Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland Plus – First Impressions

Ah, the Atelier series. I remember having a blast writing the review for Atelier Totori, and I while I did enjoy the game, I wasn’t sure if the series was for me and told myself I probably shouldn’t buy another game in the series. Well I ended up lying to myself and couldn’t resist buying Atelier Rorona Plus when I saw it for $20 at my local Gamestop.

Atelier Totori was my first game in the series, so in the back of my mind I was always curious about buying the first game, as I wanted to understand the references to the characters they were making. Well it seems like so far this game also doesn’t explain super much, as it kind of throws you into the game saying, “oh, that’s so-and-so”, and just has you go with it. It’s not a bad thing, but I was kind of hoping I could have some explanations. It’s not the only game series that does this, so it’s not that big of a deal.

So like Atelier Totori, this game is nothing short of adorable blushing anime girls and fetch quest after fetch quest. The plus version of the game is a remastered version with better character models, as I did think the chibi characters kind of made it look disjointed from the anime artwork. I saw the character models from the original version, and thought Rorona was 12, but found out she was a lot older than that during the dialog scenes. Now all the characters match the way they look.

I was surprised, yet glad that some of the gameplay is different from Totori. I was expecting Totori to be largely copied and pasted from Rorona, just a different place. Luckily there’s differences with things like how exploring works, and even with picking up jobs/advancing progress. Instead of having all the gathering places as separate spots, this game has you visit a location that has sub-sections in it to explore. Theoretically it’s not much different from the sequel, but hey, at least I don’t feel like I’m playing the same exact game. Also getting jobs are also slightly different. They aren’t always available, and you can still turn in the job when you’re late on it. You just won’t get the full reward.

So far Atelier Rorona hasn’t disappointed, though the dialog is just as ridiculous as the sequel, and the story is kind of crappier, it’s still just as fun of a way to kill time. It’s still adorbs as fuck, and finding stuff isn’t so bad. I’ll most likely end up picking up Atelier Meruru to complete the Arland trilogy.

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Star Ocean: Second Departure – Review

Released in 2008 in Japan and in 2009 elsewhere, Second Evolution is an enhanced port of the 1999 game Star Ocean: Second Story, the second game in the Star Ocean franchise. Unlike the previous Star Ocean, Second Evolution’s original counterpart was released in the US.

One should take note that this is an enhanced port, not a remake, which is a term people love to use incorrectly. So if you already own Second Story, then you’re not missing out on much. Main differences are basically updated anime cutscenes/art, and new and much better voice actors.

Story:

Taking place 5 years after the first game, Claude C Kenny is a new ensign in the Earth Federation, and is working on the same space ship as his father, the great Admiral Ronyx J Kenny, one of the playable characters from the first game. They are on a reconnaissance mission to a strange planet, and Claude decides to investigate a strange device. A flash of light appears and he disappears. He then awakens in a strange forest and is confused at where he is. This is then disturbed after he sees a young girl getting attacked by a large beast, and then takes care of it with his trusty ray gun.

He talks to the girl he saves, who introduces herself as Rena Lanford. He finds out that he’s on an underdeveloped planet, and thanks to his gun, Rena thinks he’s the legendary Hero of Light, and proceeds to tell people about him. After some investigation, he talks to the mayor and finds out this planet is suffering from the mysterious object called the Sorcery Globe that came to the planet, and is spawning monsters. He then tells that he’s going to go investigate this Sorcery Globe, and Rena decides to tag along with him, and our adventure begins.

Gameplay:

Since First Departure was based on the same engine as the original Star Ocean 2, and this one is practically identical, there’s nothing new gameplay wise with First Departure, so you’re free to read the previous review on the gameplay.

Visuals:

Like mentioned above, it shares the same engine as First Departure, so it looks very similar. Compared to the PS1 version, it does look nicer, and the nicer anime visuals and cutscenes are a nice addition. The only thing missing from the PS1 version is that the items aren’t 3D and rotate around, which is kind of odd why it’s gone. It’s nothing drastic, but it was kind of nice to see.


Music:

The music is pretty nice in the game, and has some nice tracks. I think the first game has a slightly better soundtrack. Like the first game, they added a J-Pop opening theme.

Verdict:

Star Ocean: Second Evolution is a very good RPG to add to your system. It has a pretty solid story, and the battle system itself makes things more fun. You don’t have to have played any other Star Ocean to get into this game. Out of the two PSP games, this one is the better of the two.

