As i never played the remake First departure, I'll base this review on the original Star Ocean for the Super Famicom which i just happen to own and with the help of a universal adaptor i was able to play it... realized i couldn't speak Japanese or save the game so i just downloaded the ROM for the dejap translation, something i do not endorse in any way but Star Ocean is an exception.
At the start of the game you get this amazing fully dubbed cutscene... in English! This took me and many others by surprise and best of all, it's pretty damn good for SFC quality, still has a lot to compete with the PC though. The final part of the cutscene has a pre rendered star ship which looked pretty nice. Definitely the best intro on the console for sure.
You know this game is awesome when sunglasses are part of a military uniform
here's a link to it if you wanna watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMKtzddDe8c
After the amazing intro, you're thrown into the game. You'll immediately recognize the design of this game greatly resembles that of Tales Of Phantasia. Well Star Ocean is the spiritual successor to Tales Of Phantasia created by the team that broke off from Namco which were involved in the development of said game. That team later became known as tri-Ace who created the Star ocean series in defiance to Namco. You will immediately recognize similarities everywhere from the interface to the art design and even the names of spells if you played Tales Of Phantasia.
That being said, Star Ocean is it's own stand alone title which takes a completely different direction from the Tales series as it attempts to simulate Star Trek in an anime esque setting with a few twists for example, you start off as an otherworldly being and eventually meet up with humans from earth who have come to investigate a virus that has spread through the planet, it turns out your characters are affected by this and with the help of their new human companions (one who just happens to resemble Spock, probably nothing intended there /sarcasm), they travel through time to find a cure for this virus and save their friend from transforming into a rock.
Spock is that you!?
From this point onwards the game follows a generic JRPG plot with a few twists and turns here and there, it's nothing too spectacular but it's enough to keep the player interested and engaged. One of the best things about the story is how they explore the philosophies about science fiction that aren't really talked about, as well as ancient myths (though them being myths or not is a subjective matter) relating to real life. It is these concepts that make Star Ocean's storyline interesting and it's definitely something different, the fact that they managed to put it into game form shows that video games can be used to express people's beliefs no matter how surreal they may be and i praise the developers for trying to convey these theories in an appropriate form of media.
The game play is similar to that of Tales Of Phantasia in the sense that it is a real time combat system with battle transitions. Is it executed as well? Maybe (and i say this because there really is not much differrence). Unlike in Tales of Phantasia you are able to move freely in combat though it is a little clunky, it allows for the ability to maneuver your characters away from incoming attacks, something games such as Final Fantasy XIII failed to do despite it being released many years later, you have to at least give them credit for that.
The problem however is that Star Ocean simply lacks the depth of Tales of Phantasia's combat and some of it's features such as the ability to jump attack, slash/stab etc but this doesn't make it any less fun and comparing them both today, they are both the same Star Ocean actually looks better simply due to the fact that you can move around the battle area so overall i'd probably say that Star Ocean has the better combat of the two since there isn't much of a gap between them besides the movement. On the other hand though, Tales Of Phantasia allows you to move freely using the d pad, in Star Ocean you need to press Y to bring up the movement icon and press A to move where you want to be which makes free movement seem clunky but at least you don't get trapped behind your allies and the AI seems a lot better than Tales Of Phantasia.
Sadly the traditional world map is nonexistant in Star Ocean and instead we are given a maze to traverse to the next area. This can be frustrating as you will often have to travel back and forth between areas and either get lost or run into random encounters. However, later on in the game you can obtain a bunny whistle allowing you to summon forth a giant bunny mount (i'm serious) which you can ride through the world map allowing you to avoid random encounters (Chocobo's much?). The problem is that this whistle is easily missable and will cause you to recruit a new character sacrificing a character slot for another character... allow me to explain.
At least the art design is nice enough to overlook this.
Unlike conventional RPG's, Star Ocean gives you the option to recruit different party members throughout the story, each playthrough will give you a different set of characters depending on your choices, it's easy to miss them all. Speaking of which there is also an affection system which can affect the games ending by giving you a scene involving said character. To acquire affection you have to engage in a private action. These can be done in towns and cities and require you to talk to certain characters in order to boost their affection, sometimes you will have to make a choice which can give you mixed affection for said character and sometimes other characters. To engage in a private action you have to go into private action mode which has the entire party split up, you then have to look for events occurring in town to trigger the private actions.
Roddick doesn't have any friends... he can't do a private action.
Another iconic feature is item creation. Item creation is a simple yet experimental crafting system which has a random element to it. To do item creation, you simply select it from the menu and select a raw material and the character will attempt to create something with it. If their level of item creation is too low, they will likely fail. If they succeed you can obtain just about anything that fits in the criteria of said material you used to craft with. There are many differrent forms of crafting in this game including art, cooking, smithing etc. There a many possibilities with item creation though it's hard enough to even make an item, you will need patience and a bit of grinding if you want to use it so that you can level up your skills. There are also secret talents to learn which can be really difficult to obtain. These talents greatly affect a characters success rate at creating certain items. Another interesting point is that characters have a favourite food which fully heals them if used on them i love how Star Ocean adds all these little details that make it feel slightly deeper than most rpg's of it's time.
Leveling up in Star Ocean rewards you with skill points which you can invest in numerous skills which can affect your battle statistics and your item creation level. I like how Star Ocean gives you this freedom of character building unlike most games on the system, it's always nice to be rewarded with the ability to learn skills by leveling up, something that i find to be lacking with the Tales series personally.
The music of Star Ocean is pretty overlooked. There are some really great songs here that can match some of the more well known SNES tracks. Some of my favourites being the boss themes and some of the dungeon themes later on in the game. If you enjoyed the soundtrack of Tales Of Phantasia, you will definitely enjoy the soundtrack of Star Ocean as it is composed also by Motoi Sakuraba.
Overall, Star Ocean is a technical feat for the SFC (or the SNES, it's western counterpart) but it is also a great game in itself and is definitely worth a play if you can appreciate SNES rpg's, particularly Tales of Phantasia. The only problem is that the original game was never released in English and the remake based on what i've seen of it, lacks the charm of the original. I highly encourage importing it and downloading the ROM translation if you can't speak Japanese, there is a reason why ROM's exist and no it's not piracy, it's so that people can enjoy classic games to the maximum of experience without the issue of save batterries and lack of translations (we wouldn't need them if we just had ports of the original games on services such as Nintendo's virtual console). I thank Dejap for allowing me to read the dialogue in English and of course tri-Ace for this great game.
Game play: Great
Lifespan: Decent Length
Would you replay? Maybe
Overall score: Great