Star Ocean: The First Departure

Kombo’s Review Policy: Our reviews are written for you. Our goal is to write honest, to-the-point reviews that don’t waste your time. This is why we’ve split our reviews into four sections: What the Game’s About, What’s Hot, What’s Not and Final Word, so that you can easily find the information you want from our reviews.

What the Game’s About
Prepare yourself to venture on a journey of unparalleled measure. After their hometown is invaded by bandits, three friends find themselves amassed in an adventure they never dreamed of. A nearby village has contracted a fatal virus that is turning everyone to stone in 3 short days. After sending the best healer in the land to cure the outbreak, they discover he too as failed. While searching for a cure for both the villagers and now their close friend Dorne, Roddick, Millie, and Dorne climb the highest mountain to pick an herb they believe will cure everyone. Unfortunately, they discover it won’t cure anything and are taken in the vast ocean of stars in outer space. With the help of more advanced humans, they embark on a quest to save their friend, planet, and the fate of the universe itself.

What’s Hot
Star Ocean: First Departure is anything but new. The title was originally released in Japan during 1996. If you didn’t reside overseas during that time, you never got a chance to immerse yourself in the flagship title of the Star Ocean series. Thankfully, Square Enix has come to our rescue and ported over the title to the PSP with several new additions to make the adventure more appealing to the handheld scene. To help make this all possible, we have scene new additions in the voice acting department, graphics, anime cut-scenes, and more.

The voice acting and cut-scenes really add to the experience. With a wonderful group of voice actors, the story comes to life throughout the entire journey. With the a story so deep and full of details, it’s nice that all the main characters essential to the main plot use spoken dialogue as opposed to long tedious text squares. Of course, the text squares do offer their own unique strengths to the game, too. As you explore new towns and locations throughout the title, you’ll notice that all the key areas are highlighted in the text dialogue. This will give you your mission and where you must head to move forward in the title. It may be minor, but it’s nice to know where you have to go visit in order to progress. To further strengthen the story and game as a whole are wonderful anime cut-scenes. While brief, the anime scenes help tell the story and the key aspects of the story.

Naturally, all those features would be useless if the story lacked depth and didn’t create interest. Thankfully, the story stays fresh and interesting throughout your entire adventure. Despite it carrying the same premise from 1996, the story doesn’t feel that antiquated. The urge to rescue your family and friends from an unknown virus and knowing you must sacrifice your chances of ever seeing them again in order to be successful. In the modern day it may seem like the typical RPG title where a group of adolescents miraculously save the world. The thing unique to Star Ocean is that you aren’t just dealing with your home planet. You are engaging with new species that you have never witnessed in your galaxy. Roddick, Millie, and Dorne possess abilities that the technologically advanced Earthlings lack. This is what makes the story unique and not identical to your average RPG.

Even after 12 years have passed, the battle system and controls are still crafted beautifully. The ease of attacking and initiating strong attacks are done on the fly. You have one attack button and then can assign special abilities to both trigger buttons. The real-time battle system works wonderfully and really compliments the control system. To deepen the battle system ever so slightly, you have the choice of adjusting the tactics your characters will use. Much like the Tales series, you can adjust whether you want your characters to rush into battle and fight head on or stay back and heal, use magic, etc.

What’s Not
Even with an engaging story, great battle system, and characters, the game does suffer from geriatric disease. The newly drawn sprites are wonderful to look at during battles, but the overworld and towns look like drawings from ancient history. When exploring the overworld, you’ll notice that the characters’ sprites shrink down to little blips on the screen and lack any true detail. It really looks like you are playing the original game from 1996. This is saddening. If you are going to redraw the sprites from the battles, close-ups, and other areas of the game, then go the full distance and make the entire game carry that look and appearance.

Sadly, this doesn’t just affect the graphics. The entire game suffers from that old-school feel that might turn away players. Battles get hard quickly and you have to level grind to progress without worrying too much about dying in battle. For the modern day RPG player, this can be a huge flaw. Even the battle system itself can be a flaw for those of us who are accustomed to playing faster paced more balanced RPG titles.

Final Word
Star Ocean: The First Departure is a great take on a first Star Ocean entry to the series. While it retains its old-school classic look and feel, it doesn’t do much to compel newcomers to the franchise. Star Ocean fans will find themselves swimming in the ocean of stars and loving what the title does offer. Ultimately, the fate of the series doesn’t rest on the PSP, but the upcoming 360 title. In the end, this is a solid PSP RPG and is worth checking out for gamers looking for an old-school fix on the RPG genre.