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Star Ocean: First Departure (PSP) artwork

Star Ocean: First Departure (PSP) review


"First, but not foremost"


Star Ocean: First Departure (PSP) image

Perhaps you're familiar with the phrase "hasn't aged well." I'm sure I've dispensed those three words when reviewing retro titles more than a few times. I typically say this when a remake or enhanced port of an aged game exhibits certain flaws I was able to look past when the game was new(ish) that can't be ignored nowadays. Case in point: Star Ocean: First Departure, a portable remake of the classic SNES RPG Star Ocean that blends fantasy with science fiction. Bear in mind that I'm not saying that First Departure is a terrible game, but even with its improved visuals, modernized combat system, fresh soundtrack and voice acting, some of its content remains old fashion.

Mainly, First Departure is obviously the "first entry" of its series. It attempts to make the most of its sci-fi-meets-fantasy gimmick, but often stumbles. The game offers a decent mix of characters from both genres, including the teenage protagonist Roddick and partners Ronyx and Ilia. However, most of the campaign transpires on a planet comprised of your standard fantasy settings: castles, caves, ruins, etc. After you've traveled halfway through the adventure, you wonder when the sci-fi elements are supposed to come into play.

At one point, four of the characters travel back in time to embark on an important mission, but end up in different parts of the world. From then on, they spend a fair portion of the storyline wandering around and considering where the rest of their entourage ended up. The game's main objective doesn't come into focus until after you've explored most of First Departure's world, and by that point it's difficult to care about the campaign any longer. I'm not saying that First Departure has a poorly written story, but it saves all of its noteworthy developments for the latter phases when it should have showcased them throughout its campaign. For the most part, the events leading up to "good stuff" consists of your checking various towns, occasionally slipping into a simple dungeon, and then repeating the process.

Star Ocean: First Departure (PSP) image


I will admit that I found the game's lore intriguing, though. Several locales you visit house wondrous lost technology, plus the main antagonists have some pretty complicated origins. Unfortunately, some of the lore pertains to either past events or those transpiring in other parts of the galaxy, and you end up wishing First Departure took place during those occurrences instead.

The good news is that First Departure maintains many of the original's non-narrative elements, with a handful of tweaks. In particular, it still eschews turn-based battle in favor of real time brawls. All characters and monsters move about freely, pelting each other with punishing combination attacks, unique offensive maneuvers called "special arts," and "symbology" (read: magic). Battles are fast-paced and snappy, sometimes even furious and exciting.

They're not flawless, though. Some of your offenses are easily spammable, and that hampers the game's difficulty rating. Roddick's Dragon Breath is one of the worst offenders, as it nails the opposition with a multi-hitting flame. The cool down time for this special art is just about instantaneous, so you can easily overwhelm foes--ahem, bosses especially--with repeated uses, thereby removing any sense of strategy. Thankfully, Dragon Breath and its ilk require magic points in order to operate, otherwise First Departure would be a yawn-fest.

Star Ocean: First Departure (PSP) image


The spoils of war make hacking up foes worthwhile. Through gaining levels, you obtain more than just experience, cash and items, too. Each character earns skill points when leveling up, which you can then allocate to various skills in an effort to learn abilities that beget major advantages and/or allow you to craft loads of goodies. For example, if you boost Roddick's eye for detail, aesthetic design and smithing skills, he acquires "customization," and can create weapons using ores. There's a plethora of other skills to learn, some of which even boost stats and are highly recommended for particular characters.

Imagine how banal First Departure would be without this system. Thanks to this, you can customize characters and create roles for them outside of combat. On top of that, the prizes you receive through item creation are unbeatable. There are certain healing items that are chiefly secured through the ability "compounding," for instance, not to mention specialty weapons, armor, accessories and even consumables that allow you to boost some skills.

If there's anything else worth mentioning, it's that the game's voice acting doesn't make me want to drive a pencil through my ear canal. No, you're still not dealing with Oscar-worthy performances, but at least the sugary voices, over-acting, and mind-numbing lack of expression that was plentiful in the PlayStation era is pretty minimal throughout First Departure. I know I shouldn't laud adequate or mediocre work, but having survived the age of truly awful voice overs, believe me when I say it's a blessing when vocal tracks don't make you cringe infinitely.

Star Ocean: First Departure (PSP) image


Although I more or less enjoyed Star Ocean: First Departure, the game needed more than a visual makeover. Sadly, asking developer TOSE to upgrade the campaign and story wouldn't be the wisest move, either. If you're going to go to that much trouble, then why not just program a whole new title? Without those touch-ups, though, First Departure remains a game that looks and sounds appealing, has all the proper rule systems to be recognized as an adequate RPG, but doesn't possess the campaign to take all of its best facets anywhere noteworthy. Although I appreciate the game, I'm sure I'm going to forget the tale it tells within a few months*. That's not something I should say about a title that comes from a genre that's known for featuring engrossing tales and lore.


*This is actually an older review that I touched up and reposted at HonestGamers, and big surprise, I've forgotten most of the story. I had to Google the game to remember most of it, as I didn't feel like replaying it.

3/5

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (May 21, 2018)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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Follow_Freeman posted May 23, 2018:

I'll keep this review in mind as I start First Departure so as not to keep my hopes too high. What's your opinion on the PSP version of Star Ocean 2?
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 23, 2018:

I haven't played the PSP version, but I loved the PlayStation version way back when. I hope to replay it since I now have 1-5.

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