Star Ocean might have failed to find some success this generation after the most recent entry, Star Ocean 5, was critically panned. While any further sequels are not announced for the series, this hasn’t stopped Square Enix from bringing back some of the classic games to the modern platforms. Star Ocean 3 and 4 are playable on the PS4 and Star Ocean 1 has also been brought back to the current generation with a port that adds some minor new additions but retains most of the original release.
Star Ocean First Departure R is a port of Star Ocean First Departure from PlayStation Portable that was first localized and released in 2008. It has been more than 10 years since a port was released for this classic game that originally launched for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1996. First Departure improved some aspects of the original game including adding voice acting and enhancing the visuals. They have been retouched again with a jump to HD with the newly released Star Ocean: First Departure R.
The big changes in Star Ocean First Departure R that have been advertised so far don’t appear much on paper. The visual quality has been revamped from the SD resolution of the PlayStation Portable to full HD for PS4 and Nintendo Switch. Additionally, new illustrations are now featured for character portraits during conversations that are based on the original game’s release on Super Nintendo Entertainment System. These are drawn by Katsumi Enami, who has worked on Star Ocean 4.
Star Ocean First Departure R now provides an option to pick between the PlayStation Portable character portraits and illustrations or the newly designed ones. It also offers dual audio with an English voice or the PlayStation Portable audio. One new choice here is additional voiced dialogue that has been recorded again by the original voice actors of the Japanese release of Star Ocean on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. All in all, this tries to keep the experience authentic while providing minor tweaks.
Star Ocean series always had a memorable combat system that allowed the player some control during battles while making it look more like an action game. The game plays out like a traditional old-school JRPG with its 16-bit sprites that have been cleaned up and scale nicely to the HD resolution of Switch or PS4. Combat is mostly full of random encounters but instead of getting turn-based combat, you can move the character around in a semi-3D battlefield and have the ability to control any party member or decide how their AI will handle every battle.
Star Ocean First Departure R has implemented some quality-of-life changes including adjusting the game balance and difficulty, which feels easier now. Traversing around the world map is also more accessible now with a lack of any load time and the ability to increase the travel speed with a button press. This helps in exploring the various locations and avoiding random combat encounters. Since you tend to travel a lot and do random battles until you can unlock fast travel, it makes this experience feel a little effortless.
The story starts on an Earth-like planet where you control Roddick who is a traditional blue-haired protagonist. This planet is underdeveloped and doesn’t rely on science and technology. It feels like a classic world where old techniques and practices are still being used to solve everyday dilemmas. The problem starts one day when a virus outbreak starts to turn everyone into stone. Roddick’s friends also become a victim of this outbreak and as they look for a solution, they stumble into inhabitants of a distant planet who offer them a solution. As you progress further in the story, there are additional twists that shed light on the origin of this disease but overall it is a pretty standard JRPG plot.
Star Ocean First Departure R has multiple recruitable characters including optional ones that can only be recruit under special circumstances. You can either get them during a specific time or you have to go through the story again, which is not that long and can take roughly 20 hours. Since the main party is limited to just four members, you will have to carefully plan and pick characters that can be taken into battle. These characters can learn their special skills after gaining experience points that can be mapped to the two shoulder buttons. Skills are useful depending on the enemy as some work better on a group while others are ideal for inflicting damage.
The main drawback of Star Ocean is that it lacks presentation for its story. There are some animated cutscenes but the pacing of the story makes it feel repetitive. Motivation is lost due to the lack of character development as more emphasis is placed on fighting random battles and grinding for experience points and skills. The game is not necessarily that hard but there can be occasional difficulty spikes that can force you to look into leveling up your party members.
Overall, this is a solid JRPG and a good port that doesn’t offer much incentive for those who want to buy it again on a modern platform. That said, if you are in the market for an old-school JRPG or just want to experience it again, there is no harm in giving Star Ocean First Departure R a chance. It also runs great on the Nintendo Switch and fits in well with the screen size when you play it in the portable mode.
Star Ocean: First Departure R Review (Switch)
Game Reviewed on: Switch
Game description: The commemorative first title in the STAR OCEAN series comes to PlayStation®4 and Nintendo Switch™ in HD graphics with new additional features.
Final Score - 7.5/10
Star Ocean: First Departure R attempts to stick closer to its origins and doesn't deviate much from it. The new additions are slim but it is still one of the better Star Ocean games.