King Odin (kingodin) wrote in furreviews,
King Odin

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Star Ocean: First Departure - Full Review

In Japan in the summer of 1996, Enix published one of the final titles for the Super Famicom, Star Ocean, the first game developed by tri-Ace, founded by former members of Wolfteam, which worked on Tales of Phantasia. Due to a combination of Enix lacking an American branch at the time and their Japanese branch's No Export for You policies, the title would remain in Japan, despite gushing by Nintendo Power. Over a decade later, however, tri-Ace finally gave Anglophone players a chance to play the first Star Ocean in the form of a remake, Star Ocean: First Departure, which largely uses its own sequel's game engine and proves to be a solid rerelease.

The game opens up with a Terran (Earth) vessel being caught in the impact of a planet destroyed by Romulans the Lezonians, although the ship survives the impact. The first Star Ocean is the only game in the series to feature an alien protagonist, Roddick, who lives on Planet Roak and is a Fellpool, sort of a human with a tail, kind of like the Genomes in Final Fantasy IX. Because the Lezonians unleashed a chemical weapon on Roak, its inhabitants are turning into stone, and Ronyx J. Kenny and Ilia Silvestri of the Terran Alliance (parents of Star Ocean 2 hero Claude Kenny), hope to find a cure for the plague, in violation of the Prime Directive Underdeveloped Planet Preservation Pact (UP3). However, since the host of the virus is long gone and three centuries in the past, it's up to Deus Ex Machina the Time Gate on Planet Styx to take Roddick, his friend Millie, Ronyx, and Ilia, to Roak three hundred years in the past in hopes of finding the cure and saving their planet.

The remake largely uses its sequel's randomly encountered real-time battle engine, with the player's party of up to four active characters squaring off against a number of enemies. The player controls one of the characters while the A.I. controls the others, with a number of A.I. options being available outside battle. Characters can attack normally, use MP-consuming attack skills, use magic if available (which requires a charge time beforehand, during which the enemy can cancel spell execution, and after which the character must wait before being able to use magic again), use an item (with a wait time after item use), change ally A.I., or attempt to escape.

When the player wins a battle (with fights typically lasting less than half a minute) all living characters without paralysis or petrifaction gain experience, alongside money. Level-ups reward a character with increased stats and skill points the player can invest into various personal skills outside battle, with skills bought from special shops, and which can increase character stats, allow for useful combat maneuvers, and allow for greater success in item creation. Item creation requires certain raw materials purchased from shops, with the rate of success usually being low unless the player makes use of the Orchestra Super Specialty, bequeathed from the sequel.

Sure to disappoint the vocal minority that believes easy games automatically suck is that First Departure is not a terribly difficult game, and can be even easier if the player does sidequests like the arena and makes decent use of the item creation system. The battle system works, with the pacing of combat being excellent, and the encounter rate and even difficulty of fights (which in turn increases rewards from battle) being adjustable with certain skills. The only real hiccups are the inability to cancel escape, the slight delay between using an item and its execution (which can sometimes result in wasted healing items if a character dies during the healing process), and the rare tendency of characters to wander aimlessly around the battlefield before actually attacking a targeted enemy.

Interaction is just as solid, with an easy menu system, good direction on how to advance the main storyline, quick and efficient shopping, and an "equipment wizard" where the game automatically equips characters with better equipment when acquired. Furthermore, the remake replaces the original version's realistic world exploration with a less realistic overworld connecting towns and dungeons, sure to pacify fans of the game-padding gimmick. There are some minor faults such as the lack of transportation other than Roddick's feet and ships between port towns and the inability to exit dungeons quickly until a certain item late in the game becomes available, but coupled with the PlayStation Portable's built-in pause and quicksave, First Departure is a user-friendly title.

It's always unfair to damn a remake for unoriginality, with the original Star Ocean being inventive for a Super Famicom title with its real-time battle system and sci-fi plot, though it does borrow from Star Trek, and the remake largely uses its own sequel's gameplay engine. As for the story itself, it's actually decent despite its derivative nature, and the little time spent in the titular Star Ocean, with a nice cast of characters and Private Actions in towns adding a bit more story for characters, sometimes having an effect on the ending, which can vary with whatever different characters the player obtains. That the story is largely from the aliens' point of view is also a nice break from the science-fiction stories typically told from the Earthlings' perspective. Overall, the story holds up decently even in the remake.

The remixed soundtrack by Motoi Sakuraba is nice as well, and the voice acting is competent, in spite of Ronyx and older males sounding a bit like the Chinpokomon announcer from South Park, and Ilia at times sounding a bit like Lisa Simpson. The remake also uses its sequel's graphics engine combining 2-D sprites with photorealistic environments, which, alongside occasional anime cutscenes, looks nice, although the overworld is a tad foggy. Ultimately, the game sounds and looks superb.

Finally, the remake isn't a terribly lengthy game, taking somewhere from twenty to forty hours to finish, a bit longer with sidequests and the post-game dungeon. In conclusion, Star Ocean: First Departure is an ideal example of a remake, improving upon the original version in just about every aspect while filching elements from its successor, no less. There are some negligible flaws such as the little time spent in the titular Star Ocean, although the game is nonetheless a must-own title for PlayStation Portable owners, who will relish at the chance to play the game legally for once.

The Good:
+Quick and painless battle system.
+Good story and characters.
+Sounds and looks great.

The Bad:
-Some missable characters.
-No warp magic.
-Not enough time spent in titular Star Ocean.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 8/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: 20-45 Hours

Overall: 9/10
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