The Star Ocean series is the arguably the biggest franchise by tri-Ace to date (at least in terms of game releases). The series delves into the great unknown, the endless sea of stars, known as the Star Ocean.
Timeline of the Star Ocean series
The games begin as early as Space Date 10 (The Last Hope) and have extended to as far as Space Date 772 (Till the End of Time). Check below for a summary of the time line for all of the Star Ocean titles released to date, in Space Date order, not game release order.
As a general rule (Till the End of Time aside) the time line of each title has allowed them to intertwine with each other somewhat, where characters or relatives to the characters of the games has made appearances throughout. With the exception of a few characters, such as the Welch who somehow has managed to appear in every major Star Ocean title to date thanks to the PSP remakes.
While the games take place in a futuristic environment it's not limited to out of this world, fancy technology. Only Earth and some other planets have such advanced technology, while other worlds, such as Elicoor II from Till the End of Time is still developed as much as Earth in the 17th century. Thankfully however many of the Federation nations (a bunch of nations that adhere to a number of space rulings), including Earth has an all important ruling known as the "Underdeveloped Planet Preservation Pact", otherwise abbreviated as the UP3. This very ruling prohibits those from more advanced worlds from engaging with lessor developed worlds to allow them to thrive under their own ways without outside interference. Sadly though not all nations are part of the Federation, much less agree with the ruling and at times this will be one of the many issues you face throughout your games, particularly considering under what circumstances is it reasonable to breach these rulings for the betterment of such worlds.
The Star Ocean series contains a number of typical RPG elements, fight to gain experience and Fol (the type of currency for the Star Ocean titles), level up, go shopping, etc. But a few of those more unique to the series are shown below.
The Star Ocean titles generally feature action, 3D combat (in all the internationally released titles), where you have 3 or 4 active combatants in battle at once. Here you can control whichever character you please and switch between the active combatants as often as you like, your allies will act on their own accord based on whatever tactics you set them to do. Whether it be a full attacking assault, avoiding combat, healing your comrades or a number of other tactics, depending on the particular game.
Here you and your characters have the ability to create or upgrade various items from resources and existing equipment you already possess. You can potentially make items and weapons exceeding that sold in even the best shops in the games. To make things challenging though a number of ingredients are required for greater success, such as more resources, higher item creation abilities, excess Fol and even a pinch of luck. It's a non-essential part of the game which always gets the attention of players, particularly those who dare to take on the higher difficulty settings or tough post game dungeons. The same post game dungeons which allow for links to other tri-Ace games also, for example you can fight variants of Lenneth and Freya from Valkyrie Profile in one of the Till the End of Time post game dungeons.
Optional playable characters
Star Ocean titles always have a compulsory cast, a handful of characters which will join you regardless of your actions. But also add in optional characters which may, or may not join you depending on actions you take throughout the game. Some characters can be quite difficult to recruit, while some may in fact lock out the ability to recruit others. Certainly on replays you'll want to know who you can get, and how to try build the best balanced party possible. Ever wanted to kick out that annoying character? With such recruitment's it may very well be possible, this gives the player more flexibility.
Another unique ingredient of the Star Ocean titles is Private Actions, which have hidden affection ratings attached. While non-essential to the game it gives you an opportunity to help decide what characters join you, what endings you will get and an opportunity to get to know your characters better. Ranging from their awkward quirks, (such as Second Story's Ashton with Barrels), debates with townsfolk and various other situations to help bring out the personality of your characters. Giving the player a little bit more and adding appreciation to all the different characters you have available, some players will simply pick a character for greater PA's over fighting ability.
Post game "Super bosses"
The Star Ocean titles, and several other tri-Ace titles such as Infinite Undiscovery, Radiata Stories & the Valkyrie Profile Series feature bonus dungeons that can be accessed upon completion of the regular story. These are somewhat independent from the main story of the game and are featured exclusively to challenge you even further, here you'll often require a great deal of item creation and level ups to proceed further. As you progress through these tough dungeons you'll inevitably encounter the celestial beings Gabriel Celesta, then later Ethereal Queen as the ultimate bosses on the game.
Check below for an overview of all the Star Ocean titles to date, in release order.
The first Star Ocean title was released on the SNES in Japan only back in 1996, known as Star Ocean: Fantastic Space Odyssey (Later remade internationally in 2008 for PSP as Star Ocean: First Departure). As expected for a title of it's age it typically uses 2D graphics throughout with traditional RPG overhead views.
