Star Ocean 1 is an old 16-bit classic that only arrived as a remake in the United States. I really wish I could play the original version, but the PSP version is still remarkable.
For an old game, Star Ocean: First Departure is still an unusual Japanese RPG story because of its uncanny homage to Star Trek.
In fact, Star Ocean is more closely related to Star Trek than the recent Mass Effect games. This complex space opera almost follows every single plot twist in an episode of Star Trek. Although Star Ocean 1 isn't especially original in all its concepts, I'm still amazed at the high quality of the dialogue. Ronyx's voice actor especially enunciates every line in a remarkable performance that would make William Shatner proud.
The main characters in Star Ocean, Roddick and Millie, live a peaceful life on their home planet of Roak. When a plague begins to turn the people into stone, they desperately climb to the top of Mount Metorx to find a medicinal flower to cure them.
Roddick and Millie then run into two spaceship commanders who have just teleported onto the planet. The two space explorers, Ronyx J. Kenny and Ilia Silvestri, inform Roddick and Millie that the flowers on Mount Metorx will not heal the townspeople. The plague is nearly uncurable and will eventually turn everyone on the world to stone. Thankfully, Ronyx and Ilia are willing to help them in any way possible. Thus begins an epic quest to discover the source of the disease on the planet.
At first, I really had no desire to play this game, first released in the 1990s. The original game's graphics were very ancient. When it first came out, Star Ocean 1 tried hard to add in voice acting and an action-based battle system. Unfortunately, the system uses an unimpressive 2D battleground that looks as boring as a rugby match. Only gamers who are fascinated in the old days might think about importing the original game.
The remake, Star Ocean: First Departure, is in a completely different ballpark, though. The new version implements all the high-class backgrounds that distinguished JRPGs such as Final Fantasy 7. It adds in Japanese anime cutscenes. The biggest improvement is the new 3D battle system, adapted from Star Ocean 2. This addition alone makes each fight much more exciting and intense than its 16-bit iteration.
Don't get me wrong–Star Ocean 1 still plays like an old 16-bit game. The 3D textures look a bit stale. The music sounds more like it was designed for a MIDI synthesizer. The plot follows every Japanese RPG cliche near the very end.
I really enjoyed the adventure, though. The story preaches about unusual scientific concepts that people wouldn't normally expect in a video game. In the ending cutscene, Ronyx and Millie express insightful viewpoints about how technology can hurt the environment and how it can bring people together. The themes may seem far-fetched for a game, but the Star Ocean series always tells the truth in such a beautiful way.
Unlike many Japanese RPGs, the Star Ocean games fall within the same timeline. Star Ocean 2 builds upon the themes of the first game. In my next article, I'll elaborate on how this sequel quickly became one of my favorite role-playing adventures of all time.
How has Star Ocean improved or worsened over the course of the series? What other Japanese RPGs deserve a re-release for the PSP or the PSVita? Write about it in the comments below.