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October 21, 2008



- Multiple scenarios leading to shift in story and party members
- Customizable skills and traits
- Fluid Anime FMV



- Uneven Difficulty
- Pre-rendered Backgrounds that are often lifeless and confusing to navigate
- Generic story that veers too much into fantasy rather than sci-fi



Review: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates (DS)

Review: Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2)

Review: Fable II (360)



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Star Ocean: First Departure

Score: 6.5 / 10


star ocean first departure          star ocean first departure


Star Ocean: First Departure starts out with a couple of interesting takes on the Japanese RPG genre; Firstly, the principal characters aren’t actually humans, but rather a humanoid race with Elvin ears and cat tails. Secondly, the game quickly takes a sci-fi route when the actual humans make contact with the cat people in order to help cure them of an infection created by an interstellar terrorist group. Think of it as an episode of Star Trek from the aliens’ point of view, and watching them react to technological marvels such as moving floors and automated doors is an amusing and unique spin on what began as a typical fantasy RPG setting.


Unfortunately, after a half hour of soaring in space to combat the sinister techno virus, the plot quickly degrades back to a typical fantasy RPG setting. Why rely on




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the power of science when there’s a magical time gate right around the corner? So now instead or wandering around a generic underdeveloped fantasy world, the humans and the cat people are wandering around a generic underdeveloped fantasy world in the past.


And just to add insult to injury, our heroes take their sweet time exploring the world of


the past, making no real haste to find the original source of the virus plaguing their world in the present, and instead choose to help just about every person they come across, be it item delivery, pirate slaying, or exploring every mysterious cave or temple they can find. After all, it’s not like they’re screwing up their own timeline with these random events, right?


The random deviation of the plot can prove beneficial for players that like to explore, at least. Depending on which locations are visited first, our heroes may come across potential allies that can be permanently added to the main party. Recruiting these optional characters require little to no effort, as they seem more than happy to join up with a random group of strangers for no potential reason, but it’s up to the players on which party members they’ll receive and which ones they’ll want to keep; You could visit one town and meet a party member early, or you can bypass them completely to recruit someone else in another town. You can also unlock additional areas to explore as well as witness extra non-interactive events, or “Quick Time Events”, by revisiting certain towns with certain party members. The minimal level of freedom on exploring is appreciated, but for those preferring to focus on the main storyline, they feel more like forks in the road (and you’ll be coming across plenty of those too).


star ocean first departure          star ocean first departure


As dated as the story may be, Square-Enix was kind enough to give First Departure a visual facelift, including new anime cutscenes, redrawn artwork for the main cast, and pre-rendered backgrounds ala Final Fantasy VII. I mention VII in particular because FD suffers from the same problem of perspective; Often times it becomes confusing on where you’re character can or can’t go, and it becomes more problematic here due to the general lifelessness of the backgrounds (water, for instance, remains eerily frozen in time, and I doubt that was meant to be ironic) and the decision to keep all characters as low resolution sprites, rather than 3D models. The 3D overworld map is a better fit for the sprites, bringing back memories of Xenogears, although an option to view the map from a top-down perspective would have been nice. As for audio, the game features a large amount of voice acting, featuring many anime mainstays such as Yuri Lowenthal. The voice acting is passable but is played more like an all ages anime on Cartoon Network, rather than a serious and mature series on Adult Swim. The constantly repetitive voices during battle will likely drive most people insane; if you thought Tales of Symphonia’s “Demon Fang” was annoying, wait until you suffer through Illia’s “Meteor Palm”.


The battle system remains largely unchanged from the original, and carries the Tri-Ace trademark of fast paced, player-controlled battles. Rather than following the traditional turn-based method of RPGs, Star Ocean lets you control main character Roddick in realtime, allowing free movement in a 2D plane to attack enemies as often as necessary. The other characters in Roddick’s group will attack on their own, but can be controlled somewhat through specific tactics issued to them before or during the battle (examples include fighting while conserving mp, or focus on healing fellow party members). The fast paced battles can entice gamers who find the traditional turn based structure of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy too boring.


But the battles also suffer from the Tri-Ace trademark of uneven difficulty; enemy encounters can range from either being too simple or too difficult. Should the latter scenario occur, your party can be instantly wiped out within seconds. Despite the freedom of movement, it can become virtually impossible to avoid a strong enemy’s attack. There are skills that can be learned by purchasing skill books in towns that can add additional parameters to a character’s fighting skill (such as increased defense, faster speed, a higher rate of evasion, and even an ability to reduce or increase enemy encounters), but these skills offer a minimal increase at best; The only choice to survive is to level grind as often as necessary. You had best stock up on items as well before venturing to a nearby dungeon, although one handy skill allows you to send out a bird courier to fly to town and purchase a list of items for you.


Star Ocean: First Departure may be full of flaws, but being an RPG from 1996, that shouldn’t be entirely unexpected. Even so, there are plenty of RPGs from that time still hold up strongly today. Had Square-Enix tweaked the original game as much as it did with its visuals, it may have reached the level of a great 90’s RPG. Instead, it serves as an above average space adventure that’s mostly grounded in fantasy, but still worth playing for RPG players looking for a new time waster.


- Jorge Fernandez

(December 13, 2008)


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