The story primarily features the planet of Roak, which comes under threat as a unknown entity with greater technology has attacked the planet with a new bio weapon. Ratix and his two Fellpool friends who work for the local Town Defence force in a village just south of the attack take on the task of trying to resolve the issue. Outside of Roak, captain of the human space ship Calnus, Ronixis J. Kenny believes this circumstance is just cause to intervene with Roak and offer his assistance to resolve the problem, despite UP3 rulings.
Star Ocean: The Second Story is the first internationally released Star Ocean title. The game uses a combination of 2D & 3D graphics, including cut-scenes and voice-overs, something quite new to the gaming world at the time.
Events begin where Claude, son of the famous Ronixis J. Kenny gets unwillingly transported to the planet Excel while investigating an unknown energy source during an investigation of the unknown. While trying to comprehend what just happened Claude discovers a young girl called Rena, a Nedian who is on the verge of a monster attack. Claude decides to rescue her and in the heat of the moment uses his phase gun, something the UP3 would prohibit. Due to this Rena believes Claude is a man of legend, known as the hero of light. The Hero of light is said to be the saviour of Expel which is suffering from a dramatic increase of natural disasters of recent times. Here you also have the the option to play either Claude's or Rena's story, allowing the player a rare opportunity to to see the game from two completely different perspectives.
Star Ocean: Blue Sphere is a direct sequel to Star Ocean: The Second Story, where events take place just two years after those witnessed in Second Story. It was also the first Star Ocean title to remove random battles in place of visible enemies, something which is becoming more and more common in today's RPGs.
Claude has gone back to live on Earth with Rena, Precis and Leon. When Precis receives a distress signal from Opera and Ernest, who crashed on the planet Edifice while treasure hunting, she gathers everyone (including Ashton, Bowman, Celine, Chisato, Dias and Noel who remained on Expel) and the party sets out to Edifice. They too, however, crash-land on the planet after entering the atmosphere. Claude and Rena, who could not accompany Precis because they were on a Federation mission, then depart for Edifice to save everyone else but they also crash land and are separated.
After five years the Star Ocean series returns to the newer, more powerful PS2. Till the End of Time was originally a Japanese only release, to be re-released one year later as Star Ocean: Till the End of Time: Director's Cut. Virtually the same product, simply expanded from one to two disks, allowing further content to be added. Such as post game dungeons, two new playable characters and even a 2 player vs. mode, the first (and currently) only way to play a Star Ocean title with another person. Clearly as technology has improved as has the speed and detail of the games. The action battles are far more detailed and quicker, now even (most) Symbology spells occur during the battle, with no 'pause' time either.
The story begins where Fayt and Sophia, two humans who are on a holiday with their family on Hyda IV. However the peaceful holiday is soon disrupted as it falls under attack by a third party, which forces everyone to evacuate immediately. The sudden escape however causes Fayt's family and friends to be separated as Fayt's escape pod eventually lands on the highly underdeveloped Vanguard III. Before long Fayt will be rescued by two Klausians, Cliff & Mirage, however they soon fall victim to a Vendeeni attack which causes them to crash land on the underdeveloped planet, Eilcoor II - which a majority of the games proceedings take place.
Star Ocean: First Departure is the second remade title by tri-Ace, following the success of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth in 2006. It's also the first time English players have had the opportunity to play the maiden title of the series. Noticeably from the screenshots below it's also the first Star Ocean title to move onto the new standard wide-screen style. It also features Welch as one of it's two new characters, yep the crazy inventor girl from Till the End of Time. Adding yet another mystery to the great Star Ocean, how did she get to a planet over 700SD years apart?
Just like the original, the story begins with Roddick (formerly named Ratix), a young Fellpool on town defence duty with his friends Dorne & Millie (formerly Dorn & Milly) who respond to an outbreak north in the village due north of them. This fatefully leads them to Ronyx and Ilia (formerly Ronixis & Iria). As you can tell already a number of characters and so forth has got renamed during the process. Although if you never tried the JP or translated version you wouldn't notice the difference. The game is much alike Second Story for battles and adventuring, is fully voiced and contains a handful of great looking anime video sequences throughout. The remake has been done cleverly enough to appeal to even those new to the series, not just long time Star Ocean fans who have been waiting 12 years to officially play it in English!
