Saturday, September 1, 2018

Ben's Gaming Memories - Star Ocean

So it's been a few months since I've posted anything new here... Since my previous post a lot has changed for me, and I just haven't had as much time to do things as I'd like. Between starting a new job and things going on with my grandpa, it's been hard to find time to make blog posts. With the release of Star Ocean Anamnesis in the US though, I figured I'd take this time to share my story. You see, while many might see Star Ocean as just another JRPG, for me it's something much more. Now I actually brought this up about three years ago when Star Ocean 5 was coming out (it's seriously been that long?), but I never actually took the time to fully explain just what Star Ocean actually means to me. So that's what I'd like to do today. Here's my story of how Star Ocean changed my "gaming life" forever.

When I was a kid there was one genre I didn't really play: RPGs. Now I did play Pokemon (which I've also mentioned in the past), but that's about it. To me, Pokemon was a unique game unlike anything else, and it's RPG battle system was the Pokemon battle system. I had no idea that there were other turn based games out there, and I couldn't understand the fact that games like Earthbound were "similar to Pokemon." Friends tried to explain it to me when I was in school, but it was still hard for me to figure it out. "You mean Ness is like a Pokemon with a trainer commanding him?" Man, I must've sounded so stupid asking that. But anyway, it simply wasn't a genre I was into, and I actually avoided it later on when I started to learn more. It wasn't until I played Paper Mario on the N64 that I saw a turn based battle system outside of Pokemon, and it wasn't until Shining Force and Phantasy Star on SEGA Dream Cast that I saw a standard "fantasy" RPG. Both of these games turned me off though, and that's what eventually lead me to avoid RPGs. As for one of the major reasons for this? Well, it was magic.

I hated seeing magic in games. Something about it bothered me, and really that extended outside of gaming as well. If something had magic in it, or was about magic... I avoided it. I instantly labeled it as "crap," and refused to watch, read, or play it. I even got the teachers to let me leave the room in school when they watched the Harry Potter movies! I was so against anything magic related, I'd rather sit in the library reading books I didn't care about, than sit in class and have a free movie day. Then things started to change.

In high school I became interested in the Kingdom Hearts series. It had magic, and was an RPG, but I was willing to give it a try. Around this time I was getting tired of the turn based battle system Pokemon used, but since Kingdom Hearts was an action based game that wasn't going to be a problem. In fact it was the first time I had ever heard of an action battle system being used in an RPG (as my friends basically beat into my head that turn based was the only kind out there), and that alone made me want to play it more. Needless to say, I loved it and I couldn't wait for more. So I played more... The only way I could that is.

Although it wasn't actually Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy was the next best thing. Yes I had head of the series, but everything I knew about it turned me off. Playing KH got me interested in the characters though, so I gave it a chance. Despite getting tired of the turn based battles pretty fast, I actually did enjoy Final Fantasy 4 (and later on 6), but I had no desire to play anymore. Didn't care for turn based, and at that point I was already pushing myself to finish games like Pokemon Pearl. So I dropped the series, and never looked back (at least not for quite a few more years).

Jump ahead a few years later and now I'm a senior in high school. I bought a brand new Xbox 360 (it's now been 10 years since then...), and I was starting to get into new types of games. Before I was limited to mostly Nintendo stuff, but now I was finally able to see what else was out there. I guess this is what opened my eyes to trying new things and not being so "closed minded," but I still wasn't really feeling the whole RPG thing. Yes I went through KH1, CoM, 2, and FF4 and 6, but that didn't mean I was willing to play more games with magic in them. I made an exception for .hack, but that was a series set within an MMO world... It wasn't the same as other RPGs out there. In fact, I blew off a few friends at school who were trying to get me to play games like The Last Remanent, and didn't care about the upcoming new Final Fantasy XIII (funny that I'm saying that now). Instead I was more into Halo 3, Burnout Paradise, Lost Planet, and Skate. I didn't care about going back to RPGs unless they were Mario related, Pokemon, or a new Kingdom Hearts. But then it happened... One weekend everything changed.

Star Ocean was a SNES game released only in Japan, and suddenly I was hearing a lot of good things about it. The game had been fan translated, it was sci-fi based, and something about it just stood out to me. Not sure what that was really, but I figured I'd give it a chance. So, I got the game the only way I possibly could (as it was never sold in the US), and started playing it. Then stopped. While the game seemed interesting, it was actually a pain to play in it's fan translated state. Not everything was working as it should, and I didn't really care for it's battle system. While the story was holding my interest, it wasn't enough to keep me playing. Mainly because while I was playing I did a Google search and found that the game had been remade for PSP. So with a an official english (and much better) version released, I didn't see any point in continuing with the SNES fan translation.

