Once upon a time, Nintendo of America localized the very first installment of Enix’s Dragon Quest series for the Nintendo Entertainment System, retitling it Dragon Warrior due to copyright conflicts at the time. The game would do well enough to warrant the release of its three successors for the NES thanks to Enix’s American branch having opened since the release of the franchise’s initial title, although in 1995, the branch closed, sending North America into a dark age in terms of the Dragon Quest franchise and other titles such as the tri-Ace developed Star Ocean for the Super Famicom. Over a decade later, when Sony’s PlayStation Portable saw release, Square-Enix released an enhanced remake of Star Ocean entitled Star Ocean: First Departure, providing a solid experience American gamers initially missed out on.
First Departure features randomly-encountered real-time battles with up to four characters participating, one of which the player controls while the A.I. controls the other, with a variety of starting formations and A.I. settings available in the menus. Fighters such as protagonist Roddick can string up to three regular attacks together when assaulting the enemy, and can equip two MP-consuming abilities. Victory yields experience and money for all characters, with level-ups occurring sporadically, in which case leveling characters receive Skill Points the player can invest into various innate skills bought from special shops that dictate things such as stat gains and randomly-increased damage.
When characters level certain skills enough, they become able to create items using raw materials, although waiting until the party acquires the Orchestra Super Specialty skill is highly recommended, as item creation tends to have a high failure rate without performing the orchestral music, which can grant greater success to creating items even if the player hasn’t completely maxed necessary skills. Ultimately, the battle system works wonderfully for the most part, with a fast pace to battles, although one thing that can slow things down is the unskippable spell animations that accompany magical attacks, but otherwise, combat definitely helps the remake more than hurts.
Control is perhaps the weakest part of the remake, given the lack of conveyance initially other than feet and ships between port towns for most of the game, which can be a burden if the player wishes to revisit earlier towns to engage in Private Actions, although it is possible with the acquisition of one character to obtain faster land transportation. The menus themselves and shopping, among other things, are easy to get a handle of, and a nifty Equipment Wizard automatically equips the best equipment on all characters when the player acquires new gear. Dungeon maps, though, would have been nice, but mercifully, dungeons aren’t terribly labyrinthine, and ultimately, interaction serves the game well in spite of some flaws.
The science-fiction storyline focused on alien protagonists is a nice break from those centered on humans and Earth, with a likeable cast of characters that receive more development if the player engages in Private Actions in each town, which can affect what endings the player receives upon completing the game. There is some derivation from the Star Trek franchise, but otherwise, the narrative is definitely a draw to the game.
Motoi Sakuraba’s soundtrack and the voice acting are superb for the most part, aside from characters lamely shouting the names of their attacks in battle.
The graphics are nice as well, largely derived from the original game’s sequel on the Sony PlayStation, with nice character sprites and prerendered environments, the low point of the visuals being the overworld map. Even so, the remake looks superb.
Finally, the remake can be long or short depending upon how much time the player devotes to grinding and sidequests, with excellent replay value in the multiple endings and more playable characters than the player can have at once (eight). Ultimately, Star Ocean: First Departure is for the most part a superb remake that hits most of the right notes with regards to things such as its battle system, control, narrative, graphics, music, voicework, and replayability. There are some minor flaws such as slow going between visited towns, but those that can look past things such as that will most likely have a great time.
+Solid action-based battle system.
+Superb graphics, music, and voicework.
+Excellent replay value.
-Revisiting old towns can be taxing.
The Bottom Line:
A wonderful remake.
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: 20-40 Hours