Star Ocean First Departure PSP
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Tri-Ace
Release Date: Out Now
Four years ago I reviewed Star Ocean: Till the End of Time and it was a game that really surprised me. I hadn't played a Star Ocean game before then but it ending up being one of my favourite RPGs on the PlayStation 2 which was quite surprising as the game used a real-time battle system and I do have a preference for turn-based battle systems. Having enjoyed the game so much I decided to track down the previous Star Ocean titles. I was to be disappointed however, as I couldn't get hold of Star Ocean: The Second Story and the first Star Ocean game was never released outside of Japan. Still good things come to those who wait, as Star Ocean First Departure is a remake of the first Star Ocean.
The game begins with Roddick, Dorne and Millie working as a home guard for the town of Kratus. All is well until they receive a plea for help from the town of Coule, whose citizens are suffering from a contagious disease which turns people to stone. Roddick, Dorne and Millie agree to visit Mt. Metorx to collect some special herbs they believe will cure those in Coule but they are overruled by Millie's father, a healer, who decides to go in their place. Several days later they learn that Millie's father has contracted the disease. In a letter he tells them to keep away but Millie dashes off to see her father. Dorne also contracts the disease but they decide to go to Mt. Metorx for find the medicinal herbs they hope will cure the sufferers of the disease. It's on Mt. Metorx that they meet Ronyx and Ilia, two strangers who beam down from out of space. They claim they've come to the planet to help because another alien race fired a biological weapon at the planet causing the disease which turns people to stone. The problem is however that in order to help the people of their planet, Roddick, Dorne and Millie will have to leave their planet and they won't be able to return under the conditions of the Underdeveloped Planet Preservation Pact (UPPP).
Star Ocean First Departure isn't your typical Japanese RPG experience. There's a good twist of Star Trek mingled into the experience (the UPPP will instantly remind you of the Prime Directive so often mentioned in Star Trek) and it gives the game a unique feel. There's even some time travel thrown in for good measure. The battle system isn't turn-based, it's real-time and if you've played Star Ocean: Till the End of Time you'll know pretty much what to expect. You'll control just one of the three characters who'll fight in your party with the AI handling the other two. You can switch between party members at any time and you can set tactics for each character so you do get to exercise some degree of control over those characters you aren't manually controlling. Although the battles are in real-time, the action will pause to allow you to access healing items and other items that may prove to be useful during a battle. The game also boasts rather good crafting and skill systems which help to enrich the experience.
Whilst many RPG enthusiasts would have been happy with the game being bought to the PSP in its original form, it's great to see Square Enix have gone the extra mile and added some nice touches to the game. The first thing you'll notice is the beautiful anime cutscene that plays when the game is loading. The character portraits in the game are similarly superb. The presentation of the game as a whole is reminiscent of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time and it looks great. On the world map you can rotate the camera by using the L and R buttons but when you're not on the world map you can adjust the camera angle. This doesn't cause any real problems but you'll notice that the character sprites can be rather small when they walk off in the distance. Thankfully this never causes any problems however. The load times are also kept short which is very pleasing.
Deaf gamers will be able to appreciate the storyline in Star Ocean as the game is subtitled. The text is placed in dialogue boxes, and you can alter the colour of these to suit yourself, and the speaker's name is placed above the text. You'll also have portraits shown of the main characters in the game. The game's cutscenes are subtitled but there are no character portraits or speakers names shown during these cutscenes. Comments made by the characters during the course of a battle aren't subtitled. Whilst this is a little unfortunate it's certainly doesn't pose any problems and deaf gamers will be able to enjoy the game.
Whilst the PSP can't boast a large number of RPGs to date, Star Ocean First Departure is one of the most enjoyable on the system to date. Yes it may be a reworking of an RPG that's over ten years old but it's a very good reworking that manages to retain the charm of those PlayStation era RPGs. The game will take around 30 hours to complete and for people like myself, who want to have the chance to experience the beginning of the Star Ocean series the game is a godsend. It also serves as an excellent way to get in the mood for Star Ocean: The Last Hope which will arrive on the Xbox 360 next year.