- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

Here’s an abbreviated look at some multimedia titles for the teen in the family.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope (from Square Enix for the Xbox 360, $59.99) — The next chapter in the popular Japanese franchise comes out of its PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 2 American roots to deliver a massive, action-packed role-playing game on Microsoft’s entertainment console.

Contained on two discs, the game mixes sci-fi and fantasy elements into an epic struggle familiar to Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica fans.

After World War III makes the Earth uninhabitable in 2064, unlikely hero Edge Maverick leads the charge to find a new place for humanity to live, learning about friendship, responsibility and an easy way to squash a giant polyphaga in the process.

Eventually joined by a crew including the Vulcanesque Faige, female archer Reimi and a little girl named Lymle, Edge and his team work together as they travel along the intergalactic way.

Just a word of warning for those with an addictive personality: My first session with the game lasted more than six hours and I barely scratched the surface of this monolith of a saga.

The three-dimensional battles are the true highlight with up to four controllable heroes on the screen and an incredible array of weapons to use, button-mashing combinations to dole out and creatures to fight. As is traditional in role-playing games, interacting and upgrading characters is paramount to success and Star Ocean fills out the statistical charts with the best options of its contemporaries down to allocating skill points and managing food and magic resources.

An incredibly deep encyclopedic resource accompanies the action and covers all of the proceedings with dozens of entries on the characters, creatures, locales, species and items found in the Star Ocean universe.

Although the diversity of environments, character interactions, creature variety and overall visuals are quite notable, the game flow tends to plod a bit and follows a pattern between long-winded cut scenes and picking a fight with something. That’s not a bad thing if you quickly fall in love with this anime-fueled space adventure.

Deadly Creatures (from THQ, for Wii, $49.99) — This quirky third-person brawler features a pair of mighty arachnids and their struggle for survival.

The player gets a unique perspective on the universe while controlling a tarantula or a scorpion. The pair spend an incredible amount of time munching on gross creepy crawlies and fighting a bunch of reptiles and other enemies.

As the brutal battles — above and below a desert — play out with ear-splitting sound effects, get ready to jump out of your socks at some of the larger animals looking for a quick snack, and watch out for those blood-sucking swarms of mites.

The motion-sensing Wiimote helps the two very different heroes deliver a decent variety of attacks. I give the edge to the scorpion and its deadly stings and tail whiplashes.

To add to the creep factor, two of the odder actors among Hollywood’s best — Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper — add voice-over work to present a tale of greed, murder and incredible karmic backlash as a couple of crude, smarmy bumpkins. I’m not sure why THQ needed the star power, but each offers his thoughts on the action in a few humorous behind-the-scenes featurettes.

I commend THQ for its clever, visually impressive presentation of one of the stranger games of the year, but it’s sort of a one-trick pony with no real replayability. I must warn arachnophobes to stay far away from this one — it still feels like something is crawling on my neck.

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