Review | Star Ocean: First Departure R
"Star Trek or Star Wars? Star Ocean of course! How we traveled through time, across the planets and how we grinded up to the level 255 - because we simply can!"
by Foggy, 18-12-2019, Edited by: Jim Tepedino
Let's start with how we even got here. New remaster from Square Enix, wow that is weird. Not. Well, it all started in year 1995. "Three Aces", former Telenet Japan employees - Yoshiharu Gotanda (programmer, current tri-Ace President), Masaki Norimoto (game designer) and Joe Asanuma (director), formed tri-Ace. This company developed what I’m talking about in this review. Fun fact is that many of Namco employees which worked on the Tales of Phantasia at the time (great game btw), "crossed" over to tri-Ace.
It was during the time of their first project. Super Famicom era. Imagine voice acting in the scenes and animations at that time. Of course, only Japan was honored to enjoy such a perspective title. Finally, in 2008 there was a PSP port for a wider audience. Now, 11 years later, this remaster (yet another port) was done for our beloved consoles - PS4 and Switch. What's new? HD graphics, new artwork, Japanese voices...And that my folks is all.
Well, considering this was 96', we have nice anime plus good audio.
Different set of hair colors
Yep, how else to travel through time and space having the same hair color? Star Ocean is a small and cute, sweet adventure, an old school experience written using space references. Mostly I remember the second story, which is the next Star Ocean title. This was the perfect time and period to finally try how it all began.
The story starts in the small town where Roddick, our protagonist, defends the gate of the village. Millie and Dorne are here to help. They are his best buddies of course. After few bandit kills, Roddick and the gang find out that there is a vicious disease not far from their small lovely town. That nasty virus is turning people into stones and Millie's father is not spared. Dorne neither. Nothing matters anymore, but to save the people and help Dorne. The journey starts and the road ahead is a long one. Just after the first few stops, they will witness a space miracle; Ronyx and Ilia visit with the space ship and to summarize things - there is no cure in this era, as the host from which the virus was created is long gone. Our heroes will now travel through time, learn what the computers are and they will find that cure!
Feel the gentle breeze and enjoy the simple life.
I liked everything about the story. It is neat, cool and somewhat familiar, but well put into this universe with a few twists and an emphasis on the player himself. What that means is that most of the stuff is hidden and optional, so making the most out of it depends on you. Star Wars/Trek meets the JRPG.
A world map is also here. Just a pinch of nostalgia to focus on 96' graphics when you embark on your adventure to make you feel like a real adventurer.
Roddick on the World Map. The only thing that sucks is that enemies attack every few seconds.
So, who should I pick?
Yeah. I like to bond with my teammates. This game offers more optional characters than main ones, plus you can take just 4 out of 9. Great. Who to pick? Maybe pick ones based on their hair color. Anyway, each character has his own backstory. Depending who you recruit, it will change the dialogue a bit. In all scenes you will see your current party and listen to their unique comments. It's a great way to add replay value to the game. And to think they had this in 96'. Damn!
Now, do I need that girl or should I wait for some other useless character?
The madness and decisions start soon after the beginning. You can't change much at the start, but upon arriving in the first town, the first optional character awaits. My aim was to have 2 fighters and 2 mages.
Keep in mind that if you take a particular character, you may lose the opportunity to use other characters later in the game.. That also means you will not be able to enter some dungeons or do some quests that only initiate when you have a certain team member. Also, upon clearing the story in a town, you can enjoy in Private Actions. They are nothing more than solo runs through the town while trying to find your members to chat about their background stories or simple funny situations.
Please, do PA's whenever you can. This is pure gold.
Having in mind that exploring this part means indulging in optional parts of the game, not everyone will experience them. I strongly insist that you do, as they circle up the whole story very well, plus they add to the whole experience. Private actions are also chained - when you watch one, you will unlock another in some other town. It doesn't apply to all, but it does apply. It can also lead to a different ending, so make sure to aim towards the one you prefer (yeah, you need to look them up in some guides).
I pressed X like 8 million times
You remember that ancient saying in RPGs? The one that says that you press one button gazillion of times? Prepare your joystick and thumbs. X will be your main button.