Music: 7/10

Story: 9/10

Content 8/10

Conclusion: 8/10

Dragon Quest VII (aka Dragon Warrior VII) Review

Released in Japan in 2000 and in the US the following year as Dragon Warrior VII (keeping with the naming of the previous titles in the US, also keeping with tradition, it wasn’t released in Europe), it was the highly anticipated addition to the legendary role-playing series Dragon Quest and went on to selling over 4 million copies making it one of the best selling Playstation games. Especially when it’s boasting that the main story takes at least 100 hours to beat.

Well, it was only highly anticipated in Japan and the vast majority of those sales were from Japan. It went a bit under the radar in the US and became sort of a cult classic.

Are the Japanese and US audience that widely different?

To explain how this happened, we should start with a quick history lesson. Dragon Warrior IV was the last title released in the US before Enix decided to stop releasing games outside of Japan. So while Enix released 2 new games, and remade the first 3 for the SNES, the rest of the world was left out of the blue. It wasn’t until 2000 when Enix finally decided to release games in the US.

So while Enix started with releasing remakes of the first three games on the Gameboy Color and were critical successes, commercially they weren’t impressive. So by the time Dragon Warrior VII came out, there wasn’t a massive hype like the latest Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda title, because we missed out on 5 releases, and there’s a nine year gap between DW4 and DW7. So a possibly successful series was made more or less forgotten by the general gaming community.

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Dragon Warrior VII also had two more things working against it: the Playstation 2 was already out, and so was one of the biggest titles in the entire library, Final Fantasy X. So not only was the rival series already on the next generation console, Dragon Warrior VII’s graphics were also pretty lackluster for a late PS1 release, so in presentation alone, it couldn’t compete against even the previous Final Fantasy title which was released the year before and looks several times better.

So enough on the history lesson, let’s actually review the game:

Story:

DQ7 is the first standalone game in the series as the first 6 consisted of two trilogies, though the second trilogy barely has anything to do with each other.

The game takes place on an island, the only island in the entire world while the rest is wide open sea. In keeping to the tradition of Dragon Quest games, the silent hero has no default name. This time you play as the son of the fisherman Borkano in the small fishing village blandly named Fishbel. You have two childhood friends: Maribel, the bitchy and bossy charming daughter of the mayor of Fishbel, and Keifer, prince of the neighboring city of Estard, well the only other town in the world.

The game begins with you and Keifer exploring the forbidden ruins to the east of town with Keifer wanting to figure out the secrets of the ruins. The two of you finally reach a strange set of rooms with several mysterious pedestals. You realize one of the pedestals has a stone slab in the middle of it and you piece it back together with some of the pieces lying around. Sadly it’s missing a piece and you walk back home empty handed. The following day, shit happens you guys come across the final piece and Maribel talks you into letting her join you into the ruins. When you guys finally completed the tablet a strange flash of light engulfs the trio. The three of you wake up in a strange forest and discover you’re in a foreign village in the past, so finally the quest begins.

So when Enix is boasting that this game takes about 100 hours to beat, they weren’t fucking around. That was the entire opening sequence and that takes 2 hours and then you finally run into your first battle and the actual quest begins. Most other Dragon Quest games (hell RPG’s in general) your first battle takes place the instant you leave town. This is one of the biggest gripes that American gaming critics had with the game.

Enix sort of “cheats” with the story by not making it a continuous story. The game is largely episodic with the main story interspersed between the episodes. The main goal of the first disc is to go back in time and restore the various villages by stopping the problem that has plagued the past, and then the landmass around the village will be restored in the present. After it’s been restored, you must visit it in the present and stalk it for more shards to complete the pedestals to allow access to the other villages. That’s the entire first disc in a nutshell, and that’s the first 60 hours of the game.

Disc 2 itself takes another 40 hours of the game. While I would have been satisfied with the game just being disc 1, disc 2 is a nice addition and adds more to the story.

The story itself is largely depressing, and can get pretty dark at times. While you venture through the game, you’re going to run into stuff like racism, natural disasters, towns ravaged from warfare, multiple acts of genocide, and slavery. So if you’re someone who cries easily, get your tissues ready for this game.

Gameplay

The game is very similar to other Dragon Quest games by keeping to the traditional RPG mechanics, so there isn’t much to explain that would be unfamiliar.

