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A Look at Star Ocean: First Departure for the PSP

Star Ocean: First Departure

It’s hard these days to be a PlayStation Portable (PSP) owner. Even if the handheld is selling like hot cakes around the globe, it seems like no publisher or developer wants to commit to releasing titles for the unit. Thankfully, PSP enthusiasts have been receiving their fair share of gaming goodness from Japanese publisher/developer Square Enix. Their latest PSP exclusive is a remake of the popular Tri-Ace developed Super Famicom (the Japanese version of the SNES) role-playing game (RPG) “Star Ocean: Fantastic Space Odyssey“, which never made its way officially to North America (or Europe for that matter).

But is the newly dubbed “Star Ocean: First Departure” worth experiencing?

In Star Ocean: First Departure you play as Roddick Farrence, who, along with friends Millie Chliette and Dorne Murtough, are members of Kratus’ (a small town on the planet Roak) defense force. Our heroes end up in the town of Coule where they discover that its townsfolk are mysteriously turning into stone. As the intro story progresses, Farrence, Murtough and Chliette meet members of the Terran Alliance reconnaissance team who were dispatched to the planet to investigate its stone turning viral outbreak.

The game’s updated visuals are based on an isometrical graphics engine that uses 2D character sprites displayed on pre-rendered backdrops. The graphic engine is reminiscent of the one used in the 1999 PSone sequel “Star Ocean: The Second Story” (which will be released on the PSP in early 2009). What you get is a game with stellar visuals that still manages to convey a sense of old-school 16-bit gaming nostalgia. To add to its visual beauty, First Departure has also been juiced up with fully voiced animated anime styled cut-scenes designed by the world renowned animators at Production I.G.

The revamped Star Ocean also features an improved action-oriented real-time battle system. When a battle ensues, you get to freely control your characters’ actions (you can switch controlled characters by pressing the circle button), while your team mates automatically duke it out in accordance to your strategic commands. Your attacks are controlled using the PSP’s X button, while the special arts and spells can be attributed to the L or R shoulder buttons. A break in action is initiated with a quick tap of the triangle button which brings up the command circle. The command circle enables you to use items, cast spells, assign tactics or flee the oncoming melee. With all this said and done, the combat system is pretty simplistic and won’t take long to master.

Star Ocean: First Departure also boasts an item creation system as well as an extensive skill system that can be used to bolster your party’s attributes. For example, certain skill sets will enable you to customize or create new items based on materials you’ve amassed in your inventory. These items can then be distributed among party members.

Star Ocean: First Departure is perhaps one of the best old-school traditional sci-fi/fantasy RPGs to grace the PSP. Its $39.99USD suggested retail price is also a bargain for gamers (or parents) living on a tight budget. Overall this is an excellent retooling of the original Star Ocean that will keep RPG fans entertained until the series makes its current generation debut with next year’s Xbox 360 exclusive “Star Ocean: The Last Hope“.

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