Ben’s Gaming Memories - Star Ocean First Departure

Star Ocean. It’s a series that has gained quite a following over the years, but it’s also one that has been under the radar for quite some time. Many people were unfortunately introduced to the series due to SO5 coming out on the PS4, but others were lucky enough to jump in during the earlier entries. Now, I know I’ve brought this up in past on the blog, but with the upcoming release of Star Ocean 6 — I figured now would be a perfect time to jump back into the series, and to reflect on exactly what it means to me. Instead of grouping everything into one post (as I have in the past) however; this time I only want to focus on my entry point in the series, and why I continue to love it still to this day. I know I’m just repeating myself, but Star Ocean really is a series that deserves more time in the spotlight, and it’s a shame that it ended up in its current state. Of course, there’s a reason for this, but that’s a story for another time. For now, these are my memories of my time with Star Ocean: First Departure!

Looking back, my history with Star Ocean and how I was lead to it is actually pretty strange. As I've mentioned many, MANY, times in the past -- this blog is sorta a spin off from my past online projects. One of the largest communities and websites I created (with the help of my friends of course) was Megaman Cyber Net. It was a fan site dedicated to Megaman Battle Network, and was mainly an RPG forum. Although at the time we had around a few thousand members in the community, there were a handful that stood out and were eventually even promoted to administrators and moderators to help run the community. One of these administrators was a user by the name of Fayt (if you're reading this -- hi Fayt!)

I didn't know it at the time, but Fayt's name came from Star Ocean 3, and he even used a picture of Fayt as his avatar. Now I know he mentioned which game it was from multiple times, but stupid me kept getting it confused for Phantasy Star Online for some reason. I guess I just never expected to do much with the series, and always assumed it was something I would never play or care about. To me, Fayt was the name of an online friend of mine, and that's as far as it went. Except, my next "fan" project unexpectedly lead me towards Star Ocean as well.

Again, it's not something I really talk about on this blog, but I used to be into fan game creation as well. Some of the readers of this blog are actually a part of my largest (and technically still on going) project, but it really is mostly just running for those who grew up playing it. (2006-2022 is a long time.) Anyway... resources from this project included sprite sheets from the Japanese exclusive SNES game Star Ocean, and I actually had no idea at the time! I was given the sheets to work with, and I didn't realize what they were. They were great for getting something started, but ultimately all of them were removed/replaced from the project in favor of the standard RPG Maker tilesheets. But even so, it wasn't until I actually looked into Star Ocean that I realized what they were.

So, how did I actually get into Star Ocean? Well... Out of boredom honestly.

I still remember that day. It's been roughly 13-14 years now, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting at my computer desk looking up possible games I could play, when I came across a list of games that was never released in the US. Star Ocean was one of the games that not only was never released outside of Japan officially, but had actually received an English fan translation. Me being me, and wanting to check out something "not many people had gotten to play before," I decided to give it a shot. 

Well, the game hooked me -- I can say that much. I was impressed by the story, graphics, and sound clips (for it's age), but because I was so interested in it I started looking more into the series as a whole. This is when I realized my mistake, and found out that the game had actually JUST released in English on the PSP not too long ago. Once I found this out I stopped playing the game and -- actually just stopped playing the game.

Back then I didn't have a lot of spare cash to throw around, so $30 was HUGE to me. I still wasn't fully sold on actually playing through the series (despite my initial impressions), but it was something I was keeping in the back of my mind. Looking back now, I honestly don't remember how long I waited, but I don't think it was as long as it seemed. Star Ocean First Departure (the remake of SO1) was released in October of 2008, and by March of 2009 I had the game in hand. I ran out to Walmart, walked right up to the PSP section, and walked away with my brand new RPG. The first "standard" JRPG I had ever bought. (Up until then I had really only played Pokemon, and had just recently started up .hack.)

I was excited, to say the least. I actually started the game up in the car, and played it on the car ride home (I wasn't driving obviously). It was pretty crazy to see how the game was remade from the ground up, yet still recognizable for those who played the original. The battle system had been changed to an action based one, which actually carried over from Star Ocean 2, a world map had been added for outside town areas, and towns/dungeons had been replaced with prerendered backgrounds. Overall it made the game look a lot nicer (especially on the smaller PSP screen), with crisp 2D sprites and detailed backgrounds. The addition of full voice acting was also great, and I loved seeing the anime opening every time I started up the game. I knew from the get go I was in for a grand adventure -- I just didn't know what was going to happen next for me in real life.

Near the end of March, a major event occurred and my local grade school was completely destroyed! Yep, no more school. Since the grade school was located in my town, and associated with my high school, school was canceled for a few weeks following. This meant that I had nothing to do except play Star Ocean! On one hand, it was a tragedy, but considering no one got hurt... It really didn't have much of an impact on me. For me it was more of a "yay! I get out of school!" kinda thing -- but for the community it was millions of dollars down the drain. (The school was new...) But anyway, because I had so much free time, Star Ocean really did become my life. I spent the next weeks playing only Star Ocean, and convincing friends of mine to give it a chance as well. This lead to a lot of discussions, especially due to the nature of the game -- something that helps Star Ocean continue to stand out today.

