Released in 2007 in Japan and 2008 in Europe and North America, First Departure is the remake of the first game in Tri-Ace’s Star Ocean series and is published by Square Enix. The original game was titled Star Ocean: Fantastic Space Odyssey, and was released in 1995 on the Super Famicom (SNES). It was developed by the group Wolf Team, and they previously released another RPG on the same console called Tales of Phantasia. After several creative disputes with their publisher Namco, after the released of Tales of Phantasia much of the development team left and started Tri-Ace and ran to another publisher, Enix. this is the reason why the Star Ocean series and the Tales series both share many similarities, and even the early games shared some of the same spells. They decided to stay way from some aspects of the typical high fantasy setting of many RPG games and focused on a heavily Star Trek influenced story and follows it up with science fiction elements.
The original version of Star Ocean was considered ahead of its time, and completely pushed the limits of the SNES. Sadly this game never saw the light of day outside of Japan, largely due to Enix closing it’s North American market, and also due to it being a late SNES release, and Nintendo of America pushing the then new Nintendo 64. There is a fan translation available of this game.
In 2007 the game was finally remade for the Playstation Portable and released in the West. This version uses an updated version of the engine for Star Ocean: Second Story, and was developed alongside the enhanced port of that game, now called Star Ocean: Second Evolution. With this remake, they had help with the animation company Production IG, famous for Ghost in the Shell, and more recently Attack on Titan. There are many updates compared to the SNES version, as they added a few bonus characters, new soundtrack, and updated character designs and cutscenes. Despite all these changes, the story and gameplay is pretty unchanged.
Now for the actual review:
You play as a young warrior named Roddick Farrence who lives in the small town of Kratus. He runs a Defense Force team with his friends Dorne Murtough and Millie Chilette, and together they defend the village from robbers and thieves. They’re young Fellpools who are a race of humanoid beings who have tails and pointy ears and live on the planet Roak.
After a day’s work, they receive a letter that a nearby village has been plagued with a contagious disease causing everyone to turn to stone, and Dorne has the disease. They hear of an herb that is claimed to heal the stone sickness, and head off to Mount Metorx. Once they reach mount Metorx, they see a flash of light and two beings appear in front of them. They introduce themselves as Ronyx J Kenny and Illia Silvestri, and are part of a Galactic Federation, and are from the planet Earth. They have to bring the sad news that the herbs they seek won’t cure the disease and bring the trio aboard their spaceship.
After Dorne is placed in medical care, the federation discovers that a rival group are supposedly creating a bio weapon by using the people on Roak. They realize that the only way to stop the disease is to find the host, but the host has been dead for 300 years. So Ronyx and Illia take Roddick and Millie to a planet that carries a time gate, and they travel 300 years to the past to find the demon Asmodeus to receive the cure for the disease. Thus the adventure begins.
Largely a fairly traditional RPG with random encounters, the battle system is what sets the game apart from other RPG’s. The battle system takes place in real time, and is similar to an action RPG where you can mash the action button to attack the enemy. You can assign special skills to the shoulder buttons What separates this from a real action RPG, the battles take place in another screen, and there are still menus to cast other spells, or use items. It’s like a pseudo-action RPG with menus.
The rest of your party runs on AI and you can’t really control them outside of setting tactics. So if you’re tired of that character for always wasting their SP, you can set their tactic and tell them to save that shit up.
There’s also a skill system where you can customize characters with various skills. While some of these help in battle, like increasing speed or recovery time, these skills are mostly for other aspects like item creation, via cooking meals, or creating items you can’t find in stores.
There is also a feature called Private Actions, where when you enter a town, you can have the party explore the city on their own, and you can talk to them individually. This is an optional feature, and helps a bit with character development. This can also alter what happens in the various endings. Luckily the game takes roughly 20 hours, so it’s definitely shorter than some other RPG’s from the same time period, or of today. There’s apparently about 80 different endings, which is definitely a task if you want to see each and every ending.
For your party, you can recruit a total of 8 people, with 4 active for battle. There’s a total of 13 playable characters, and only 4 of them are compulsory, that leaves you a total of 9 optional characters to choose from. Some characters are really easy to unlock, and others have specific requirements that practically require a walkthrough to unlock, as you have to have/don’t have a specific character in your party, and then talk to them under a private action after completing some other task. Is it worth recruiting these pain in the ass characters? Who knows?
Since it uses the engine from Star Ocean: Second Story, with its 2D sprites on a pre-rendered backgrounds, the game looks like a game from the original Playstation. While not as graphically impressive as other PSP titles, it at least gets the job done like many other PSP ports of PS1 games. The game does feature a portrait of a main character’s face in the dialog, and their face changes to depict their emotions.
Unlike the original version of the game, it does have a traditional overworld, and if you’ve played the original version, this gives the world a much larger feeling.
Like everything on this remake, the soundtrack was updated. It does sound a lot better than the SNES version, so while the original had a really good soundtrack, an updated version is much nicer. It does have a typical JRPG style soundtrack, but there are a few memorable tracks. The opening of the game even features the anime tradition of having a J-Pop theme song and it’s a fairly likable track.
Star Ocean: First Departure is a pretty solid JRPG, and is a very recommendable title for those who are fond of the older RPG’s from the SNES and PS1 days. The voice acting is decent, while not the best acting, and is patchy at times, it’s definitely not something to cringe over. This game does show some of its age, so it may not appeal to those who want a more modern approach to their RPG’s, but for those who either like RPG’s in general, or want to play a lost classic, this is a very solid game to add to your collection.