Star Ocean: First Departure Hands-On

In this remake of the first installment of the Star Ocean saga, we embark on a journey into space in hopes of preventing a galactic war.

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It has been 12 years since the first Star Ocean was released in Japan on the Super Famicon. North American players didn't get a chance to experience this space saga until Star Ocean: The Second Story was released in 1999 on the PlayStation. Since then, we've only seen Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, which sold well enough to encourage Square Enix to revamp the original game that started it all and release it exclusively for the PlayStation Portable. Star Ocean: First Departure, originally developed by Tri-Ace, now has fully animated cutscenes with voice acting to bring this adventure to life.

The opening cinematic is set in space, but after the intriguing events that unfold, the story then takes you to the planet Roak, where a group of friends--Roddick Farrence, Millie Chliette, and Dorne Murtough--are patrolling a small town called Kratus. It seems that normally things are quiet and boring, but suddenly some bandits invade the town, and the trio must fend them off. For the first several hours of our hands-on session, we weren't able to spend much time in space. This doesn't seem like a sci-fi role-playing game at first, until you meet up with a crew from the Terran Federation ship and get a chance to go aboard their ship, Star Trek-style. Without revealing too many plot points, the story is engaging so far, and you'll find yourself pushing forward to see what happens next.

Animated cutscenes help tell the story of Star Ocean.

Real-time combat keeps the pace of the game moving quickly, and most battles we've come across end in less than a minute. The leveling is well paced as well, and the only time we had any difficulties was when we wandered into an area that was clearly designed for us to return to later in the game. Fights are random, and when they occur, you're brought into a 3D battlefield where you have full control of one character and can run around and slash at enemies with the X button. During the fight you can switch to any character in your party and have full control over that character by hitting the circle button. Special art (abilities) can be mapped to the L and R buttons so that you can unleash more-powerful attacks. When you're not in a fight, you can adjust the strategy of your party in your menu so that the computer-controlled members can be more aggressive, stay on the defensive, save their special skills, or spread out and attack, depending on the situation. The formation of the party can also be adjusted so that when you enter a fight, you can have some characters farther back so they can heal, and you can have the fighters closer to the enemies so they can get to them quickly.

When you're on the overworld map, there is a smaller map in the corner to indicate where you are, and red dots will highlight what points of interest are around you. The world feels huge, which makes it a bit disorienting. The L and R buttons can be used to rotate the camera angle, but if you're watching the little map in the corner, a red arrow will let you know which direction you're facing. There are no maps in the dungeons, which isn't a problem since it'll encourage you to explore. When you're right outside of a town, sometimes a private action notification will appear so that when you hit the square button, a short dialogue sequence will occur between your party members. This can be skipped, but it provides some insight to certain characters and adds to the story.

Instead of just leveling and getting stronger, each time you level you also gain skill points, which can be spent toward customizing your character with different skill sets. You have to first purchase skill sets from a skill guild in town. Once you do, you'll be able to use your points to either raise a character's ability in battle or have him or her learn a new a craft. Characters have their own talents, which should be taken into account when you decide which craft to teach them. For example, Roddick has a talent when it comes to taste; you would hope this would help him be a better cook. When you put skill points toward the skills of knife, recipe, and keen eye, he will have learned the cooking specialty and can then create items from raw ingredients. Each time you put skill points toward a skill, the skill will level, until a maximum of 10. Once you have multiple specialties at your disposal, there are super specialties that can be performed by combining specialties from several characters. This system is a cool distraction because you'll find a lot of raw material out in the field and you can use your character to try to transform it into useful items. It doesn't always work properly, however; we made our fair share of stinky bean cakes and rotting fish before making an item that was worth something. When cooking does work, you'll create items that can be used to restore hit points and magic points.

Unleash powerful special attacks in real-time.

The animated cutscenes were done by Production I.G, a company that has worked on multiple anime films and television series, including the TV series Ghost in the Shell. As you progress through the game, the cutscenes can be viewed again from the main menu via the movie gallery. The in-game graphics are also well done, especially the towns because a lot of detail and realism have been added to the structures. It makes your blue-haired sprite-like hero stand out against a more subtle backdrop, but at least treasure chests and townspeople are easy to spot. Fans who enjoyed the look and feel of sprites before RPGs moved toward more-realistic 3D character models will be happy with what First Departure has to offer. The music by Motoi Sakuraba will also not disappoint. His score includes some charming melodies to portray the right setting as well as sci-fi-inspired themes to go along with the story. The opening Japanese vocal theme is catchy and grows on you after a couple of listens.

Star Ocean: First Departure plans to set the stage for what's to come. Role-playing game fans that haven't yet experienced a Star Ocean game should start here if they want to immerse themselves in this franchise. Star Ocean: Second Evolution will be available right around the corner early next year. In the meantime, look for First Departure when it hits store shelves October 21.

Discussion

95 comments
Shimmerweed
Shimmerweed

To you-know-who: STFU. This game is like Golden Sun. Awesome. :D:D Too bad there aren't any summons ... aww..

tyco_ex
tyco_ex

Town looks like Golden Sun. This game looks great but I'd still love to see more actual psp RPG's. Best thing about the GBA was Golden Sun, one of those on psp would be sweet xD

ZackPSP
ZackPSP

can't wait can't wait can't wait

Star650
Star650

I'm going to buy Crises Core: Final Fantasy VII and then this. Can't wait.

