The fantastic RPG studio tri-Ace's debut game is back in a remake of a remake so let's see if it's worth replaying in this day and age.
The original Star Ocean released in Japan back in 1996 for Super Famicom but westerners like me never had a chance to play it until the PSP remake came out in 2008. Star Ocean First Departure was a very well-done remake as it was basically a recreation of the original but with similar graphics to Star Ocean: The Second Story which acted as many gamers' introduction to the franchise (including myself). In fact, it was such a wonderful remake that I included it in my Top 10 Retro Remakes for PSP list. This version is essentially a port of the PSP game but with more refined visuals and if you play it on Nintendo Switch, it retains its portability. With all of that history about this classic action RPG gem out of the way, allow me to discuss what makes it a solid retro experience and also its unfortunate downsides.
The main aspect that I enjoy about Star Ocean First Departure R is that it's bursting with retro RPG charm and its story is fairly simple while the cast of characters remains quite engaging from start to finish. In a nutshell, our heroes' planet is being infected by an alien disease that's turning people to stone so they travel through time and space in search of a cure and hopefully, stop it at its mysterious demonic source. The colourful cast elevates this plot to become immersive while their anime portraits and English voice cast help flesh them out. You can choose a couple of Japanese voice tracks, too, by the way. Finally, the graphics and sci-fi setting remind me of Xenogears and that's certainly a good thing. Plus, the soundtrack from legendary game composer Motoi Sakuraba is fantastic!
With all of that being said, Star Ocean is one of the simplest ARPGs that you'll ever play. For starters, the battle system merely has you mash buttons to attack and use a couple of equipped special skills. You can also issue commands and use items but it's still very simplistic and definitely doesn't live up to its genre contemporaries. Also, I found there to be a huge lack of challenge. Whereas many other action RPGs force you to use some sort of strategy or spend some time setting your party up, I regularly cut through enemies and toppled hulking bosses with little effort. From time to time, I grinded for the fun of it but I never really felt like I needed to.
Speaking of grinding, growing your party in Star Ocean First Departure R can be a very rewarding endeavour. My favourite system is that you can purchase skill books from certain stores which grant all of your characters learnable traits. Upon spending points to acquire these traits, they learn how to craft items in various ways. Namely, you can create items via different artistic or scientific means as well as simply learn how to appraise items. I thoroughly enjoyed levelling my characters up while experimenting to see what they can come up with and watching my vast collection of items grow. It makes me wish more games would implement similar systems.
Finally, I'd like to discuss some odds and ends. First, progressing in Star Ocean First Departure can frequently be confusing. Sometimes, you know the name of your next destination yet have no idea how to get there so you wander around the world map while having enemies slowly drain your party's HP only to stumble upon some obscure entryway. Other times, you'll have to talk to a specific person or trigger an event so if you turn the game off without taking notes, you might screw yourself over. This aspect is far too old-school for its own good. Last but not least, I think it's awesome that you can replay Star Ocean multiple times and each time, you can have different party members which makes the story and gameplay feel different enough that you'll want to play it through a few times.
Star Ocean First Departure R is a satisfying old-school ARPG that's sure to scratch your nostalgia itch. Some aspects may hold a bit too much retro baggage but there's no denying just how charming and imaginative this classic RPG is.
- + Oozing with retro RPG charm complete with a great cast of characters
- + Rewarding character growth
- + Intriguing replay incentives
- - Battle system is very basic
- - It's far too easy to get lost
- - Not much challenge throughout