Although I'm not exactly sure when it happened, a month or so later I finally decided to buy the game for myself. I went to Walmart one weekend, went right over to the gaming section, and bought one of the few copies of Star Ocean First Departure that they had. My next memories were of me starting it up on the car ride home, and then spending the rest of the night playing the thing. Around that time was also when my cousin started staying over at my house, and for whatever reason he began bringing his PSP with him as well. While I would sit there playing Star Ocean, he'd be on his own PSP playing Need for Speed. Although we were into different games, the two of us would sit there on the couch talking as we both worked our way through our game. This didn't last long however, as this was also around the same time a lot more free time opened up for the both of us.

During the last half of my senior year of school something unexpected happened. Our school was destroyed. Or rather, the grade-middle school building was. Due to this the younger students had to make use of our high school's limited space, and our days were cut in half. We had to be at school first thing in the morning (which was hard to do at first), but the trade off was that we got to leave at 11:30 AM. Yes, that's right. We met the minimum requirements by the state, and were then sent on our way before noon. We had the whole day ahead of us, and that's what I used to play Star Ocean!

It didn't take me long to go through the game because of that. In fact I'm pretty sure I finished it within a week or two. I was working at my family's bakery only when needed, so I didn't have to worry about going over there after school. Instead, what little I worked got me enough money to buy the games I wanted, and then I had the rest of my time to use on said games.So it didn't take me long to rush through the original game. Of course I didn't just stop there. Putting Pokemon and Kingdom Hearts aside, Star Ocean 1 was the first "standard" JRPG I got into, and I made sure to let the world know... By talking as many people into playing it as possible!

Although I only managed to convince GlacialLeaf and Cat (two writers here at NGR) to get the game, I think that was enough. The three of us talked about it quite a bit, and I continued to play it even after I finished it. Due to the game's multiple character system, there was plenty of reasons for me to return after I finished. Just because I had beaten it once it didn't mean I had seen everything, and I had to spend quite a bit more time going for the "best" ending possible. It was all time well spent though, and even after I finished I still wanted more. Thankfully SO2 was that more.

By this point Star Ocean had somewhat broken me of this whole thing of hating magic in games, but not fully. When reading the basic info about Star Ocean 2 I was sorta put off by this whole "sorcerer stone" thing. I figured there was something more to it than it just being some magic stone, but it still bugged me. Considering I loved the original game though, and how it handled magic, I put my feelings aside and got it anyway. Managed to track down a single copy at a GameStop quite a ways away from me, and once again I quickly got to work playing it.

With the school still being destroyed, and our half school days lasting for the rest of the year, I continued to put most of my free time into Star Ocean 2. Once again I blew through the game and got to the ending, but I messed up. Like Star Ocean 1 before it, the game featured multiple endings with multiple character paths, and I somehow skipped most of it. Ended up only getting a few of the characters, and skipped over some pretty interesting story arcs because of it. So, despite finishing the game, once again I had to start over from the beginning to do it the "right way."

Overall I ended up liking Star Ocean 2 much more than one, and I continued to play the game through most of the remaining school year. The characters became some of my all time favorites, and every time the credits rolled I found myself starting over from the beginning again. I must've beaten that game 3 plus times before I managed to find a copy of Star Ocean 3, and it was one I came back to even after I bought the others... Putting that aside though, I did continue on with the series.

When I felt I was finally finished with SO2 and ready to move on, I managed to find a copy of SO3 at a GameStop in a mall I'd always go to (which is one of the few malls still left in this area to this day). If I recall I got the game on a Sunday, so I had go to school the next day, and I didn't get home from that trip until later in the day. Sadly that meant I didn't have a whole lot of time to play it, but I was determined to get as far as possible before I had to go to sleep. So I sat down in front of the mini TV I had in the corner of my room for PS2 games, and started to play. Then my controller broke.

Yep, my original PS2 controller decided it wasn't going to work anymore, and do whatever the heck it wanted when it wanted. Analog sticks worked just fine, so I could walk around, but the face buttons and triggers would randomly go off, and not work when I actually wanted to use them. So off to Walmart I went, and I bought a brand new silver PS2 controller. (Looking back now, I'm lucky they still had one. Shortly after the PS3 fully took over, and I never saw a PS2 accessory there again.)

