For years I've heard great things about Enix's Star Ocean series. While I've always loved the traditional Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games, I'm always hearing from the small cult of Star Ocean fanatics that tell me that I'm missing out. They may be right, but based on my experience with this updated PSP remake I'm still trying to find what it is that makes everybody so excited. Sure the game has its moments and the combat is intriguing to say the least, however this first installment gets bogged down by too much backtracking and a slow and tedious story that doesn't go anywhere until the end.
For what it's worth, this is the first time the original Star Ocean has been released in North America. Originally released on the Super Famicom, this 1996 role-playing game came out just a little too late to be translated for American audiences. Now known as Star Ocean: First Departure, this PSP remake features updated graphics, a slightly tweaked combat system and some breath taking cinemas. The introduction feels like it's right out of an old Star Trek episode, which gave me great hope for this 12 year old adventure game.
The story revolves around Roddick, a simple country guard who is in search for a cure for what is making the people of his world sick. Unfortunately he can't quite get to that vaccine and feels like an absolute failure. But wait, two Earthlings show up and tell him that the only way to save his world is to travel into the past and find the vaccine
there. Sure the plot seemed kind of campy, but I was on board with the idea of time traveling and saving the world. We saw how well that worked out for Chrono Trigger, so it stands to reason that Star Ocean would be just as awesome, right?
Oh how wrong I was. Instead of having a heartfelt story of regret, loss and revenge, we get a bland story where all you're doing is going from one town to the next in hopes of doing the right thing. For the most part you're stuck just wandering around a bunch of boring islands looking for something to do, but there really isn't much for you to do. At the end of the day you're going to spend hours trudging through one of the least compelling role-playing stories I have ever seen, only to get wrapped up in a rather interesting final act. The problem is, getting to that final act is a real pain, the kind of pain most adventurers are going to give up on long before they get there.
One of the biggest problems with Star Ocean is the fact that there's never anything interesting to do. Even when you know exactly what it is you're supposed to do, doing it isn't as much fun as it sounds. There aren't many side quests, so all that is left for you is the main (boring) quest and just running around killing bad guys. Even the various locations you travel to aren't much fun; they are basically wide open worlds where nothing much happens. This isn't like one of those Final Fantasy worlds where everything feels like it's there for a reason, instead Star Ocean's world seems thrown together at random. The developers (Tri-Ace) knows they need to have a certain amount of open area and a few towns scattered about, but outside of that there isn't much else to see.
Another problem is that half the time you don't really know what you're supposed to do. Even when I was reading every conversation and paying close attention to the story, I still found myself lost not knowing where to go next. Sometimes it's as simple as talking to a guy next to a boat, but often times you'll have to find just the right person in just the right town. This little problem only gets bigger when you find yourself backtracking to the towns you started in. There was one moment in the game where I found myself back on the original island I started on completely confused as to what I was supposed to do. Lo and behold, what I needed to do was travel to a completely different island, talk to a shop owner and then travel all the way back to that first island and talk to somebody else. That was my mission. Even though I was paying close attention, I don't remember anybody saying anything about that shop owner, and the fact that I'm having to go back and forth is obnoxiously annoying.
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