Star Ocean offers battles in which you can use Roddick and 3 teammates. They are not turn-based. They are more like a grid on which you move and point your character to attack/special attack an enemy. It's like the Tales franchise; especially when you remember the beginning of the review where you learned that Tales of Phantasia DEVs worked on this title. Bad side is that battles can be clunky, camera can go wild and often when you want to attack and your character will run and try to reach an enemy for a long period and fail. Many special arts are useless, just a few of them are worth using and spamming for an easy win.
Keep on spamming that X and arts. Battles are rather simple.
Even with all that, battles are fun. Simple, but fun. You can also prepare the strategy for auto-guided teammates. That would mean you can command them to heal and watch on your health, while others can attack like there is no tomorrow. It's recommended that you learn appropriate skills for each teammate - fighters need strong guard break + power burst, mages like to concentrate and stuff like that.
The boss battles are more fun, even frustrating as they can get tough. The game features difficulty spikes. In one moment you will be strong, while in another you will die from simple enemies. AI from some teammates is retarded. Always have a good, fast healer in the background to cover your attacking ass.
As usual, preparation is the key for every win. All these mechanics are outdated now, but to think of them at that time as something that was a decent, it layed the groundwork for future rpg's to come.
I wrote a book and gave it to others for a good read
For the game of this age, I was positively surprised how many mechanics I've found. If you just open the inventory, you will find many unknowns.
Special Arts - well, your in-battle art moves. 2 slots per character, they use MP, you unlock them by reaching a certain level. Combine them with skills you can learn - you can even produce a new art that way. Those are the strongest arts you will learn, hence do your time to get time.
And those skills will come in handy, trust me.
Skills are madness. Madness I tell you! Buying skill sets from the town guilds can open opportunity to learn and level up skills for every character. That will lead to learning Alchemy, Writing, Appraising and many other skills which are level dependent in a way that you can produce more easily when all the skills needed for them are higher. There are even specialties and group specialties which can raise EXP given after battles, raise prices when you sell, even ones like book publishing (yep).
Why is that important? Well, every character you get has certain affinity points towards Roddick. The higher the affinity level, the more private actions and different secret endings can be unlocked. By reading published book, you can meddle with points and "set" the ending you want. The RPG system passed with flying colors. Do not forget to compose a song and perform The Devil's Aria at level 10 (muahaha).
Your affinity will also raise or drop based on your active party during boss fights and based on answers you give during the story. Some scenes will offer a dialogue option where you can agree and earn points, while others can be funny but negative. They are also important when you meet someone new; answering poorly will redirect them away from being in your gang. There is so much to discover.
Having so much to find is also one big minus. Why? Because there is not a single tutorial that will point out any of these important things in the game. You are on your own mister! Although I do love that, I would appreciate a hint here and there (like where to go next when you didn't read the last line of text).
Kill and bond - simple!
Side content is solid and the amount is just enough compared to the length of the game. You will need around 25-30 hours to fully be done with all in-game content. For one run, of course. Unlocking all movies and endings can take 4 times more, but your next runs will be shorter. There is no new game plus, just some hidden details with last save in the game. But in general, you start from point zero.
OK, so, is this game worth it?
I was really skeptical when I started, given the fact that i tried playing this one on PSP a couple of times and I never finished. Boy, I was wrong. It takes time to get into it, but when you combine all of the things the game offers, you will love it. I had 4 runs, even made it to platinum. I loved the different settings when you use different characters, I loved the English voice overs, the story and the music.
So, Roddick is trying to find what is new in this remaster. So far, the results are not great.
For fanboys - expect some connections with the next game in the series. This is a perfect ground to build upon. When we say remaster, yeah, I don't know what to say here. It's bulletproof yeah, but almost nothing here is new that can increase the value of the same game released on other platforms. Maybe faster run that you can use when you walk. I'm glad we can play it on PS4 and Switch, but Square just wants the money.
To summarize - old school JRPG, way ahead of its time (at its time). Great adventure, perfect intro for probably the next in line in Star Ocean remasters (The second story is IMHO the best in series). The more ugly pixels they give us, the more we love them. Oh yeah, Roddick. Divide first few letters and the rest of that name.