+Well done cutscenes
+Fun gameplay and mechanics
+Fairly good storyline
+There are various ways for the story to unfold
+Tons of custimization, side quests and secrets
+Well developed characters
-A little too easy, which some may not enjoy as much as others
-A lot of exposition throughout the game
-The voice acting can grate on the nerves
In Japan, a little company called Enix (now Square-Enix) crafted an RPG called Star ocean where it was released on the Super Famicom in 1996. Star Ocean never made it to US shores. However, American gamers were able to play Star Ocean: The Second Story, which became a cult classic in 1999 and later Star Ocean: Till the End of Time in 2004. Now we have a chance to play the first Star Ocean and see just where those elements came from.
Star Ocean is probably best known as being one of the RPGs which really brought Science Fiction to the RPG realm. On the planet Roak, there is a disease that is turning the denizens of the world to stone. In an attempt to rescue his friends and family and his world from this disease, Roddick and company must travel through time and space to locate the origins of the disease to find a cure. The story itself may seem somewhat dated by today's standards, but it still manages to be really good. Particularly because its got a lot of heart and a fairly good cast of characters. The story is told through traditional text boxes and from time to time through some really well done animated scenes.
If there was any problem with Star Ocean's story, it would be that there's just too much exposition in some areas. There's a lot of dialog and a lot of talking, even for a JRPG. On the other hand, even this has an upside. As a result of some of its exposition Star Ocean really does a good job of fleshing out its characters. You'll be quite surprised at just how absorbing this story can really be when you start to enjoy the characters more and care about them. From time to time you will be tempted to skip scenes because of the exposition but at the same time you may find yourself not wanting to just for the sake of missing something. In spite of having such a simple story, there's a lot to take in. Even more than that, Star Ocean can be a different experience on subsequent play throughs. There are many playable characters in the game, but it is impossible to recruit them all. You'll find that the story unfolds in different ways depending on who you recruit and when you recruit them. Recruiting specific characters does more than alter the story. It also alters the events of the quest and sometimes in what order you'll take care of things. You may even skip over certain boss fights as a result of recruiting a different character.
The Star Ocean series also contains a well known battle system. Rather than being turn based like many JRPGs on the market, Star Ocean opts instead for real time battles where the player is able to run around freely and perform melee attacks and special attacks. You're able to switch party members at any time you need to and open up menus to use items, magic, etc. If you've played any games in the "Tales of..." series, then you probably have an idea of just how the battle system in Star Ocean works--it's almost exactly the same. Whoever you choose to be in battle, the AI controls the others.
The battle system may take some time to learn, but it isn't hard to master. In many cases it can be reduced to a button mashing affair. While the game starts off as a seeming challenge, it isn't hard before it becomes incredibly easy to take advantage of. In most cases you won't even need to use magic. This is also in spite of some of your allies having some pretty bad AI or carelessly using their special attacks even when it isn't called for. Star Ocean definitely won't challenge the veteran RPGer.
There's a lot more to the battle system, however. Characters also gain skill points which they can use to learn how to do many different things such as crafting items, or pickpocketing non-playable characters in the towns, cooking and many more things. The amount of customization is tremendous. Spend your skill points wisely, however. The game begs for you to make each character useful for different things. It works in such a way that you wouldn't even want to make all your characters the same.
Visually, Star Ocean First Departure obviously looks better than its Super Famicom counterpart. It doesn't take the PSP to its full potential but there's a lot of detail in the towns and character artwork. Artistically, Star Ocean First Departure is a grand game. Musically, however, there aren't nearly as many memorable tracks. There are a few good ones, but for the most part you probably won't be humming too many of Star Ocean's tunes. The voice acting, however, needs work. They can be very annoying, especially when they say the same phrases over and over again in battle. The voice acting isn't always bad, but it is most certainly annoying.
If you're a Star Ocean fan, then picking up the First Departure is a treat to see where the roots of the series come from. When the game debuted in 1996 it was ahead of its time. While much of what you find isn't fresh and some of it dated, it's still a huge game and it's still fun to play. If you're looking for a satisfying JRPG experience on the PSP, then Star Ocean First Departure is not to be missed.