So, I am once again trying to play Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Just bits at a time. And there are a lot of design lessons to take away from this game.
1) A decent combat system, decent crafting system, and decent visuals can make up for a totally shitty set of character designs and "plot" arcs.
2) If you're going to make a plot that has a lot of quiet side quests and pointless missions, fine. But make it somewhat open-world. Being railroaded into endless, dull worlds that have nothing to do with any part of any plot is no fun.
Even if, by sheer dumb chance, they end up having something to do with the plot in the end, that doesn't make up for feeling like you are really doing nothing important.
3) Don't change the personality of the avatar. The avatar is the means by which the player expresses themself. That's why most of them are so transparent. Even the ones that aren't transparent have a static personality, so the player can get used to this filter being put over all their activities.
But in The Last Hope, the avatar makes a dumb call without me, and I end up paying the price. For hours and hours and hours. He becomes a mopey, dull asshole.
I understand the idea. It's a character arc. In a book or movie, it'd work. But this is so unplayable that it's why I stopped playing last time. This time, I'm doing a little better because I'm skipping all the cutscenes.
In short, the avatar is working against me. If it was funny, then maybe it'd be acceptable. If he'd been a grump the whole game, maybe I could get used to it. But in this case, he was a fine mostly-transparent avatar until he suddenly became a real pain in the ass. For hours and hours and hours and hours hourshourshours...
4) Could we try to be a tiny bit less sexist?
I know that this game is not new - 2009. But it's still in full force. It's not even really limited to Japan: most games are depressing like this.
I could write pages about all the stupid, sexist things in this game. But, to put it bluntly, all the females are vapid, silly little things that like to dress up and obsess over men; all the men are powerful, upright galactic citizens fighting to save their planets and their universe.
Really, it's not even funny. Especially since the women are actually the better fighters. I haven't gotten far enough to play as the last two characters, but so far all the women are higher-tiered warriors than the men. They have higher damage output, better battle control capabilities, and usually have better specials as they jiggle around the battlefield.
So you start to like them. Even the mostly naked catgirl raises a few notches in your esteem when you realize she can kill off four enemies at once with a single combo chain, and her basic attack is a mob control technique combined with two finishers. Seriously? Oh, she's got low defense? I guess I'll just keep not getting hit.
But she's pretty worthless as a character. Every cut scene is cringeworthy as your most powerful warriors go "teehee I'm stupid! You men better take control, because I'm tooooooo stupid to do anything at all."
If you haven't played the game, you might think I'm exaggerating. I'm not. It's really that bad.
Ah, I've started to rant. Suffice it to say, the female characters are terrible.
They've got great stats, though. I can say that, right?