Following on closely from the Star Ocean: First Departure remake comes the second Star Ocean title, again remade for PSP. Unlike First Departure however the game resembles it's original much more. Battles and adventuring is virtually unchanged from the PSX title, with a few tweaks here and there of course. The original voice actors have been changed and even some of the original cut-scenes have been maintained, while some fresh new anime scenes have been added in for good measure. Second Evolution maintains a balance of the original with a few additions to it.
The story is virtually unchanged, just add Welch yet again as a new character to the game for her third appearance in the series. Events begin where Claude, who gets unwillingly transported to the planet Excel, who shortly after comes across a young girl called Rena, who he rescues from a monster attack - nothing changed to the core, which is good. Alike First Departure some characters, towns etc got renamed for the remake as well.
The latest title in the series, although unlike Star Ocean titles in the past it reverts to a time before every Star Ocean title before it, to Space Date 10. It's also the second tri-Ace title to be released on Xbox 360, following Infinite Undiscovery, and of course the first Star Ocean title on the 360. Again tri-Ace push the system to it's limits and have delivered some outstanding detail, clearly enough to interest Japan anyway. On the first week of release it sold more units then any other Xbox 360 title in Japan up to it's release, that is highest unit sale for release week in over 3 years!
The Last Hope takes place not long after the events of one of Earth's most costly mistakes, World War III. Since then civilisation has been searching for a new home in the great Star Ocean. You play as Edge an Earthling, who is accompanied by his long time friend Reimi, both of which search the universe in their spaceship the Calnus, yep the Calnus yet again! There is yet another appearance from the mysterious Welch, in a more traditional role of the one you contact for Item Creation matters. Throughout the same you can visit various planets, including Earth for the first time, and revisit Roak - the planet where a vast majority of First Departure events take place. There are also appearances from characters related to those we have seen previously as well. Such as Stephen D. Kenny, Sarah Jerand, Elenya Farrence & Lias Warren.
The remake for Star Ocean: Blue Sphere come relatively unannounced in comparison to other recent tri-Ace projects at around May 2009. But not to be forgotten to the major titles Blue Sphere also got remade under the joint banner of Square Enix & tri-Ace. For the first time for any tri-Ace game it is available for exclusive purchase and download in Japan for those with i-mode available on their mobile phone.
Changes to the story are virtually non-existent, tri-Ace even seemingly resisted the temptation to include Welch in yet another remake as they managed to do so with both of the PSP remakes. The game also features new character artworks and other graphical enhancements to bring new life into the Second Story sequel.
In 2010 PS3 owners finally got their chance to play the forth instalment of the series. A luxury one would have expected originally as Star Ocean: Second Story & Star Ocean: Till the End of Time both featured on previous iterations of the PlayStation.
The story itself is unchanged, and there are no new playable characters either which many initially expected. However most of the additions are to personalise your experience of the game a bit more. You can elect to have English or Japanese voices, 2D or 3D character avatars and select between 6 different language sub-titles. The targeting system has been adjusted and of course as PS3 disks can hold much more data it is all stored on just one disk.
Each instalment of the Star Ocean series, apart from The Last Hope, has a manga adaptation including Fantastic Space Odyssey, Till the End of Time, and, most notably, The Second Story. A seven-volume manga based on the game was written and illustrated by Mayumi Azuma. It was serialised by Monthly Shōnen Gangan (a manga imprint of [Square] Enix), running from June 22, 1999 until December 21, 2001.
The manga series was adapted into an anime series, called Star Ocean EX, by Studio Deen. It comprised of twenty-six half-hour episodes and aired from April 3, 2001 until September 25, 2001 on TV Tokyo. It was released to DVD by Geneon Entertainment. Neither the manga, nor the anime covered the complete story from the game. As such, Chisato and Noel do not make an appearance. To finish the story, a series of drama CDs were also produced.
Second Evolution and Blue Sphere also received a manga adaptations. Like the original, Blue Sphere was serialised by Shonen Gangan and ran from 2002 until 2005. Second Evolution was serialised by Dengeki Maoh and illustrated by Yoshida Morohe. While the Second Story manga based on Claude’s perspective, the story in the Second Evolution manga is told from Rena’s point of view.