Beesond
Beesond

Cool just beat FFVIICC, the more PSP RPGs the better!

Beesond
Beesond

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

dragon0085
dragon0085

I played the ACTUAL SO1, (emulated + trans-ed) It was pretty fun, way better then SO3. It'll be good.

anonumes
anonumes

I am a big fan of star ocean and can not wait till the release of the upcoming games my only regret is that the last hope is not on the ps3

serentus
serentus

Hmm isn't this a remake ? Cuz i've already played the ps1 versions of star ocean :O

serentus
serentus

Hmm isn't this a remake ? Cuz i've already played the ps1 versions of star ocean :O

mido321
mido321

look great.. i will play it... www.armijabih.blogspot.com

onuross88
onuross88

Cutscenes look good.Great series,looking forward to it.

DJ_Distortion
DJ_Distortion

"Is it just me, or does this look like Tales of Eternia? (PSP UK)" Star Ocean came first, Tales of Eternia borrowed from them.

VanGriffin
VanGriffin

Is it just me, or does this look like Tales of Eternia? (PSP UK)

nintendofanjp
nintendofanjp

I hope this gets released in Australia. This is what the PSP was made for, PS1 ports. As an Australian gamer I look forward to more never given PAL release games like this to come out and if Sony makes another portable consoles thats has PS2 quality games maybe they can release PS2 games never released in PAL on that. Viva La Region Free Consoles!

cristhiansj_1
cristhiansj_1

Awesome, the PSP (I believe) is the RPG system, good for me :D.

twighlight17
twighlight17

i agree, i think most of the best rpg's were made on the playstation

Bubble_Man
Bubble_Man

This game looks just like a PS1 title...And I consider that a good thing! RPGs were a lot better back in those days. I already have my copy of this pre-ordered.

Megaman_ex
Megaman_ex

Definitely looking foward to this game.

GetsugaTenshou
GetsugaTenshou

same graphic has star ocean secodn evolution on ps1. They just use the same engine and rebuild this one in it.

rizalariff
rizalariff

Looking good.. Except for the graphics..

Kvain
Kvain

I hope this generates more hype. I think I'll wait till I read a couple of reviews before laying down the cash for this one.

meowww
meowww

Nice, I like all rpg of square enix

GunGriffin
GunGriffin

Meh I won't buy it untill they get it to look as good as Final Fantasy: Crysis Core dose right now. But untill then I'll keep my eye on it and wait for the Xbox360 game: StarOcean: The Last Hope (BTW that is an exclusive!)

aaaaaa12
aaaaaa12

Star Ocean 2 will be out in PSP too.. Cool.

nirnaeth
nirnaeth

star ocean 2 was awesome. just wish they weren't called bunny shoes. hmmm...must buy a psp

diasflac1985
diasflac1985

About time!! I've been waiting almost a year for this, the other star oceans are the best rpgs around.

Epoq
Epoq

Square has won my money with this game, I'm getting this as soon as it's in stores!! :D

Staryoshi87
Staryoshi87

Yay, my first PSP purchase since Jeanne D'Arc :D

GTZ2k3
GTZ2k3

Stop releasing good role playing games for the PSP Sony! You're making it hard for me to be content with my DS...

GTZ2k3
GTZ2k3

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Shimmerweed
Shimmerweed

Another must-buy game for my psp library. Saw the Japanese version. Looks really awesome. :D

Flame_Blade88
Flame_Blade88

I'll be sure to get this game, I've been waiting for it since it was first announced for the PSP.

mj1henry
mj1henry

I loved Star Ocean Till the end of time. 3 lovely discs of awesomeness. If you like RPGs you should give it a go. Looking forward to the PSP Title...

FlashCharge
FlashCharge

I have found an interest in these types of games and hope that the game and the mechanics all work well. Will follow this game.

higheclipse
higheclipse

This game looks good, i'm going to buy it for sure...i already have SO:TEOT, so, another one to the collection XD

Vorodor21
Vorodor21

Star Ocean: Second Story was a fantastic game. I lost a good bit of time to that game. I never played much of the PS2 one, but I've known people that spents hundreds of hours on it. I heard that one kind of sucked up your life.

Cloud_668
Cloud_668

isn't this out for ages in japan already

peeweeshift
peeweeshift

the game holds up amazingly after all these years. the snes allowed upgrades and this game used an add-on upgrade which was powerful at the time. It was only used by star ocean and SF:a2. The SF:a2 bit should give you an idea of how powerful it is.

Dymond7
Dymond7

Some of you are saying it's great to see that the PSP is getting some quality RPGs, I mean I know the DS has about 5 or so excellent RPGs, but the PSP has some good ones too, and yes this one game I'm interested, I need to own and play more RPGs.

mattascatta
mattascatta

The cut scenes remind me of Tales of Symphonia

LK9988
LK9988

Never played a Star ocean game before, but I'm getting this one. Most Square Enix games are quality RPGs