Despite loving the game in the end, Star Ocean 3 didn't actually hook me as much as the other two. Maybe I was getting burned out after jumping from game to game like that, or maybe it was how different it was. While it retained the whole action battle system that the first two had, it was slightly altered and a new weapon crafting system was integrated. Being new to JRPGs at the time, I didn't fully understand how things worked in SO3, and I actually struggled to get through it. There were bosses that stopped me in my tracks, and the whole MP death thing threw me off. Eventually I'd learn how to fuse stat upgrades into my weapons and become overpowered, but not before I decided to push the game to the side and get Star Ocean 4 instead.

I still remember the day I came home from our newly opened GameStop with a copy of SO4. The videos I had seen on YouTube made it look amazing, and I couldn't wait to try out the crazy rush attack system for myself. Seeing the main characters do flips and dodge behind enemies to dish out crazy strong combo attacks looked great, and the "realistic graphics" were pretty breath taking for their time. Seeing it compared to SO3 was a major jump in quality, and I was looking forward to seeing the origin story of Star Ocean. It was a game that took place before SO1, so I was already expecting a lot of great things from it. And then I realized the mistake I made.

Soooo, it turns out the Xbox 360 really wanted it's players to have an HD TV. Games that relied heavily on text also relied on it's higher resolution... Which my TV didn't have. I should've saw it coming when Project Gotham Racing was hard to read, but I never really thought about it when it came to RPGs. Again I wasn't interested in playing them on my 360, so why would I even consider it? Ended up struggling through the intro of the game, and had to put it aside for awhile. I eventually won another SD tv from my high school's post prom, but the game looked even worse on there. So before long I was forced to move my Xbox 360 into the living room, and was only able to play it for the few short hours between school getting out at 11:30, and my parents coming home at 3:00. So I went back to Star Ocean 3 quite a bit. (And good thing I did!)

While I was already half way or so into SO4, I did keep going back to 3 to finish it up. I managed to get to the major plot points I needed to see to understand some things in SO4, but once again I got stuck and spent more time on 4 instead. I actually had friends playing through SO4 around the same time as well (one being Vile who is also a writer here), so I spent quite a bit of time just talking about the game with them. SO4 basically became the game I spent all of my final days of high school playing, and one I would continue playing into the summer.

Despite having 3 and 4 to finish, I did go back to SO1 before finishing both. When we had our senior class trip that lasted for 2-3 days, I ended up bringing my PSP and my copy of Star Ocean 1 with me. Spent quite a bit of time playing it on the long bus ride, and I spent the nights in the hotel playing it as well. It was a game I still loved, and wanted to take with me as much as possible. I guess I could've taken 2 with me instead, but considering how many times I already beat it I settled on playing the original instead.

After I graduated from high school I did go on to buy an HD TV for my own room, but by then I was already at the end of SO4. Got to fight the final boss using that tv, but everything else I had already completed. Went back and finished SO3 soon after as well, but only after I finally understood the whole crafting system. Afterwards the game became a complete cake walk for me, and I finished it in no time. Sadly this was the end of Star Ocean, and I had nowhere else to turn... Or did I?

When I was in college it finally happened. Final Fantasy XIII was released, and despite how I felt about it before, I decided to give it a try. A few friends of mine were playing it, and it was the only thing out on the Xbox 360 that could even come close to filling the void Star Ocean left behind. Sure I saw some hate for the game here and there, but I figured it was worth a shot... And man, I wasn't disappointed. Sure, I may be one of the few people out there who can say this, but I actually loved FF13. I liked the characters, the story, and even the gameplay. As someone who didn't care for turn based games before, FF13 helped open my eyes to them, and eventually lead me to play the rest of the series as well. That's what lead me to where I am today. The JRPG genre has become one of my favorite, and I owe it all to Star Ocean.

Now last time this is where I ended it, but now things have changed. Star Ocean 5 was released, and we've even gotten HD remasters of SO3 and 4! Although I did enjoy SO5 for what it was, I don't really have too many memories to share about this one. I listened to it's theme song a lot while driving from work back home, but that's about it. Only one other friend of mine even bothered with the game (at this moment), so I was even limited on who I could discuss it with. Still I did enjoy my time with it, and would love to see 6 as soon as possible. As for the SO3 port, I really haven't had much time with it, but the SO4 port is another story. It's actually the game I started playing before my grandpa got sick... It's actually the main reason I haven't updated this blog in quite some time. I had to stop playing it soon after, as the next few months of my life were spent in the hospital with him instead. Something that still continues to happen off and on all these months later... But that's enough of that. Even with the few bad memories, the SO series will continue to be one of my favorites, and I can't wait to sink hundreds of hours into it's new mobile game. Thanks Tri Ace.