In July of 1996, Enix published a JRPG on the Super Famicom called Star Ocean. Star Ocean was pretty revolutionary, as it used the Super Famicom sound chip to give voices to some of the characters. This hadn’t been done before on home consoles, and certainly not in a JRPG. Fast forward to 2007, and Star Ocean: First Departure launches on the Playstation Portable, developed by TOSE and published by Square Enix. The game’s producer, Yoshinori Yamagishi, wanted the remake to feel like a whole new game. It pretty much was, as it was the first time the original Star Ocean game was available outside Japan. Now, as 2019 draws to a close, Star Ocean First Departure R is being released on the Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch. On December 5th, we will get to experience the game that launched a franchise. It is a remake of the remake, boasting full HD graphics, upscaled resolutions, fully voiced dialogue, new illustrations and a complete overhaul on the balance of the game. Let’s get down to it, and see whether this is worth your hard-earned £16.99/CAD$24.99.
The Space Date is 346, Star Ocean First Departure R begins on a primitive planet called Roak. The main character Roddick and his friends live a fairly uneventful life as part of a small town’s defence force. As a member of the Defence Force, Roddick learns about a mysterious sickness that turns those afflicted to stone. They head to a nearby town and learn of a potential cure. However, once they go searching for the cure everything changes. The group encounters mysterious strangers who appear in a flash of light. Once they learn the truth behind the infection, they have to leave their sleepy lives behind and set out on a grand adventure for the cure on the Star Ocean, to save their friends and families.
The Star Ocean series is known for blending fantasy and Sci-Fi elements together to create something pretty fantastic if you ask me. The gameplay in Star Ocean First Departure R is pretty classic JRPG gameplay. It features random encounter battles while you’re exploring the overworlds on various planets and towns where you’re safe from monsters and bandits. As you progress through the story and fight battles, your characters will level up and learn new skills. You can visit weapon shops to increase the stats of your party with new weapons and armour.
There are various actions you can do while exploring. Occasionally you’ll encounter Private Actions, which when activated upon entering a town can allow the different characters in your party to go do whatever they feel like. While you’re in a town on a private action, you can talk to your party members and have special events that happen, causing your characters to grow closer. You can also create new items using materials you can find throughout the game. One nice little quality-of-life feature they’ve added is the speed mode, which when you hold down R2 allows your characters to move at double speed in the world, so you can traverse the world a bit faster. The menus in-game are very nicely laid out, and easy to find your way through.
I’ve been playing on the Playstation 4, with the key provided by Square Enix however I plan on buying a copy of it on the Nintendo Switch anyway, to see if it plays any different.
The visual style of Star Ocean First Departure R is pretty spectacular. Lovely pixelated sprites, combined with fine illustrated character portraits and 3D environments, takes me back to a time when JRPGs were my most sought after games. Visually it looks like an up-rezzed PlayStation 1 game, which is just fantastic. The sprites are lovingly crafted, and the areas you get to explore give it a nostalgic feel. It also features the anime cutscenes that were included in the PSP Remake. However, they look a lot cleaner and have been upscaled to an HD resolution. At the beginning of the game, it asks you to choose between the original Star Ocean First Departure character portraits or the new ones, which were drawn by Katsumi Enami. I’ve gotta say the new ones are really nice and detailed.
The music in Star Ocean First Departure R is incredible. It’s got a superb battle theme and features some expertly composed and arranged music by Motoi Sakuraba. The sound effects remind me of old-school JRPGs, and I like it. I wasn’t expecting the English voice-over to be as good as it was. I’ve seen a lot of Japanese games that when translated and voiced, the voices seem a bit off, sometimes even robotic. Star Ocean First Departure R isn’t one of those games. The voice acting is very well done. When you start the game, you can choose between English, The PSP Remake Voiceover, or the new Japanese voice over. They’re all excellent, so it’s entirely up to player preference.
The amount of game time you’ll get out of a JRPG can vastly differ, depending on how much grinding you do to overpower your characters. On average it should take about 20 hours to get through the story in Star Ocean First Departure R. If you’re a completionist you might get up to approximately 40 hours of gameplay, making for quite a lovely cost to playtime ratio.
Star Ocean First Departure R is an absolutely fantastic JRPG and should be included in any fans collection. For the price tag, it’s tough to argue with buying it. Even though I received a code by Square Enix to review this game, I plan to get it on the Nintendo Switch. This is only because I prefer to have my JRPGs mobile these days. I’m giving Star Ocean First Departure R the Thumb Culture Gold Award! It’s a very excellent game, but if you’re not into JRPGs it’s probably not going to be a good game for you.