you can take a break.

Final judgment: A solid game saddled with some very bad movies.

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