Star Ocean: First Departure - Staff Review  

Ocean of Choices
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Star Ocean: First Departure
20-40 Hours
+ Quick and easy combat system
+ Interesting and diverse characters
+ Private actions are entertaining
- Presentation is rather bland
- Not much time in space
- Tacked on ending
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   Once thought to be forever lost in Japan, the first entry in the Star Ocean series didn't see a North American release. Now, thanks to tri-Ace and Square Enix, Star Ocean: First Departure has been released on the PSP and is a completely new version of the original title refitted with a cleaned up engine based on the one found in Star Ocean: Second Story. First Departure is a solid, if simple, action RPG that features multiple recruitable characters and private actions that allow players to get to know the team better. Despite the fact that this is a remake of a SNES-era game, it holds up well and seems to fit in with other modern RPGs.

   Star Ocean's story starts in the small town of Kratus as the three youths that comprise the town guard venture off to a neighboring village that has been plagued by a terrible disease that is turning everyone to stone. In an effort to cure the villagers, the team climbs to the top of nearby Mt. Metorx where they are surprised by the appearance of space-dwelling adventurers from another world. These aliens are actually humans who claim to know about the disease and can help find the cure, but explain that the situation is even more complicated than the group had ever imagined. Roddick and his friends, having never known that beings from other planets even existed, take things fairly well as they venture into space and then into their own world's past to find a cure for the disease. Overall, the plot is fairly well put together, though the game does not actually take place in space with the exception of a few brief scenes. Also without spoiling anything, the game's ending feels very tacked on and does not mesh well with the rest of the game, but thankfully does little to harm the story.

Needs more space Lots of planet time, very little space.

   The story is fairly linear, but the game's dialogue and future character options will differ greatly depending on who is recruited. If the player accepts one character into his party, another character might not join. This adds some replayability to the game, but there is not enough unique about each character to make this worthwhile for everyone as most of the character development is spent on the four static teammates. Players can venture into towns in order to view private events, in which they can hunt down party members within the town to increase Roddick's affection rating with that character and learn more about them. These private actions are fun little side notes, but are more for entertainment than true character development.

   Though this is an action RPG, it is still encounter-based with random battles occurring as the player explores the world. Most encounters are over fairly quickly, though players should take care not to venture too far off the beaten path, as enemies can be met that are way above the team's current level without warning. Combat is very simple, and most battles can be won by merely pressing the attack button as fast as possible. Special skills can be used to deal greater damage and can be assigned to the L and R buttons, but these aren't really required. Skill selection, as well as equipment menus, is standard fare. They get the job done without being cumbersome.

   Character recruitment is a major factor on how easy combat actually is, as different characters offer different styles of play. Some are powerful magic users and others are heavy melee. Players can only control one character at a time, but have the ability to switch around during combat as desired. Melee characters are very useful and players could easily finish the game by focusing on these members, only adding one healer. AI-controlled characters follow commands and generally do a good job of staying alive and dealing damage. Healers have very solid AI and are able to keep the party alive without much input from the user. Mages can cast extremely strong spells, but are frail and require a little more time to be useful due to casting times.

Nope There is not actually any girl-on-girl action.

   Star Ocean's skill system is easily one of its highlights, as players are able to customize their team with skill points gained each time they level up. These skills not only boost strength, hit points, or other stats, but also open up more crafting options. Through crafting, players can create weapons and armor that are more powerful than what can be found in stores or chests. Crafting is not always going to be successful, but as long as game data has been saved before beginning the crafting process, players can simply restart a prior save, keeping items from being lost. Taking advantage of this system to create powerful items early on helps to make Star Ocean even easier than it already is. Players shouldn't have too much trouble during most of the game, as long as their team is properly leveled and they are making use of skill points. The only challenge at all comes from the final boss and even that is manageable with proper preparation.

   Star Ocean looks dated when compared to other PSP titles, but it does not look bad. The small character sprites and especially the overworld maps lack detail, but are still rather fitting for the game's atmosphere. Occasional FMV cutscenes help to make the game look a bit more modern, but there are too few to make that much of an impact. Each of the characters has decent voice acting, but it's nothing of note. Motoi Sakuraba's soundtrack is good and is very fitting within the game, but is not one of his most outstanding works.

   Star Ocean: First Departure is not an extremely long game, coming in at just a little more than twenty hours, but the adventure is solid. Since North American gamers had yet to experience an official release of this game in English, it is nice that tri-Ace made an effort to improve this game's accessibility. First Departure is a solid RPG with a simple to use battle system and entertaining characters to collect. While it breaks no new ground, it proves that older titles are still able to hold up to today's standards if enough effort is put into renovating them.

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