Star Ocean - Retroview

Star Ocean:  The Brilliant Series Begins

By: Reed Richards

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 8
   Originality 10
   Plot 9
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Medium to Hard
   Time to Complete 30-50 Hours  

Star Ocean

   Published in 1996, Star Ocean was perhaps the pinnacle of achievement for the Super-Famicom system.  Shamefully never released in the United States, this game was stranded across the Pacific, and to date has not been released in America, despite Star Ocean: The Second Story's success here.  Always intrigued by the story of Claude and his father Ronixis, I felt compelled to play Star Ocean-- and it does not disappoint.   

   While requiring a fair amount of time for "leveling up," the battle system makes combat a cinch for regular enemies.  Each character has its own AI (except for Ratix, whom you always are), and the group has battle formations.  Combat occurs "arena" style a-la Secret of Mana (or exactly like Star Ocean: The Second Story for those of you who have played it).  You have four members of your team, all of whom have either magic or "killer moves" to use in battle in addition to regular attacks.  Both the magic and killer moves are identical to the ones found in Star Ocean: The Second Story, except that the killer moves are not quite as easy to use.  The AI for the other characters tends not to be too bright, as the characters will often use elemental spells and killer moves which wind up healing the enemy.  Furthermore, the fighters tend not to attack any enemy that you, Ratix, are attacking-- even if you are getting beaten fairly badly.  This makes boss fights fairly challenging (unless he takes up the whole screen).  All of that being said, this is easily the most advanced combat system ever developed for a Super-Famicom/Nintendo game-- one that is even better when they adapted it to the PlayStation for Star Ocean: The Second Story.

   Star Ocean uses a Private Action system in towns that allows your characters to separate and develop relationships with each other, allowing for over 40 possible endings.  The menus are easy to use, items are clearly described, and the chests in dungeons will give you the best armor in the game.  What really allows this game to shine, however, is the complex item creation system.  No other Super Famicom/Nintendo game sports such a robust creation system.  Character can customize weapons to create the best weapons in the game, or they can cook items together to form a "better" healing item etc.  The system also allows for the creation of accessories, which yield a variety of items.  What makes this system a headache to use though is the lack of even constant success with certain skills.  Your "Customize" skill may be maxed out and you have all of the requisite "talents" (which are gained through working with the item creation system, in addition to having a character start with them), but you will still find yourself unable to forge the item you want in less than 200 tries.  Combine this with the fact that some ores and minerals are extremely rare (3 in the game and cannot be copied) and you have a very vexing few hours on your hands.  As for character interaction, they do interact well but I was extremely disappointed at the quality of the Private Actions scenes, but perhaps that is due to my being spoiled playing Star Ocean: The Second Story.  Ronixis is the main reason I undertook playing this game, and I wish that a little more was done with his character.  He is slightly unused until about 3/4ths of the way through, when he becomes a major player once more.  The other characters are fairly plain, but serve their purpose.  Again, I can't help but feel spoiled by SO: TSS and the unique personalities they gave to all of the possible characters in it.

A hot time in the multiverse tonight!
A hot time in the multiverse tonight!  

   The music was very well done for such an older system, but I do feel that it pales in comparison to the magnificent scores of Chrono Trigger and even Final Fantasy VI (3 in the US).  The voices used in battle were OK but not anything to write home about.  The music to Star Oceans sequel, SO: TSS is head and shoulders above its predecessor's.  

   Star Ocean is one of the most unique games ever made for the Super Famicom/Nintendo system.  Its battle system and item creation system were unique at the time and the plot was really well done until the very end.

   The plot started very well, but became weaker as things progressed.  I cannot elaborate on this as it would spoil crucial parts of the game, but there is a very large leap made from one bit of knowledge to another that is never really covered-- a declaration is simply made by one of the characters despite the player having no real idea of what he just said.  The final part of the game leaves a lot to be desired, but a serious part of my problems with the game's plot could be due to a loss of ideas and meaning in the translation.

Mad Skillz!!
Mad Skillz!!  

   In the end, the game really isn't worth being replayed unless you are a hard-core fan.  Unlike its sequel, Star Ocean just lacks that general grab that makes you want to reset after having beaten the final boss and start all over again.  While being a beautiful game, perhaps the best cartridge game made for the time, its bosses all looked a little funny (none of them compare with the brilliant work in Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger). 

Star Ocean was not incredibly difficult, although certain bosses were challenging.  I found myself more tried by regular enemies in dungeons than I did by the boss at the end most of the time.  Because of this, the game only took about 30 hours to complete, but once I went through the "secret" dungeons and worked with the item creation system, that time went up to about 50 hours.

Final Verdict:  Play this game if you can.  It gives Star Ocean: The Second Story and additional breadth and depth, especially from Claude's point of view.  You get to know Ronixis and his friends, and understand the mantle that Claude is forced to bear, following in the footsteps of his father.  If you have not played Star Ocean:  The Second Story, this game will still be fun, but ultimately will leave you with a slight sense of disappointment at the end.

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