We’ve passed the age of remakes and remasters! We’ve now entered the age of remaking and remastering our remakes and remasters. It’s just like Christopher Nolan’s Inception, only the spinning top never stops.
Today we’re looking at Star Ocean: First Departure R, which is a remaster of a remake of an old-school Super Nintendo RPG that was never released outside of Japan. It’s been a long journey from there to here, so fans of classic JRPG adventuring and battle systems should prepare for some vaguely sci-fi-flavored goodness!
After a horrific disease begins to claim the citizens of the medieval planet Roak, young Roddick and his Roakian friends are forced to rely on the help of a pair of Earthlings in order to save the day. Even the Earthlings’ help isn’t enough, though; the team needs to go back in time to find the solution and save the day. Roak in the past is a dangerous place, so it’ll take might, magic and skill alike to survive. Despite the name, essentially all of this game’s action takes place on Roak, so don’t expect a planet-hopping adventure; that comes in later Star Ocean game.
First Depature R is a port of 2008’s Star Ocean for Sony’s PSP, itself an enhanced port of the original game released in 1996 on the Japanese Super Famicom only. It’s a port of a port, in other words, with the most significant changes in this updated version being a high-definition upgrade, new character artwork and a bigger screen on which to enjoy the game. Star Ocean itself is a fairly standard JRPG romp plot-wise – explore dungeons, fight baddies, save the world – but it was distinguished by several unusual gameplay mechanics that weren’t especially common back in the day.
For instance, combat is an action-RPG affair with battle taking place in real time. It’s possible to physically dodge attacks rather than just relying on your stats for safety, which is nice. You’ve got two different styles of character as well, with fighting characters having numerous unique special attacks to experiment with and mages having a vast selection of spells. There’s quite a few of both types of character, though, and Star Ocean further distinguishes itself by making the character recruiting process more complex than most games. Swordsmen Ashlay and Cyuss can’t be in the same party together, for instance, so you’ll have to choose one or the other, and there are several other examples that lend a great deal of replay value to the game.
What’s more, Star Ocean has a crafting – or “Item Creation” – system. It’s possible to train your characters in various skills and create items out of raw materials. It’s a great idea, but in practice interacting with this system in any real fashion tends to result in incredibly overpowered items and gear. You can have some pretty ridiculous kit fairly early on and it turns most of Star Ocean into a cakewalk. To compensate for this, the last few battles are brutally difficult and frustrating, so I guess that’s some sort of balance? Just expect the last couple hours of your 30 or so to be a slog. Let’s not even talk about the optional secret dungeon.
First Departure R looks marginally better than the PSP’s First Departure, which itself looked significantly better than the original Star Ocean, so you’re still coming out ahead. Seriously, though, First Departure R’s presentation is perfectly passable and you’re unlikely to have many complaints. There’s a few antiquated quirks here and there – characters absolutely love to voice-act over one another in combat, for instance – but this is classic JRPG goodness through and through.
Really, that’s what this comes down to: Star Ocean First Departure R is a pretty decent, very traditional JRPG, especially if we compare it to the abysmal Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. You can have a pretty good weekend or so just creating incredibly broken items and destroying the game with them. The high point of the Star Ocean series remains the superb Star Ocean: The Second Story, of course, and we can only hope that its remaster Star Ocean: Second Evolution makes it to modern platforms as well.