Star Ocean (SNES) review
"Ratix Farrence and Milly Kiliet had only known these spacefarers for a matter of hours, yet already Ronixis Kenni and Iria Silvestoli were risking their lives for a pair of complete strangers. They were breaking Rezonian protocol and pulling their ship out of the station where they were currently under hold. Their destination: Planet Stream, gateway to unlimited passage through time and space. It was a dangerous operation, but the fate of an entire civilization was at stake. "
Ratix Farrence and Milly Kiliet had only known these spacefarers for a matter of hours, yet already Ronixis Kenni and Iria Silvestoli were risking their lives for a pair of complete strangers. They were breaking Rezonian protocol and pulling their ship out of the station where they were currently under hold. Their destination: Planet Stream, gateway to unlimited passage through time and space. It was a dangerous operation, but the fate of an entire civilization was at stake.
It had been only a few days since the letter arrived at the quiet seaside village of Clatos. Ratix, Milly, and Dorn – teenage warriors and protectors of the town – were called to headquarters by the village elder and shown a dire message flown in by a pigeon.
Please send help, it said. In Cool Village there has been an outbreak of a terrible disease. There is much suffering.
Milly’s father, from whom she learned her healing powers, heads north to investigate and does not return. When the threesome decides to take matters into their own hands, they reach Cool and find that all of its inhabitants have turned to stone. Dorn becomes inflicted with the deadly disease, and their only option is to travel to the top of Mt. Metox and retrieve a flower that will supposedly cure the virus. Their journey takes them to the flower… and something else.
Ronixis and Iria are a couple of Earthlings who have touched down on the underdeveloped planet of Roak at a location where, just thirty minutes before, a scan had revealed no signs of life. It turns out the two spacemen are fully aware of the virus and believe the nation of Rezonia is responsible for planting it. They know a solution, and invite their newfound guests aboard their ship to aid them. Even knowing that Star Ocean would involve space travel, it’s hard not to share our technology-impaired heroes’ sense of wonder as they’re sucked aboard the Skygate 346 for the first time. Their mission: To create a serum for the illness by finding its original host.
And now the gate of Stream has landed Ratix on a very familiar shore. He’s left dazed and weary, with two of his companions missing, yet the landscape around him is unmistakable. He’s back home. Planet Roak – hundreds of years ago.
I played Star Ocean: The Second Story back in 1999 and loved every second of it because it was so ahead of its time. Yet with its intricately woven plot, real-time battle sequences, deep character-building system and limited voiceovers for every major character, playing through the original Star Ocean was an experience that redefined just what this series accomplished. Star Ocean does everything its sequel did, only it came three years earlier and was developed for a system with fewer capabilities. You almost get the feeling Enix kept this one out of non-Japanese gamers' hands because they felt we couldn't handle it.
In an era when Final Fantasy reigned supreme, it’s such an uninhibited pleasure to enter a battle and know you won’t be restricted by sluggish turn-based combat. Seriously: Who takes turns fighting? Get in there and kill that son of a bitch! That’s my philosophy, and Star Ocean’s real-time battles deliver in this regard. Victory is no longer simply a matter of how many monsters you’ve slain and how much experience you’ve collected. It’s a matter of who can deliver the most blows. It’s a matter of which side can react to what’s unfolding in front of them, against enemies who certainly will not pause to let their opposition have their chance to attack.
And no longer is a powerful character merely the result of hours upon hours of experience farming (though given Star Ocean’s harsh difficulty, it wouldn’t be a bad idea). Open the menu at any time and be greeted with the first of Star Ocean’s many innovations. With each level gained, a character earns points that can be cashed in on various skills, combat-based or otherwise. With literally dozens of skills to master and ten levels per skill, your party is as varied as you allow them to be.
Ratix is our front man in combat, an able swordsman and agile offensive warrior. His skill set should reflect on these strengths. Granting him the Flip ability will cause him to, should the opportunity present itself, run around to the back of his targeted enemy and deliver a slice no opponent could block. When struck by an enemy, the Counterattack ability might inspire Ratix to respond with a slash of his own, acting automatically without even my consent. As the main character, Ratix is guaranteed to be right there in the middle of every battle in the game; no doubt you’ll want to build his skill set to make him the most powerful fighter hours of experience farming can buy… Though it should be noted that “hours” in Star Ocean are not nearly as long as they seem when spent on other activities.
What about your tech-centric party members, like the angelic Joshua or the mystic Marvel? These characters belong in the background; maxing out their close-range combat skills would be unwise, so your priorities should be elsewhere. Focusing on the study of minerals and medicinal herbs will give these defensive players an advantage when it comes to tech spells and item usage. With a little strategy, skill building could lead to fully customized weapons and armor, in another of Star Ocean’s great innovations: Item creation.
Constructing your ideal party is one thing, but unleashing them in battle is something else. When an intense swordfight rages, you’re only ever in control of Ratix and Ratix alone – a fact that initially left me frustrated to no end. One of the first characters to join up with my adventuresome group was a mercenary named Cius, a meaty, burly loudmouth if ever there was one. His arrogance was reflected in combat: A monstrous sword, and the bastard was always off on his own, dispatching enemies on the far side of the screen while poor Ratix and Iria were being helplessly backed into a corner.
I was the one at fault. A quick shuffle through Star Ocean’s menu and I came across a list of simple AI “scripts,” little commands that would give my fighters some direction in combat. I noticed Cius was being told to defend himself, which explained his lone-wolf attitude. But I changed his script to “Defend us!” and sure enough, by the time I entered my next battle he was right by his comrades’ side. Mastery of these simple commands is the final piece that brings together the harmony of Star Ocean’s combat.
Such a deep battle system drew me closer to these characters, a feat already gained by the truly heartfelt plot. The opening cinematic, told in full voiceover, presents details on the travels of the Skygate 346. Then we’re thrust onto the unknowing world of Roak, and we’re curious as to how these seemingly separate stories connect. It’s this melding of fantasy and sci-fi that makes Star Ocean’s plot and setting so unique. About an hour into the game, it’s revealed why Rezonia might be interested in unleashing a deadly virus on an unsuspecting, underdeveloped planet, and – without ruining anything – you can feel the pain in Ratix’s voice in the realization that his people are being used in such a way.
The one final element that brings Star Ocean’s story together is the inclusion of private actions. When you approach a town, you’re given the option to part ways with your company and explore the area individually. This gives you the ability to talk to your friends on a one-on-one basis, an opportunity that is more often than not a learning experience. In one instance, I met up with Marvel, a female magician whose sole purpose for tagging along was to avenge her slain family. The conversation that sprung up revealed much about her past and her motivations, as well as what she hoped to achieve by teaming up with Ratix and the gang.
It’s not a romantic encounter, nor is it a vital revelation in the overall plot – in fact, I gained nothing from the experience other than a deeper understanding of one of my chief allies. Most developers in that day and age would never have gone through such lengths to flesh out the supporting cast of a sprawling RPG; Enix does it like it’s standard procedure. That’s what makes Star Ocean so great: The game is relentlessly entertaining, and it’s got the heart to back it up.
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