Star Ocean: First Departure gives fans of the series a chance to finally experience the first installment of the series, where the original was created in 1996 only in Japanese. First Departure is a remake of the original title, which has added new elements to give the game new life, such as full voice acting, new character models, improvements to the battle system and a handful of full anime style scenes.
First Departure tells the story of three friends, Roddick, Dorne & Millie, all of which are on what seems to be casual patrol duties in a quiet town know as Kratus, on the underdeveloped Planet Roak. Their duty is to protect the town from any thiefís or bandits, but the three find it quite unsatisfying and frankly boring, particularly Dorne.
Before long however their captain of the Kratus Defence Force details an urgent matter of a spreading disease throughout a nearby town of Coule. The apparent disease is in fact turning everyone in contact with it to stone, the trio anxiously make their way to Mt Metorx where they believe the herbs there will be able to be able to remedy the problem, and from there, things gets, well out of this world!
Before your eyes Ronyx & Ilia from Ďthe futureí will appear right before your eyes, both whom are earthlings and know of a third party that has attacked Roak with a new bio weapon, despite federation UP3 rulings (The Underdeveloped Planet Preservation Pact) which prohibits those from more advantaged technologies to intervene with lesser developed worlds).
How will the trio of friends respond to Ďoutsidersí entering their world?
Can they prevent the spreading disease turning everyone to stone?
Who is the third party that attacked Roak, and what are their true intentions?
All these questions and more will form your adventure into the vast sea of Stars, known as the great Star Ocean.
During the game you will play as Roddick at all times, although you will have major support from both Ronyx & Ilia throughout the game. The game typically adopts old school RPG overhead views, which are in effect in both towns and dungeons, as always in such environments something may be partially hidden by a tree or something, keep your eyes open! Otherwise travel between towns will take place in a 3-dimensional view, where you can turn the camera left or right as you please to help you navigate from town to dungeons etc.
Despite first impressions where you see bandits appear the game uses good old random battles, simply walking in a dangerous areas (such as between towns, in dungeons, caves etc). When this occurs the screen will move into a localized action environment where battle will take place. Typically you will appear on the right of screen, and your opponents to the left, but as always there is a chance you will be attacked from behind or surrounded making your chances of winning that little bit more difficult. For those that have played The Second Story youíll notice itís almost identical.
In battles you are able to perform regular attacks, special attacks (you can assign two at a time), use items or Symbology (only available to mage types, itís magic basically) or simply try and run away. Often the best strategy is to simply get in your enemies face and hit them as often as you can, as quickly as you can to try stop them from retaliating. But of course some battles have mage types behind a line of melee fighters, depending on your AGL ratings you can defend attacks, some enemies can seemly endure attacks and strike back regardless and so forth to make things challenging.
At the end of each battle you will be awarded with Experience Points (given only to those active in the battle, not resting characters), Fol and on occasion items. At each level up your characters stats will increase, they may learn a new skill/spell and they will also receive some valuable skill points. Skill Points can be allocated at your desire to an abundance of different abilities, over 40 in fact which will become available as you purchase/find skill books throughout your travels. These skills can either improve your battle stats, chance to invoke other battle bonuses or improve your item creation skills.
As always in Star Ocean titles Item Creation is available, and much alike Second Story you can make anything, anywhere really Ė providing your skill level is adequate and you have the necessary materials of course. With some luck of educated usage of Item Creation you can make some incredibly effective items or weapons, surpassing even those available in most shops. Frustratingly at the end of the day a bit of luck is involved, while thankfully itís not required to finish the game and is really only there as an option if you want that little bit extra.
Other features of the game include the iconic Private Actions of the Star Ocean series. With this feature you can enter any town you have already visited as an individual where all of your allies separate. Here they may be engaged in a conversation with each other, townsfolk or have some strange quirk which will really open up the characters personalities and provide some additional entertainment as you toil your way through the game.
Refer to the following breakdown for my evaluation of the game in some key areas.
Story: A great first title for the Star Ocean series, I really enjoyed how the game elaborated a little more on some fundamental things about the series, if you have played newer titles youíll find this puts things in a little more perspective. The story is fairly straightforward with the odd twist, and will predominately revolve around making your way to Asmodeus. Itís eventful and interesting enough without been anything spectacular; Private Actions during the course of the game help give the story and characters much more personality and interest. Itís an enjoyable story, but in all honestly not much more than that. It will only take you around 20 to 25 hours to compete, if that. 7.5/10
Gameplay: Despite the games age I still think itís an area the game performs quite well, the battle system is simplistic but enjoyable, particularly for those that loved Second Story. Its action with a good pace, well expect when using Symbology where you pause for a moment, and features good old sprites that can usually attack only left or right. (Which to be honest, is no more then what most Tales games do, even ones made well after the original of First Departure). Although been an older title there will be nothing groundbreaking here either, and some fundamental things of current RPGs, such as been able to view a map as you go, and skip events is not available. Thankfully the dungeons and scenes in the game arenít overly long, so you donít miss them too much. Itís fairly simple of course, as expected with a remake of an older title, but just because itís more traditional and lacks new features doesnít mean itís flawed. What the game does is simple, and is done fairly well. I rather see the simple things done well rather then something new which is flawed 7.5/10
Graphics: Thankfully the game generally uses 2D environments and sprites, which means despite been an older title it hasnít aged poorly like Final Fantasy VII for example. It will have a bit of an old school RPG feel to it, for seasoned RPGers you shouldnít be bothered by this at all, in fact you will probably like it. Add that to some quality new character images appearing regularly to highlight the characters emotion during conversations, as well as a few very nice anime scenes give the game, originally make over 10 years ago a nice look. 8/10
Music/Sound: Overall, great! Alright Iíll expand a bit, the musical score is really enjoyable, and fits the mood of the game often. The new voice actors for the game are also very good overall, as always the Ďmove callingí during battle can be a little much at times, but if you try mix up your moves and character combination's during the course of the game you can break that up. The disappointing aspect however if you donít have the ability to adjust the music/sound settings to your desire, just one of those small additions you get used to on newer games is missed. 8.5/10
Replay Factor: This is a real strength of the game, if you enjoyed it the first time youíll probably enjoy it even more the second time. Considering the game isnít as long as other RPGís I think actually helps in terms of wanting to replay it. Sometimes you know youíll have to endure countless annoying scenes and dungeons, but that is hardly a problem here. On a replay youíll have a fair idea of what you are doing, and knowing that the game has up to 14 characters youíll want to find those you missed the first time around, because there are some awesome PAís in the game too! The game also has a movie and voice collection which accumulates as you listen to the any new voiceovers or view new scenes during the game. 9/10
Final Thoughts: If you are a Star Ocean fan (particularly of Second Story), and have a PSP then just go and buy it already! It will help explain some important elements of the Star Ocean series a little more, feature the (becoming) iconic Welch, some hilarious PAís and a decent enough story to work your way through. However if you are new to the Star Ocean series and look more towards newer RPGís with groundbreaking elements then perhaps this is not for you Ė as it is indeed a remake of a title originally made in 1996, available in Japan only. If you are still curious Iíd recommend hiring or borrowing a copy first instead.
Overall Rating: 8.1/10
Opinion by Fayt.