While largely untouched from the previous entrees, they do introduce a diverse class system to create some variety to aid your strategies in battle. While the class system was first introduced and only used in DQ3, 7 has made many improvements to it. Unlike in 3, your class levels up separately, and at a faster rate. This is because once you max out the level of two classes, you can unlock a hybrid class to gain much stronger abilities. The slight downfall for some people is that only certain combinations unlock hybrid classes. A plus side to the class system is that once you change your class, all of your abilities transfer over, thus increasing your movepool which comes in handy the farther you get in the game. One aspect of the class system some might find tedious, is that you can only change your classes at the Dharma Shrine, and there is only one in the game. So every time you want to change your classes, you must treck back to it. Luckily by this point you have the Zoom spell which you can warp travel.

So for such a large game, the gameplay is a very standard RPG with the gameplay doing nothing special or new, so if you want a very unique experience, it only does so through its storytelling, not through the gameplay.

Visuals

While the graphics themselves are decent, it suffered in development hell for several years, so while it would probably have been impressive as an early PS1 title, its development struggles made it a late release which makes the graphics feel really dated when compared to late PS1 games like Final Fantasy IX, and even Persona 2. Like I also mentioned above, it also looked really poor considering that the PS2 was already out and, in the US, Final Fantasy X was lightyears ahead in the technical department. So while it does seem poor as a late PS1 title, it’s not to say the graphics are bad, they get the job done for the most part.

Like every other Dragon Quest game, the monsters and characters are designed by Dragon Ball artist Akira Toriyama. The graphics engine is also the template for the DS remakes, so there isn’t much to discuss that hasn’t. Though the game’s view is more isometric, instead of top-down like the DS games, and the graphics aren’t as good as the DS has better graphics than the Playstation.

Though while the graphics are a bit dated, but get the job done, the game does have some very awkward cutscenes. It seems like Enix wanted to catch up to Square’s PS1 RPG’s by having cutscenes to show off the Playstation’s prowess, they look so out of place when you compare the cutscene to the graphics from the rest of the game. It’s even more drastic than Final Fantasy VII where at least the characters in battle resembled the custscene depictions. The cutscenes in this game look nothing like Akira Toriyama’s artwork. It’s pretty much like playing Final Fantasy VI and throwing in Final Fantasy 7 cutscenes.

Though luckily if you exclude the opening and ending cutscenes, there’s only about 2 cutscenes at most, so DW7 at least spares you the misery.

Music

Returning to the series, series veteran Koichi Sugiyama returns to compose the music to the game. If you’re familiar with his music in the other games, there isn’t much to talk about as the soundtrack doesn’t disappoint. While not my favorite soundtrack in the series, it still gets the job done, and the music does help set the depressing mood of the game. Like every other Dragon Quest game, there is a fully orchestrated version of the soundtrack available.

Verdict:

Despite its dated graphics and monstrous size, it’s one of the stronger titles in the series, but this game isn’t for the faint of heart. So while it’s not a very recommendable title for casual RPG fans, or people becoming interested in RPG’s, it’s still a very solid game that’s a definite must have for RPG fans who want a very deep and engaging game. Especially for those who are looking for a game that will last them awhile.

Music: 7/10.

Visuals (Or Graphics): 6/10.

Story: 9/10.

Content: 8/10.

Conclusion: 8/10

Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland Review

Developed by Gust in 2010, and released a year later in the rest of the world, Atelier Totori is the 12th installment in the long running Atelier series. It is also the second game in the Arland trilogy on the PS3, and is the sequel to the game Atelier Rorona.

Some of you are probably scratching your heads thinking “what the fuck is the Atelier series and how are there 12 games already?”. Don’t worry, it has a small fanbase and isn’t very popular, so chances are most of you haven’t played the PS2 games.

The Atelier series is a departure from other RPG’s where there’s a large focus on using alchemy to synthesize items instead of promoting itself as an epic tale.

Story:
Taking place 5 years after the first game, Atelier Rorona, you play as the titular character Totori who, as the subtitle suggests, has a dream to become an adventurer and discover the whereabouts of her mother, who has been missing for years. As you soon find out, Totori is an alchemy student of the previous game’s heroine Rorona, who is going around the countryside looking for her old teacher.

You gain your adventuring license about 30 mins into the game, and most of the game consists of you wandering around the world doing either fetch quests or monster hunting for the Adventurer’s Guild, with bits of the story here and there to progress the plot. Unlike the previous game, this game has a story that feels like it actually matters more. The previous game followed sort of a Harvest Moon type of deal where Rorona has X many days to make the alchemy lab prosper, or risk shutting down, while this one makes you continue because you’re curious about what happened to Totori’s mother.

