Star Ocean: First Departure
Developer: tri-Ace | Publisher: Enix | Release Date: 2008 | Genre: RPG | Website: N/A | Purchase: Amazon
When a group of friends from an underdeveloped planet called Roak embark on a quest to save their world from a mysterious disease that is turning their people into stone the last thing they expect to run into are some extra-terrestrials. Fortunately the aliens (from a planet called Earth!) are benign and explain to the Roakians their reasons for getting involved. The two races decided to team up to find the solution to a looming danger and from there it’s a time traveling galaxy wide adventure of epic proportions.
Star Ocean: First Departure is actually a remake of a Japanese Super Nintendo title that never saw the light of day on Western shores. However, don’t let this scare you away as Star Ocean is quite simply one of the most engrossing and downright addictive Role Playing Games on the PSP. Star Ocean is really a testament to how good a remake of an older game can be and while the graphics are far from groundbreaking it’s clear that a lot of work went into them. The awesome mix of science-fiction and fantasy gives the game a unique feel and the new manga styled cut-scenes done by Project I.G (the talented animators behind classics like Ghost In The Shell) is awesome to behold.
Star Ocean does quite a few things different from what is expected of the genre and this sets it apart from the usual generic titles on PSP. The biggest upset is obviously the real-time battles. Enemy encounters are still random, but instead of the sluggish turn-based affairs you would expect you are instead thrust into an action packed brawl where you can run around, attack, cast spells and use items while three of your AI team members fend for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I love the strategic elements of turn based battles, but Star Ocean has opened my eyes to a equally fun alternative. With my total amount of battles fought by the end of the game nearing 1000 I was grateful for the action packed combat.
Another thing that I love about Star Ocean is the deep skill system that allows for full character customization. I don’t have nearly enough space to describe it, but once you are hooked you’ll be spending hours leveling up your characters. With characters that can cook, paint, write, sculpt, forge, compose and much, much more it’s almost a game itself teaching them new skills. Add in a huge list of bonus/extra characters you can recruit if you are willing to make the effort and a brand new “private event” feature that’s completely optional but tons of fun and you are looking at one very cool game.
The cast are all very memorable and they are all further fleshed out by full voice overs that are of a very high standard. The battle cries amid combat can become very annoying, but that’s about the only criticism I have. Even the music is quite beautiful. Some of the characters engage in quite deep conversations with each other during the course of the game and since you can only recruit some of them at the expense of others this gives the game some added replay value.
Graphically the 2D character sprites can sometimes look out of place on the pre-rendered backgrounds or 3D battle maps and it’s a pity that weapons and armor that are equipped does not reflect on the character graphics. None of this matters in the long run and Star Ocean is one of the few games I enjoyed thoroughly from start to finish without once wishing it would end already. No self-respecting RPG fan should be without this title in their collection as it’s really one of the highlights of the genre. Best of all Star Ocean 2 has also been given a PSP make-over so make sure you don’t miss out.
*Review originally published in 2008.