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Star Ocean 4 early demo event report

Microsoft decks out its office in Star Ocean and invites press and fans in.

 

Star Ocean 4 truly is an international development for Square Enix and Microsoft. Just as American media gets to put up detailed previews (IGN Xbox put up impressions from the full first disc yesterday, complete with a must-see video preview), the Japanese media was invited out to Microsoft's Daitanbashi office for an extended demo session.

[end_preview /]

Following the showing of a slick new trailer that MS said would be uploaded to Xbox Live Marketplace shortly, the press was given about an hour and a half of free play time. This was followed by a similar session for a few members of the general populace.

The day closed off with a Q&A session with the producers. I wasn't able to stick around for this, unfortunately, but I'll update with a second hand report once the Japanese sites share the details.

Here are a few shots of the attractive Star Ocean 4 displays:

I already shared impressions last week from a demo session at Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara. That was based off a fifteen minute session.

You might think that with an hour and a half, I'd have a whole more to say, but most of my play time today was spent with non-interactive story sequences, as I chose to start off a new game and went through all the accompanying background, starting with a movie showing off the events of World War III leading up to mankind's development of the warp drive and expansion into space. Enter Edge and Reimi. I'll refrain from spoiling past these first few minutes.

After experiencing the first hour or so of the story, I'm more excited than ever about Star Ocean 4. The conversation and event sequences in my play time were put together well and kept my interest. Above all else, the characters appear to get along well together; I was totally drawn into Edge and Reimi and can't wait to see what happens to them next.

I also like what I saw of the pacing in the first hour. The background story about humanity's movement into space could have been extremely lengthy, but the game advances to Edge's time quickly. Pretty soon, you're given full control and begin exploration of your first planet.

Edge and Reimi -- they make a great hero/heroine duo.

One area of note -- I'm not sure if this was known or not -- is that the game has four levels of difficulty. I played on the normal difficulty and, still unaccustomed to proper use of the various battle systems, almost ended up getting killed as I rushed through battles by pressing the special attack buttons over and over again.

Yamagishi (the producer) was totally right behind me talking to people, by the way. I'm not sure which is more embarrassing: clearly not making use of all his gameplay systems, or nearly dying during one of the first few battles.

Outside of selecting to start a new game, the event's 360 units were also pre-loaded with a save file from about 20 hours into the game. This featured the same planet that I'd sampled in the Yodobashi Camera event, but here you were started off outside of your ship. Strangely, the ship wasn't actually visible on the planet's surface. There was a flight of stairs to nowhere, and when I climbed that, I was taken into the ship. I presume this means the ship was in orbit (or maybe having the giant ship model on the field screws with the engine so they did away with it).

MS handed out a bunch of screenshots for the game today. I'm pretty sure most of them are old, but here are just a few of my favorites along with some irrelevant observations.

I played through this area of the world today.
If you're wondering why Edge uses a sword, you'll find out early on.
I didn't get to play around with the star ship too much, as it was undergoing repairs in the save file that I played. I love the instrument panels, and all the in-game tech.
The boke effects combine with the vibrant lighting to make Star Ocean 4 a gorgeous game, even though there are a few issues with modeling and frame rate.
I don't know the story behind this character, but her walking animation during cinema scenes is hilarious.
The screen on the left is listed by Microsoft as being a movie scene. The screen on the right is listed as a gameplay shot. I remember seeing the one on the right a long time ago and thinking for sure it was pre-rendered.
Scenes from the opening movie sequence that starts off the story.
More scenes from the opening movie. I'm not sure how much the game has in terms of movies aside from this, as in the first hour or so that I played, everything was done in-game -- even the important scenes.
This screen captures the sense of adventure I felt when exploring a planet's surface -- actually the first planet, I think.

See those battle shots? As pointed out over at Siliconera yesterday, the interface in Star Ocean 4 differs between the US and Japanese versions of the game, with Japan getting a more Tales-style anime look and America getting a more high-tech look. The US version replaced the battle interface's anime portraits with CG portraits.

In Japan, the anime look seems to be the way to go, especially given how poorly the Tales of Hearts CG version appears to have done (I read a few blog reports earlier that the CG version is being discounted by 50% at some retailers). As for the American version... as much as this will probably piss off purists, the CG seems to match the game well and is probably appropriate given the sci-fi nature of the game (note that this argument does not apply to Tales).

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