Star Ocean 4 Playtest
Sampling a new save point just ahead of release.
I've been to lots of retail demo events in the past, but I don't think I've ever seen the kind of crowd control measures Square Enix implemented today at the Star Ocean 4 demo event in Akihabara.
The only way to play the game on one of the eight available kiosks was to get a reservation ticket in advance. Arriving at the shop at around 12:30, I ended up with this:
It turns out, though, that the ticket was just for the right to get into line. From there, it was another 30 minutes or so.
The point is, I waited a long time to play Star Ocean 4 a few weeks ahead of its final release. Was it worth it? Well, I'm not keen on waiting in line for a mere 15 minutes play time with a game (which is why I was completely baffled by those four hour Monster Hunter 3 waits at TGS), but I definitely like what I saw from Star Ocean 4 in my short sampling.
I didn't get a chance to play the game at the Tokyo Game Show, but it doesn't matter too much, as this version started players off at a different save point. The single save file available for play had main character Edge at level 45 and a play time listed at over 22 hours.
This was presumably a late point in the game, explaining the free-roaming nature of the demo. There really wasn't a goal. Players were started off outside a shrine in the Astoraru area of the planet Rokutoroppu (the romanizations for these names are totally unofficial -- this particular planet isn't listed at the official site yet). From there, one option is to enter into the shrine, which proved to provide some players more than enough winding passages and battles to last the 15 minute demo time. The other option was to head out into the world.
I took the latter route, and found a massive world, spanning the mountainous area that houses the shrine, a forest area, a desert, and a beach. And that's presumably just a sampling of one part of a planet, which is itself just one in a series of planets.
For the most part, the world is seamless. The screen goes blank when going into a town (of which I could find just one during my play time), a shrine or a cave, but there also seems to be a few transition points here and there between sections of the world. Still, there isn't really much of anything in the way of load times here, so those who like to explore can expect a smooth experience.
I noticed a few things that players can do while moving about the world. There were a few treasure chests housing items here and there. I also found a couple of spots where Reimi, the heroine, would bend down and pick up an item from the ground. This is one of Reimi's command skills; Backus, a cyborg character, has a similar location-based command skill where he digs for minerals. At one point near the shrine, I was prompted to press a in order to make Edge jump down a cliff to the ground below; this jump move is part of a set of field actions referred to as "field motions." Another area of the world was blocked off by quicksand, which sucked you in if you attempted to pass over and sent you back to the opening of the area.
The game does a good job of handling the large open world. Everything moves smoothly. While there is some visible pop-in, it's nothing major. The only annoying thing is that Edge appears to be the only character you can control. Even if someone else is selected as your party leader, only Edge will be shown.
With no clear goal, there was only one thing to do: battle, battle, battle. There were plenty of enemies waiting about, ranging in variety from trolls to giant walking trees. Enemies are all visible ahead of time on the main map, and you're free to avoid them, making use of another one of those field motions, a handy dash move that I found was able to out-pace even the faster enemies.
Get into battle, and you'll find the typically action-heavy Star Ocean battle system, with a whole lot more flash this time around as players toss enemies into the air and juggle them for mega damage.
I have to admit that I wasn't able to get a good sampling of the game's Beat system, Site In/Site Out system, and Rush systems in my limited play time. I was actually more impressed with the real time member change system. During battle, you can freely switch new members into your party, allowing you to match your party to combat the enemy at hand. Add this to the ability to tab between your currently controlled character as you please, and Star Ocean 4's battle system should never become monotonous, even if you're grinding for levels.
Incidentally, the demo started you off with a large party from which to form your four-character battle unit: Edge, Reimi, Faize, Lymle, Backus, Meracle, and Myuria. Square Enix had promised new characters for the demo, so I'd assumed that one of the recent characters, Arumat P. Thanatos (that's the official Romanization in this week's Famitsu Xbox 360, by the way) would be playable too, but he wasn't. The original promise might have been just in reference to new characters compared to the TGS version.
Aside from the much welcomed ability to swap characters in and out freely, I took note of a couple of features that RPG fanatics will presumably dig. The game appears to keep lots of collection data, with the camp menu accessing a variety of lists for monsters, attacks, and items. The menu, incidentally, appears to be extremely polished and fast -- something that should be expected from a veteran RPG studio.
For Japanese correspondents who have to save and restart games in order to record footage, this little feature will be appreciated. You can load up a new save file directly from the menu, so there's no need to reset or go back to the title screen. I actually don't know if a normal person cares about a feature like this, but it really helps for my type.
The one area of Star Ocean 4 that I didn't get to sample at the demo was the game's story. For me, that will probably be the biggest draw, so I look forward to experiencing it in full come the February 19 launch.
The Yodobashi demo event where I played Star Ocean 4 ran from 12:00 to 17:00. Famitsu.com reported from the event that Square Enix actually pushed the start time up by thirty minutes and only started handing out tickets after noon in order to avoid confusion.
The site also noted that most of the players attending the event were male, something that I can vouch for.
The first 100 players were scheduled to get a free poster. Despite my long wait, I ended up walking home with this...
... so I guess I was one of the first 100!