Star Ocean:  First Departure   - Review

Star Ocean: First Departure
Ages: Teen

This remake of the 1996 Star Ocean has me more than a little torn. The art is some of the best I’ve seen in an RPG, with detailed and beautifully animated sprites laid over some of the most impressive backgrounds in a traditional RPG to date. The story, which involves Star-Trek-esque interplanetary encounters, time travel, and genetic engineering seems more than intriguing on paper, but is ultimately disappointing, as is the rest of this mediocre title.

The plot follows a blue-haired boy with a tail, Roddick, as his world is turned upside-down following an encounter with an earth-based space exploration crew and an alien virus threatens his friends and family. I was disappointed, however, as this premise was crammed into a by-the-numbers Japanese fantasy mold. The characters (with the exception of Ilia, whom I’ll discuss momentarily) are archetypal: the courageously bland male lead, the headstrong fighter who joins the party to face more powerful opponents, the pacifist healer (whose beliefs don’t stop him from fighting, but instead cause him to say “I’d rather not fight” between blows), the ditsy pink-haired girl who always manages to get captured—pretty basic fare that hardly does the setting justice.

Ilia, one of the space-explorers, is easily the best part of the game. She’s intelligent, independent, complex, and funny—a very strong female character who outshines the player character Roddick. It is a shame, then, that she is given very little to work with, and her charm is mostly wasted.

The combat, which is anything but self-explanatory (read the manual!) is fast and frantic, which makes the considerable amount of grind go quickly, but detracts from any sense of tactics or strategy. There is not a single battle (or plot situation, for that matter) for which this game’s solution is anything but “hit it as hard as you possibly can, as quickly and as often as you can. If that isn’t hard enough, go hit other things until you can hit harder.”

There are a lot of secret characters, weapons, items, and skills to be discovered, but the methods for obtaining these are so obtuse as to make the endeavor largely pointless. Only by explicitly denying some would-be party members can you earn others hours down the line, and only by incessant grinding and min-maxing can you level the skills needed for item creation and modification. If this were the best RPG ever, I might consider it, but alas it is not, and I wasn’t inspired. An average play-through is about 20 hours, making this a short experience that is mostly style, with only a bit of substance.

Fun Factor: Fast-paced but shallow; a cool premise that ultimately disappoints.
Female Factor: Ilia shines in the front-lines; gratuious - pink-haired ditzes and buxom bimbos.
Player Friendly: A bit too much back tracking, a bit too much button mashing, and a bit too little strategy.

Reviewed by: Alex Lewis - 03/09

  • Star Ocean: First Departure
  • © Square Enix
  • Platform(s): PSP
  • To Order: PSP $29.99