I can see the Star Ocean… –An honest review of Star Ocean: First Departure

I just finished Star Ocean and I feel obliged to write my own review to redeem this game’s reputation. I say this because earlier this week, Gamespot gave the game a 6.0… In my opinion, their review was completely inaccurate and completely missed the point. Anyhow, here’s my honest review of this game.

Story: 8/10

The story is one of the most important factors when it comes to JRPGs. One must keep in mind that this game was made over a decade ago. Nonetheless, First Departure’s story still holds up very well. I will admit that the story isn’t as exciting as it initally seems, but that is due to the pacing issue in this game. The beginning of the game leads you to believe that the plot will be very epic and sci-fi influenced. This is true to a certain extent, but the game’s sci-fi aspect only picks up near the end of the game. The biggest portion of the game is just classic fantasy (magic, mystical creatures) with some brief references to sci-fi elements along the way. The game might feel a little bit slow at times, but ultimately, Star Ocean is an incredibly satisfying experience, because everything ties in beautifully at the end. Without spoiling too much, I can safely say that the last couple of hours of the game are incredibly epic, satisfying and provide explanataion and closure to the plot. All in all, the story can be slow at times, but everything makes sense at the end and ultimately, the plot is very satisfying.

Presentation: 10/10

I like to lump graphics, sound and overall polish of the game together into a category that I like to call “presentation”. This game is absolutely PERFECT in the presentation aspect. You probably know this by now, but First Departure is a remake of a classic Snes RPG that is over a decade old. With that said, even being just a remake and all, this game is one of the best looking games on the PSP, period. FD is a textbook example of what every remake/port should strive to be. The graphics are absolutely stunning: the sprites of the characters are delightfully old school, but very well animated; the background graphics have some of the sharpest looking textures that I’ve ever seen in a handheld game and the anime style cutscenes are simply put…eye candy.

The sound in this game is phenomenal as well. The remastered soundtrack has great sound quality and the music itself is quite memorable and fitting. The real highlight though is the sheer amount and quality of voice acting. All of the main characters have voice overs during important conversations. The voice acting is truly top notch and every character has a voice that fits them uncannily well. The voices sound very natural and it all flows beautifully because the game’s script is quite solid and well translated. The localization/translation team obviously put a lot of work into this game and it really shows!

The overall polish of this game is amazing. Everything works and it works well! The attention to detail is truly astounding.

Gameplay: 9/10

Star Ocean plays just as well as it looks and sounds. The control scheme is very tight and everything feels just right. The fast-paced battles are lots of fun, but the battles are quite easy until the later parts of the game. The battle system is very similar to those found in the Tales games. You can have up to 4 characters in one battle, you control one of them and the AI controls the rest. You are free to move along the battlefield and attack as you wish. In short, it’s an active battle system, there are no “turns”. The difficulty might be an issue to some, but no worries, for those seeking some extra challenge, there are some very challenging optional enemies in this game. Besides the awesome battle system, the game offers an incredibly diverse and deep skills system. Basically, you can teach your characters skills such as cooking, crafting armor, creating medicines out of herbs, writing books, composing music and so on. The skills system is totally optional to use and you can get through the main game without having composed a single piece of music, cooked food or whatever. However, for those who are willing to invest the time to check out every single nook and cranny of this game, the skills system is very promising and fun to use. RPG fans will without a doubt have a blast with it—I know I did! Overall, the gameplay is what you would expect from a good JRPG and the incredibly skills system is just icing on the cake!

Extras: 8/10

For the curious types that like to explore a lot, there is a decent bit of content found outside of the main quest. There aren’t a lot of sidequests per say, but there is a lot of content to be found for those who are willing to fully appreciate the game. One of the particularily interesting, fully optional things in this game is a system called Private Actions. Basically, everytime you reach a town, you can execute something called a private action. All of the party members will separate and go into town and relax (kind of like a mini-vacation). While you’re on this “mini-vacation”, you can walk into town as Roddick (the main character) and talk with your party members. They will usually tell you tidbits about their lives and so on. Private actions also activate mini-cutscenes if you have the right characters and so on. The mini-cutscenes usually consist of 2 or more of your party members talking to one another while Roddick hides behind a tree or something and eavesdrops on the conversation. For instance, if you bring Millie and Perrici (2 characters in the game) to a certain town and activate a private action, it will trigger a scene where Roddick walks into the 2 girls having a conversation about how cute Roddick would look in a dress. That’s just one example, but anyways, PAs generally serve as comic relief and provide character development. PAs are completely optional, but they are a central part of the game in my opinion (they reveal so much about your characters and lets you learn about their respective personalities and backstories and so on).

Also, the game offers a fair amount of additional content in the form of optional bosses and secret dungeons filled with treasure. Some of the optional bosses are incredibly challenging and this will surely delight the hardcore RPG fans.

Another big thing to consider is that this game gives a lot of incentive for you to have a second playthrough. This is because you cannot get all the optional characters in a single playthrough. Different characters means different endings, different private actions and a twist to the main story (the outcome of some scenes change dramatically depending on what characters you have).

Final thoughts

This is one of the most enjoyable RPGs that I’ve played in a while. The tale to be found in Star Ocean is a memorable one for sure. I would give this game a 9/10. Thank you Tri-Ace for developing such a great game and thank you SquareEnix for this amazing remake. I can’t wait for the release of Star Ocean: Second Evolution in January of 09.

P.S. For those wondering about the length of the game, it is on the fairly short side (20 hours for a nomral play-through, 30 or so to master).

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~ by hyeunny on November 9, 2008.

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