RPG fans have been very fortunate when it comes to the Nintendo Switch as of late, with plenty of releases making their way to the platform to help it stand out as one of the best for those who love the genre. Some of those releases have been old classics getting a new lick of paint, with Star Ocean: First Departure R, the PSP remake of the original Star Ocean game, the latest to hit the platform with the remastered treatment.
Star Ocean: First Departure R takes place in what seems like your typical fantasy world, with heroes Roddick, Millie and Dorne living a somewhat ordinary life and armed with the likes of swords to help fight off the bandits that cause havoc in their home. When a disease hits a neighbouring town that causes its inhabitants to turn to stone and Dorne is affected with it though, things take a dire turn. The only way to stop the disease is by gathering a special herb from atop of a mountain, but when they reach it and encounter travellers from space that say they can help cure the disease properly, they go on an even grander adventure with higher stakes than they could’ve imagined.
I love the way that Star Ocean: First Departure R blends together sci-fi with fantasy and it really helps establish a unique vibe to the whole game. Of course, it does feature a lot of the typical hallmarks and tropes that you’d expect from an RPG too, but it never stops feeling unique thanks to its clever concoction of styles. The story remains engrossing throughout too, even if it can have a few missteps along the way with how quickly some events transpire.
The gameplay basics of Star Ocean: First Departure R will feel familiar to anyone who has played an RPG before: you’ll head on a grand adventure across a large world, all whilst visiting an assortment of unique locales along the way and vanquishing the enemies in your path. It’s more action-orientated thanks to its combat system, but it still manages to feel like a traditional RPG thanks to the way that the narrative is presented and that you level up your characters.
One interesting aspect of Star Ocean: First Departure R comes with its character recruitment system. There are four characters in your party that are compulsory, but you’ll also recruit an additional four that are based upon some of the actions you take in-game. Having different characters in your party can see events play out in a variety of ways, whilst the fact that you can have unique ‘Private Actions’ with these characters to help forge personal relationships can also change the story up – it can even change the ending of the game a bit, so the personnel in your team and the way that you interact with them is important to the narrative.
It encourages playing through the game multiple times if you want to see everything that Star Ocean: First Departure R’s narrative has to offer. In fairness, it’s not too long of an RPG at around twenty-hours so it’s certainly viable, whilst the fact that the adventure offered in the game is a lot of fun helps too.
The combat in Star Ocean: First Departure is action-focused, with the player taking control of one of their party members and hitting out attacks and skills with a bit of button-mashing. You’ve got free rein to run around the battlefield and target enemies, whilst the AI controls your allies so you’re not alone either – you can even assign strategies to them so they attack or perform actions that suit you too, so there’s a decent amount of flexibility to the system. Basically, if you’ve played any previous Star Ocean release of a Tales Of game, you’ll know what to expect.
It’s quite simple to get to grips with early on and your first few hours with the game can probably be spent just mashing out simple attack combos and healing when low on health to succeed. However, as you progress through the game there’s a bigger need for strategy and proper skill utilisation, with some foes having different strengths and weaknesses that you’ll never to exploit in order to persevere. It ensures that battles never grow boring, regardless of the simple mechanics involved in combat, whilst some of the boss encounters you’ll face can make for some thoroughly entertaining showdowns.
As you win battles in the game, you’ll earn the experience points needed to level up. In Star Ocean: First Departure R, this is broken down into skill points which can be used to improve individual stats as well as specific abilities for each character. There’s a decent amount of depth offered in the system and there are multiple tiers of abilities too, so there’s a lot of flexibility to shape each character’s skillset how you see fit.
Whilst Star Ocean: First Departure R’s levelling system is one of its finer points, it is something that’ll take a bit of tinkering with to really get used to. There’s a lot of flexibility on offer with the skills that you can upgrade and some are better suited to certain characters in your party, but this is never really detailed in-game. The same goes for a lot of the gameplay mechanics really – you will figure them out the more you play, but a few tutorials to explain them better wouldn’t have gone amiss early on.
Star Ocean: First Departure R makes for an enjoyable RPG experience, but it is a little lacking on side-content. Typically, RPGs come with an abundance of side quests to complete, characters to interact with, or dungeons to venture across, but it’s all a bit limited here – I felt like I was simply following the main story path through with not much else to bother with along the way. Those who like a challenge will appreciate the optional (and pretty tough) dungeons that are available at the end of the game, but those who hoped for a bit more to go along with the main adventure will be a little underwhelmed.
Star Ocean: First Departure was a remake of the SNES game when it first launched on the PSP, so it already had improvements in place over its older counterpart. With this remastered release the game looks sharper than it ever did before in all facets of its design, whilst the frame rate remains smooth and consistent throughout too. It was already an attractive game anyway, especially with the way that the sprites are used on the pre-rendered backgrounds, but everything feels smoother this time around and the animations of characters are a lot more fluid.
My only beef with the presentation came with the new character illustrations, which are more detailed and attractive than the previous options but don’t fully match up with the character sprites. It’s a small complaint really and one that I can’t moan about too much given that you can swap them around for the older versions, but it was a shame that they couldn’t be a bit more accurate.
With it’s neat story, fun combat, and slick visuals, Star Ocean: First Departure R offers another enjoyable adventure for Switch owning RPG lovers to embark on. The only things holding it back is a lack of side content and clarity as far as some of the game’s mechanics are concerned, but they’re small issues in what is otherwise a worthwhile escapade for fans of the genre.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4