Star Ocean: First Departure - Reader Review  

The great star ocean consists of one backwater planet
by Shawn Denney

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Very Easy
20-40 Hours
+ Private Actions are great
+ Monstrously large crafting system
+ Nice visuals
- Game is too easy
- Not much time actually spent in space
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   Their was once a development team called Wolfteam. They released a game called Tales of Phantasia for the Super Famicom. After the game was released, Wolfteam split up into two teams that each started their own company. The first went on to start Namco Tales Studios. The second one started a company called Tri-Ace. Tri-Ace first project was a Super Famicom game called Star Ocean. 12 years after its original release, Star Ocean comes to America for the first time in the form of a remake titles Star Ocean: First Departure.

   First Departure has some glorious features (which have been used in subsequent installments) as well as some things about it that were rather disappointing. The main issue that I have with First Departure (and the original version of Star Ocean) is that it just isnít very Sci-fi heavy. With the exception of a few short segments, the entire game takes place in one ďmedievalĒ planet. What drew me to Star Ocean in the first place was the idea of RPG+Space=Awesome! However, once I got over the fact that itís not all that ďspaceĒ oriented, the game had some aspects that really drew me in.

   First Departure uses a fully real-time combat system. The game plays out in a pseudo 3-D arena during battle. You can run anywhere, and attack, dodge, cast spells (called symbology) however you see fit. You control one character while a competent A.I. takes over for the other three party members. There are two flaws with this system though. First, is that once you hit the attack button, your character will auto lock on to the enemy and chase them all over the entire arena until you hit them. Itís ridiculous! It means that I could just whack ďXĒ without even looking at the screen and still hit the enemy every time. Their were tons of battles where I just mashed ďXĒ until I won. Thatís not fun. When I as a player feel like a heavy object sitting on 1 button could accomplish the exact same thing I am doing, it doesnít make for a very engaging experience. The second flaw is more of an inconvenience than a problem, and that is you cannot skip spell animations. This means that during the later spells which have elaborate sequences, the game play is interrupted for a good 15 seconds. Not a tremendous deal, but it was annoying to the point that I actually turned off several spells because the animations were just too long.

Run Roddick, Run!!! Run Roddick, Run!!!

   The story follows a man on the planet Roak named Roddick. The inhabitants of this planet are all cat people, meaning they all have tails. A disease that turns people to stone is affecting the people of Roddickís village, so he sets out to find a cure. The narrative expands from here, but it never truly hits compelling. During the course of the game, you can enter events called Private Actions which are interactions between your characters in specific locales. These were remarkably fun to witness and on several occasions I found myself going out of my way just to find more of these. Also, depending on how many of these Private Actions you partake in, will change which ending you see.

   One of the main features in First Departure is the crafting system. Itís quite simple to use and is quite engaging. It allows you to create weapons, armor, food, you name it, and itís quite possible you can make it. (Not literally, you canít make a megaton nuclear device, but whoís judging?) The crafting also opens up all sorts of side quests that you couldnít complete unless use it. Perhaps the most important point that should be pointed out about the crafting system though is that it is actually useful. Most equipment sold in stores never compares to what you can make through crafting.

   The sound department of First Departure received some serious upgrades over its original counterpart. The most noticeable would be the inclusion of voice acting. Every major story sequence is fully voiced. While the overall quality varies, most of it is nice and adds to the experience. The songs composed originally composed by Motoi Sakuraba are his usual quality. If you dug his other works, this will be no exception. The opening sequence when you turn the game on also recieved a theme song courtesy of a Japanese group called Asunaro.

A typical battle A typical battle

   First Departure uses nicely drawn sprites on 3-D environments. It makes for a game that if you are willing to accept sprites (I have friends that just flat out refuse to look at any game that isnít cutting edge 3-D, so i understand if they are not for everyone) than you will find a very nicely presented game that displays quite well in the PSPís widescreen. Before the title screen, and a few other places have had fully animated sequences added. These were done by Production I.G., who is known for their high quality works in video games, and this is no exception. Also, I always thought the character portrait of Roddick on the menu screen looks eternally pissed off! Just though Iíd share that with everyone.

   Star Ocean: First Departure is an easy game. As long as you donít constantly run from fights, with the exception of the end boss, little to no resistance will be put up. If you make use of the Item Creation system, the game gets even easier too. Total completion time should clock in at right around 20 hours. Itís not the longest of games, but this might actually be a good thing. First Departure has several recruit-able characters which alter the ending. However, if you accept one character into your party, another one may refuse to join. This adds replay incentive, and opens all sorts of new opportunities for Private Actions.

   America is getting the original Star Ocean for the first time, and it may not be what people were expecting. Itís got some serious flaws, and somehow still manages to be a game that I want to play more than once. It certainly isnít for everyone, but for fans, this should be a definite purchase.

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