Star Ocean: First Departure
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: October 21, 2008
One of my favorite role-playing games from my “youth” was Star Ocean: The Second Story for the Playstation. I put countless hours into that game, exploring alternate storylines, recruiting different characters and so on. That was my first foray into the SO franchise, and naturally I was incredibly curious about the elusive first Star Ocean game that was made for the SNES but never released in the USA. This Japanese-only game finally got released in the U.S. just two years ago, this time in PSP form and with a number of major changes.
The first thing I noticed right away was First Departure’s striking similarity to the PSX game I knew and loved. The game looks absolutely identical to its sequel, with the same style of character models and pre-rendered backgrounds (which are admittedly gorgeous). The battle system is also the same as SO2, and it is free-roaming real-time combat still holds up quite well. A lot of the same extra features are also here, such as an extensive item creation and customization system, and the ability to perform “private actions” to allow your party’s characters to interact with each other individually. The most notable upgrade is the usage of anime cutscenes, which are beautiful and give the game an extra bit of flair.
The story this time around is fairly basic and leaves something to be desired. You play as Roddick, a young village guard who is searching for a cure for a stone paralysis plague that is crippling the country. Roddick meets two Earthlings who suddenly appeared on this planet, and they decide to go back in time to find the cure. Basic stuff to be sure, but the gameplay is proficient enough to keep you playing even when the story lacks.
While the game offers some great variety in the form of its many optional bonus features (i.e. the aforementioned item customization, private actions, etc), it does have a handful of disappointing flaws. For one, navigating on the world map is painfully slow and boring. This becomes an exceptionally large problem when forced to backtrack to other worlds, which is a common occurrence during the game’s later stages. Another issue is the obnoxious voice acting during random battles where the characters yell the same things over and over again. Finally, while I found the degree of difficulty to be satisfactory, it could be potentially dismissed as “too easy” to some gamers.
There is a lot to like with Star Ocean: First Departure despite these few issues. I am exceptionally grateful that I even got the chance to play this game since I never believed it would be available for U.S. gamers. Basically, it comes down to this: if you played Star Ocean 2 and enjoyed it then you really ought to seek out First Departure. If you are just a fan of RPGs in general and are not going to readily dismiss a title just because of its age, then I do not hesitate to recommend Star Ocean. This is a good game, not a great one, but it packs enough of a punch to justify playing it for 20 hours.