For such a non story heavy game, there’s a fairly decently sized cast full of colorful characters, with a handful returning from the previous game. The game also has a very large emphasis on kawaii, which you’ll soon discover with its heavy focus on mostly female cast members, and many of the male characters are either uninteresting, or unimportant. So unlike games like Dark Souls and Skyrim where it’s all testosterone filled badassery, this game focuses heavily on kawaii instead. Despite having cutesy shojo style artwork, you’ll soon discover that the kawaii nature of this game is heavily catered towards guys, especially with its very questionable dialog that appears from time to time. While some of the dialog is just silly stuff discussing who has a cuter butt, there’s some pretty heavy lesbian subtext, especially with the character Melvia who you’ll find out molests Massages Totori and her friend Mimi, and a few other questionable deeds. So it’s strange seeing molestation jokes about groping 14 year old girls, but it’s totally acceptable when they’re getting molested by another girl because yuri is totally hot. So it’s reassuring to know that it’s only considered child molestation if it’s an older man touching a 14 year old girl.

While it’s not to say this game is not girl friendly (there’s a large female fanbase), and not dangerous for your little sister to play. It does get a bit too silly at times, especially when the town creeper Peter makes you go out and find 8 beautiful women for the town festival and later reveals it as a dubious plot to host a swimsuit contest. There are a few instances where it comes off like some weird otaku wrote a few PG scenes of his favorite yuri pairing.

The game has voice acting, and the female voice actors (excluding Pamela) are pretty good and even has a few known anime voice actresses like the famous Wendee Lee,Cristina Vee, and Cassandra Morris. The male actors range from decent to meh. The game does have the option for the Japanese audio, but you’ll probably end up changing the voices back to English because all of the female characters almost all sound the sameand have the high pitched kawaii voice, so the really high pitched voices can start to get grating after awhile. As you can see, Japanese voices don’t always make things better, unless you’re one of those weaboos who demand everything is Japanese, but fuck those guys anyway.

Characters:

Totooria Helmold: 

Known as Totori for short, she’s the protagonist of the game. She’s 13 in the Japanese version, and 14 in the North American releases, because somehow that one year makes a huge difference when it comes to molestation jokes. Anyway, she follows the moe archetype of the clumsy girl, and she’s very optimistic. She’s one of those super girly girls, and likes cute things.There’s times where it feels like she has more sense than her friends because Melvia is crazy, and Rorona can be like a big kid.

Cecilia Helmold:

Known as Ceci for short (pronounced Setsi), she’s Totori’s overprotective older sister. Since their mother’s been missing since Totori’s childhood, Ceci doubles up as the motherly figure in Totori’s life, as she’s the housekeeper, cook, and the one who bitches at Totori for fucking up everything. She’s an NPC, but if you really like her, she’s available as a paid DLC character where you can have her in your party. The town creeper Peter is in love with her, but he’s too much of a loser to confess to her.

Gino Knab:

Totori’s childhood friend, and the first person to join you in your party. He also shares Totori’s dream of being an adventurer. Since he’s Totori’s childhood friend, there’s a lot of shipping going on between the two of them, because we all know he wants her V.

Melvia Siebel:

The next person to join your party is Melvia, or Mel for short. She’s the sexy, yet skilled, adventurer who is renowned for her monster strength, and she’s legal age. She’s a highly recommended person to have in your party based on her strength and her ass-kicking skills. She’s also the pervert of the game, as she’s groped all of the female party members, which is why Mimi gave her the nickname, Molester Woman. Rorona calls her Mellie because she thinks it’s cute.

Mimi Houllier von Shwarzlang:

Winner of the most ridiculous name award, Mimi is the required tsundere character in the game. She’s those mouthy girls who loves bragging that she’s from a rich family. She’s the same age as Totori and also aims to be a renowned adventurer. She claims she joins Totori’s party because she needs someone with alchemy skills in her party, but they really do a half-assed job of explaining that. She seems to be really good friends with Totori, but because she’s a tsundere, she’ll never admit that. She’s surprisingly polite to Ceci, and has grown up very well in Atelier Meruru. She fights with spears and has pretty decent strength.