While most JRPGs have you play from start to finish on a set path, SO takes a different approach and actually asks you to make decisions yourself. Now, I know what you're thinking: "don't most games let you do that?" And I would say you're right, but this is actually a different case. The choices in SO not only impact what characters will join you in your party, but it'll also effect the direction the story will take as it leads up to it's conclusion. In SO you can't actually recruit every character into your party, and often recruiting specific ones will change the recruitment conditions for others -- or even possibly lock them out from you ever meeting them completely. It's a game that asks you the question of "do you really want to help this person or bring them along?" and it actually wants you to consider it before you just dive in. Sometimes saying no might be the better option for you. Of course there's no way you'd know this on your first playthrough, but follow up playthroughs will allow you to make better decisions. Even this is only a small part of the game however; and only one of the many reasons I found myself being completely invested into it.

Being a portable game, SO simply became the perfect game for me -- or rather, a dream game of sorts? I started taking it with me wherever I went. I found myself playing it every time I had some down time. And of course it was a must have when going on any type of car trip. Heck, I even brought it with me to my senior class trip out of state! There's a school video of each group's hotel room, and I'm the one sitting there on the bed playing Star Ocean. I can't stress anymore just how much I actually liked this game. With the game's unique "Private Action" events between characters, it gave me reasons to replay it over and over again with different party members (which in return unlocked different Private Action events and conversations between them), and the massive skill and ability system kept me coming back for more just to customize my characters. Sadly the game does have a point of no return (which caused me to miss out on quite a bit the first time through), but that only further pushed me to start new playthroughs. Ultimately, not only did Star Ocean First Departure become one of my favorite JRPGs of all time -- it also became one of my favorite games. Back then I didn't have a lot of RPGs to compare it to, but even after all these years my feelings on the game haven't really changed.

With the release of the new PlayStation Plus service, I have once again returned to SO First Departure "R." This version released a few years ago on PS4, but with Cloud Streaming technology now built into Plus Premium, it means I can now access the game from any PC. Including at work! Spending my breaks at work playing SO has not only proved to myself how much I still love this game, but it's also bringing back all the nostalgia of playing it for the first time. The enhanced artwork makes the game still look as crisp as it did back on the PSP all those years ago, and the updated controls for a PS4 controller is a VERY nice touch. Despite putting hundreds of hours into the game in the past, it almost feels as if I'm playing it once again for the first time, and that's something I honestly didn't expect. Back when I first played it I was a high school student with only a handful of games to play, so it was easy for Star Ocean to become my number one game. Now days I'm a 31 year old, who has hundreds of games in his backlog, and not anywhere near enough time to play through them all. The fact that such an old game is continuing to pull me away from everything else, is pretty amazing to me. So again, it just proves to me how much I really do love this one. (And the series as a whole.)

Unfortunately, Star Ocean has a bit of a bad rep now days, but I'm still hopeful that this can change. Star Ocean 1 is still a solid game, and easily accessible now days -- so I strongly recommend everyone who's a fan of classic JRPGs to check it out. Sadly 2's PS4 port hasn't left Japan, but Star Ocean 3 and 4 can be played on modern consoles! Of course 3 is the first one to really cause a stir within the fan base due to it's change in battle systems (and it's story), but there are those who also consider it to be one of the PS2's greatest RPGs as well. So even then, it's still worth giving a chance if you're even just a little bit interested in it. (Not to mention the game is packed FULL of content, with multiple difficulty modes, battle trophies to collect, and a crap load of end game content after the main story is over.) SO4, again, has caused splits in it's fan base and is generally considered both an upgrade and downgrade to SO3 in different areas, but I honestly loved this one as well. It's not perfect, and has some annoyances to overcome, but it was still an epic adventure that was especially great for someone like me who loved SO1 so much. SO5 however; this is where the series has fully gained it's bad rep. I know at the start of this post I said I'd save the story for another day (a SO5 memory post perhaps?), but the basics come down to it being developed within a year reusing as many old assets as possible. The game released with only a handful of areas to explore, and the main character was a carbon copy of Fayt from Star Ocean 3. Not that I'm complaining, but many others weren't happy about this... But whatever, Fayt's playstyle was great. Still, this was the "final nail in the coffin" for most fans, and the hope of getting a Star Ocean 6 died with it. It didn't help that the really fun 3D mobile game also got shut down so early... Still salty about that one.

Anyway, despite the recent track record, Star Ocean 6 is now on it's way, and it's finally a chance for the series to redeem itself. Prereleased information has shown that it will be more similar to Star Ocean 1 and 2 (which is a good thing), but at this time it's still too early to tell. Even so, I'm excited for it, and can't wait to continue on with the series!

I don't know if this article will help convince anyone to give the games a shot, but I still wanted to share my experience with you all. But hopefully you too will set out into the great Star Ocean for your next adventure!

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post