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Star Ocean: The First Departure
Scheduled release date: October 21, 2008
Number Of Players:

Sadly for role-playing aficionados, the original Star Ocean never made it to North American shores. Those who fully enjoyed the RPG lineup on the PS1 were able to partake of the excellent sequel, Star Ocean: The 2nd Story, but if you wanted to play the first one, you had to import it. These days, however, video game publishers are really embracing remakes, which is why Square-Enix will soon deliver Star Ocean: First Departure for the PSP. A remake of the original with fully enhanced visuals, new dialogue and cut-scenes, and overall more refined than it was in the past, handheld owners will certainly appreciate this RPG. Remember, we’re talking about a game that never saw the light of the day in the U.S., so for most, this may as well be a brand new title! However, if you are familiar with The 2nd Story, you probably won’t be surprised at the gameplay style of First Departure.

The game will begin on the planet Roak, where a peculiar race of humans – “Fellpools” – resides, and you will be introduced to three characters at the start: Roddick Farrance, Dorne Murtough and Millie Chliette; the former two are members of their village’s defense force, but they’re a little annoyed that nothing exciting ever happens. Well, as you might expect, something exciting does occur not long after, and you’re tossed headlong into the thick of an epic, sweeping, sci-fi adventure. As you can see by the screenshots, this game holds a colorful nostalgic aura with its quintessential Japanese artistry and classic old-school foundation. This franchise has always managed to blend futuristic elements with standard role-playing fare, as the staff-and-sword style mixes with the plasma-and-spaceship formula. You’ll see this in full effect in First Departure, and to be honest, you really can’t find this type of hybrid RPG these days. And in fact, let’s not forget, the gameplay is a hybrid, too…

Star Ocean is well known for its relatively unique combat system, which effectively combines turn-based and real-time in an appealing presentation that feels like no other RPG. Basically, the characters remain two-dimensional, but they rush at each other on a three-dimensional field of battle. You can control one character at a time while any party members will act depending on their orders (which you can assign before a battle begins), and you can also pause the game at any time. That’s where the turn-based aspect comes in; you can pause the game to select a new character, change AI orders, or select a new command like Item or Magic. There’s typically a good deal of strategy involved, as the player must set the orders accordingly based on the battle situation; if you’re up against a boss, for example, you’ll want your characters to go all out. But doing all-out attacks in every battle will quickly drain your magic and special abilities, and if one character is still doing too much, you should have him or her relax for a bit. It’s a really intriguing setup.

On the surface, we really can’t see if there are any differences at all between this system and the one we found in The 2nd Story. As far as we can tell, and based on early hands-on descriptions, it seems very similar. Because of this, we’re wondering if a few of the hindrances we found in The 2nd Story will rear their ugly heads in this PSP remake. For instance, we distinctly recall fighting in the Cave of Trials and having difficulty keeping track of the action, simply because the camera would always center on the character you’ve chosen. Hence, you’re not really sure how your teammates are faring; the only way to tell would be to keep an eye on their stats. If their HP or MP starts to take a steep dive, you should probably do something about it. Also, with a lot of enemies on screen at once, everything can get awfully muddled very quickly, and we imagine this could pose a problem on the PSP. After all, we’re talking about a pretty small screen to begin with, so jamming too many enemies and allies onto an active battlefield could be a mistake.

Of course, we do assume Square-Enix will add a few tweaks here and there for this remake…but because we never got a chance to see the original Star Ocean, we have no way of knowing what actually changed. At the very least, though, we know it’s going to be a whole new story, a whole new character assembly, and a whole new world. That should be enough to appeal to role-playing fans, especially those who have already enjoyed the likes of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Jeanne d’Arc, and any number of the quality RPG titles that are already available. It’s scheduled to arrive on October 21, and that just so happens to coincide exactly with LittleBigPlanet for the PS3. Next month is absolutely loaded with potentially fantastic games, but if you play your PSP more than anything else, Star Ocean: First Departure should be near the top of your list.

9/20/2008   Ben Dutka