Rorolina Frixel:

Known as Rorona for short, she’s the formerly underaged protagonist of the first game, and is Totori’s alchemy teacher. She’s best friends with Cory at the Adventurer’s guild, and like Totori, she’s pretty clumsy. She joins your party later on in the game, and you get to use her workshop when you’re in Arland. She creates the homunculus Chim to help you  with alchemy, and loves pie. She fights with bombs, which is very helpful as it can attack multiple enemies at once.

Those are the more important characters, there’s many more, but that just ruins the fun of the game.

Gameplay:
Much of the game consists of you doing various fetch quests or going on hunts. As the game progresses, you have two bases of operation. Your house in Alanya Village, and Rorona’s in the capitol Arland. At your bases, you have the option of saving your game, using alchemy to synthesize various items, or go to sleep to regain health and MP used to synthesize. Also the towns your bases are in are also the only two places to pick up the job requests, and to report them to gain gold and extra synthesis ingredients. Arland is the only place where you can update your job license, and to order weapons and armor.

With your adventuring license, you can gain points by doing the various jobs, or by exploring various regions in the overworld. So it’s best to periodically visit Cordelia in the Adventurer’s Guild and see if you rack up enough points. With the weapons and armor, you must collect the required ingredients first, and then Hagel will forge the weapons and armor for you.

Another feature of this game is that there’s a time limit. The game progresses in days, and synthesizing and traveling across the overworld takes up days. So anyone completely unfamiliar with the series will probably not be able to manage their time well enough to beat the final boss in their first playthrough, but luckily the way the game is, you can transfer your equipment over in a new game plus.

Monster battles are largely standard turn base battles. The only thing that’s a little different is that monsters appear in lines, so certain attacks can attack monsters in either a horizontal or vertical line, while Rorona’s bombs can attack a large sum of monsters at once.

Graphically the cell shaded anime graphics are pretty nice. There are a few annoying instances: like how the game isn’t fully 3D. It’s sort of like Final Fantasy X where everything is 3D, but it’s all a fixed camera angle, you’d think that a game on the PS3 is fully capable of being completely 3D with rotating cameras. Another thing is that all the story and dialog is done in visual novel style. Where they show just an image of the character that’s talking, and change their expression to match the emotion. It seems a bit lazy that they can’t fully animate the character models when they’re talking.

Music:
Not much to say about the music, but it’s alright. It’s decent and matches the kawaii nature of the game, but outside of that, there’s not many standout tracks, though I do have to say the theme song during the title opening is fucking atrocious. Though if you really enjoy the game, you can buy the OST off of the PSN in the DLC section.

Verdict:
Atelier Totori is one of those games that one shouldn’t really take seriously, as it doesn’t doesn’t present itself as a serious game. So while it’s not an RPG that prides itself as an epic tale, it’s like a nice breather where you just spend time collecting items to synthesize or fighting monsters. So while not a memorable game, it’s one of those games that are a nice way to kill time. So if you’re okay with kawaii and blatantly obvious yuri, then you should be able to stomach this game.

So in a nutshell, Atelier Totori is not for those who are serious gamers, but if you just want a relatively simple game as a breather, then Atelier Totori is for you.

Music: 7/10.
Visuals (Or Graphics): 7/10.
Story: 7/10.
Content: 8/10.

Conclusion: 7/10

Dragon Quest Erdrick Trilogy Mobile: First Impressions

For the first time ever in the US, the first Dragon Quest trilogy has finally been released under the Dragon Quest title. When originally released in the US they were labeled as Dragon Warrior, and that’s how it was until the Square Enix merger, and they finally started releasing the series under the real series title of Dragon Quest. Now that only leaves Dragon Quest VII as the only one with the Dragon Warrior title, that is until Squeenix finally decides to release the 3DS remake, which they should…

Anyway….

These versions of the games were originally released on Japanese mobile phones, and then were updated for Android/iOS devices. I will say, for the first two games, these are the best versions you can get. For Dragon Quest III, I would say the SNES versions is slightly better. Though that’s only because the SNES and GBC versions have monster animations during the battles, but this version doesn’t. You would think if the GBC could handle it the mobile games could, but I digress.

That doesn’t mean this version  of DQ3 is bad, you are basically just getting a port of the SNES version, but with better audio quality for the music. The lack of monster animations definitely don’t break the game. For DQ1 and 2, it looks like they got the ideas of the graphics from DQ3, as they look very similar and look several times better than their SNES counterparts, which didn’t look that much better than their NES counterparts.

