Star Ocean: First Departure
Reviewed by Anna "Lania" Slado
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-03-17 PSP RPG T (Teen) Square Enix / triAce

When I was still in high-school, an amazing game for the PlayStation was released on European soil. That game was called Star Ocean: The Second Story. I quickly got addicted to its fun gameplay, the beautiful settings and music, and the system Private Action, through which you could change the game's ending, depending on your main character's relationship with the rest.

But that's not where the Star Ocean saga began. It began on the SNES in 1996, and just as with so many other RPGs, it never crossed the ocean. I tried the original with a fan translation on a ROM once. I kinda liked it. The Star Ocean-series has some unique features, as the above mentioned Private Action, and a system that will teach your characters more skills than you ever thought possible. The original is of course in classic SNES-RPG style, which I have much love for. I never did finish playing it on the ROM, I guess it had to do that I didn't have a gamepad at the time, and gaming on a keyboard has always been uncomfortable for me. So when SquareEnix announced that they would port the game to the PSP, I was thrilled. Finally I would get to play the original Star Ocean! But that would not be completely true.

Star Ocean: First Departure, as many other remakes - Final Fantasy IV for example - comes in a brand new package. It has a remade manuscript, voice actors, anime cut-scenes, and the biggest change of all; it looks exactly like its follow-up, Star Ocean: The Second Story. At first, I didn't know what to think. Was I happy or sad over this change? I mean, I like the look of Star Ocean 2, it makes me feel at home, but did I like the idea of losing so much of the original?

I can understand the developers on one hand, because they are releasing this game in a time where looks can make or break you. On the other hand, I don't understand why the classic 2D-style, which the remake of Chrono Trigger kept intact, should be abandoned so quickly. It's like tossing away all the hard work the original staff did, just to make it look more appealing to a shallow audience.

Star Ocean is a short game. I finished it just now before I sat down to write this review, and I didn't even make it to the 20-hour mark. Somehow I imagine that had the game looked as it did on the SNES, I wouldn't have minded that the game ended rather quickly, because that's what games did back then. Heck, even Chrono Trigger hardly amounts to 15 hours of gameplay, including sidequests. And what's more, games were often more difficult back then. Star Ocean can be challenging at times and there are places where you will level up like crazy, but you do need it (though try not to overdo it, because then the last boss will seem like a wimp). But, when put in this fancy shell, you suddenly begin to expect more. But the story is still the same so there's only so much they can do. I guess that's why I was feeling a bit like "what, is that it?" when I had finished.

The story starts off on the planet Roak, where friends Roddick, Millie and Dorne are keeping the peace in their village by acting as the town watch. Then they hear word of a terrible decease having struck a neighboring village. It turns out that people are turning into stone; one of them is Millie's father, who went there to cure them in the first place. The party decide to head to nearby Mount Mertox, where there is said to be an herb that can act as a cure. Well on top of the mountain, their search for the herb is interrupted by the sudden appearance of Ilia and Ronix, both from Earth. The young group learns that there is nothing they can do to stop the decease, unless they leave their home, possibly for all time.

What follows next is supposedly a journey through a "star ocean", which actually means travelling back to Roak 300 years earlier, in search for a cure. Actually, there is a lot of running back and forth between towns in Star Ocean, and I never felt that the story was really delivering. It starts off simple enough, but the way from start to finish, I guess you can say I'm somewhat confused. The game had a very quick way of wrapping things up in the end, and though there is a lot of dialogue between the characters, I am unsure if that really did the game any good.

What does make the game enjoyable is the chance to meet so many different characters, and the fact that the story changes based on who you take with you. On top of that, Star Ocean is filled to the brim with special skills and various ways of creating items. Some skills are good in battle, and gives you the ability to counter, boost defense, teleport directly to an enemy as soon as you hit the attack button, reduce spell-casting time, etc. And then you have fun stuff, like being able to make your own weapons or accessories, paint a painting, write a book, make different foods (all characters have their own favorite that make them regain all HP and MP), or compose some music, to mention a few. And then there are field skills, like being able to reduce or increase enemy encounters or have a bird fly to a shop and deliver goods to you, which can come very much in handy if you find yourself deep inside a dungeon.

However, I am unsure of how much of the skills are from the original, cause I do recognize all of them (besides a few that might have been added for this version) from Star Ocean 2. Also, there is not enough time to go through all these skills, so in that regard, they do feel a bit "copy-pasted".

The battles are fast paced and fun, you control Roddick and the rest are managed through AI. There are different settings and they all work fairly well. Battles take place in a fixed space, where you can roam around freely, hitting everything in sight. Through the course of the game, you learn different special attacks and you can assign the attacks you wanna use to the R and L-buttons. As you level up, you gain points that you use to learn the skills mentioned above.

It's always fun roaming through dungeons looking for treasure, but I can't shake the feeling that something's missing in this game. Is it depth? Is it originality? I don't know. All game series have to start off somewhere, and I know I wasn't that impressed with Tales of Phantasia either, when I played the remake for GBA, but I love the series as a whole. And I guess you can say that for Star Ocean too. The good thing is that Motoi Sakuraba's music fail do disappoint. I had a good time while playing. It's not an experience that I will remember; it's not epic in any way. It's cute, and so it was even before all the fancy revamping, that honestly don't bring much to the overall experience.

Special thanks to Klee Kup and Square Enix for providing a copy of this title.