The gameplay itself for these games are relatively unchanged. Similar to their GBC demakes, they allow a quick save feature, except these work a bit better. In those games, if you loaded the quick save, the file is instantly deleted. So if you restarted the game, your save point is lost forever. In these versions, they stay. The only minor drawback, is that you can only do this for one game file. So if you have multiple save files, you’re stuck with hard saving at a King.

The gameplay has been optimized for playing on  touchscreen, and has also been optimized for playing with one hand. It does take a bit of getting used to, but you’ll get the hang of it. Also it’s not like you really need two hands to play a Dragon Quest game anyway, there were several times where I was playing one handed, as all I needed was the D-Pad and used the L button to talk and confirm menu choices.

Also these games optimized for phones, not really for tablets. While I can’t vouche for Android tablets, the iPad version is really blown up and pixely compared to playing on the iPhone. You would think they would up the screen resolution if they say it’s an iPad app. The iPhone version is the same resolution, but it doesn’t look as bad as the iPad, as you’re on a smaller screen. It doesn’t really look that bad, but it’s still pretty pixelated.

Here’s a screenshot I took myself:

So if you’re looking for some good retro RPG’s and want to play some classics, then definitely jump on board with these games. Personally I believe DQ3 is the better out of the three, and has aged the least. DQ1 may feel a bit too archaic compared to the other two, but if you want to play the game that laid the templates for console RPG’s to come, then jump on board with this.

First Impressions – Tales of Symphonia Chronicles

The Tales series is Namco’s big RPG franchise, and Symphonia is arguably the most popular of the franchise in the West, or at least the most well known. I’ve had my eye on this game for the longest time, but back when Gamecube games were still frequently sold at every GameStop, it was initially pretty pricey for a used copy, and when I finally had the money, I could never find it. Shame how life works out that way. Now copies of the Gamecube version have skyrocketed in price, further causing me to put off this game. Luckily Chronicles is a much better alternative, as it’s A: easier to find and cheaper, and B: comes packaged with the sequel Dawn of the New World. So if you just want to play the game and aren’t one of those people who demand that you play games on the original console it was on, fuck them and buy this.

Onto the game itself. It’s remastered from the original Gamecube game, but even having not played the original, I can tell it’s just lightly touched up instead of an HD remake.  It’s basically just lightly remastered to where it looks better than hooking your Gamecube up to an HDTV. So while it definitely doesn’t look bad, it could look a lot better, as there’s some pixely parts. One thing to keep in mind, is that it’s not advertised as an HD remake, so it’s definitely blind to criticize it as false advertising when it isn’t. I would definitely recommend against looking at comparison pictures or videos, as many of them do a piss poor job as they either find the blurriest picture they can find, or there won’t be any difference.

Having played some of the first three Tales games (Phantasia, Destiny, Eternia), I had an idea of the gameplay style, so I wasn’t walking into necessarily brand new territory. I will say the initial plot doesn’t seem that impressive. It kind of rings like Final Fantasy X with how Colette is on a worldwide journey accompanied by her guardians to spread world regeneration, and that sounds pretty similar to Yuna going on a worldwide journey to rid Sin. The characters are also very cliche, so hopefully as the game goes along, it will change up a bit, or maybe it’s hopefully one of those games where the gameplay makes up for the plot. Out of the four Tales games I’ve played, this one probably has the second least interesting initial plot, following behind Destiny.

The gameplay so far is pretty much the same as the previous installations I’ve played. You’re in a 2D plane, and you control one character and button mash your enemies, while the rest of your party is on AI. Can’t vouch for the newer games, but if you played the 2D games, then you’re in familiar territory. This is considered the first 3D game in the series, and this is where I have some slight issues. This is a 3D game with a fixed camera. So outside of the world map, there’s no rotating camera. You should keep in mind, that for a game from 2003, this isn’t exactly unusual, even Final Fantasy X and X-2 had this camera style, as did many others.

All in all, so far it’s not a bad game. I definitely would have gone nuts over this when I was younger when it first came out, but now it’s just alright. I’m looking forward to how the plot and the battle system evolve, so hopefully it ends up living to the quasi-cult status it’s gained over the years.

Currently 6.5/10

Star Ocean: First Departure Review

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:

Story:

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.

Gameplay:

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?

Visuals:

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.

Music:

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.

Verdict:

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.

Music: 7/10

Visuals: 7/10

Story: 8/10

Content: 8/10

Conclusion: 8/10