Looking back at the SNES' domestic library, I find it a shame to think the first Star Ocean never saw a North American release. What could be argued to be the other game to innovate battle systems in RPGs (Tales of Phantasia being the first), Star Ocean was a game that I really think was ahead of its time. Never would anyone have seen a game like Star Ocean in the early years of JRPGs; and while the game's overall presentation was average at best, its combat system is what most people remember. With this new remake to grace a new age of gamers as well as fans from the past comes something more than just a remake.
The remake of this SNES classic, conveniently titled Star Ocean: The 1st Departure, not only takes the core concepts of the original but also brings about a new cosmetic make over with very good anime cutscenes and character portraits done by anime studio powerhouse Production I.G. and a battle system that was adopted and tweaked from Star Ocean: The Second Story. I was fortunate enough to spend an entire week with the game (hence the delay in this playtest of mine!) and did so to really get some time with the game. To my surprise, I liked it as much as the SNES version. Perhaps even more.
Star Ocean: The First Departure's battle system is derived from Star Ocean: The Second Story's battle system; so unlike the original Star Ocean where you had to select which enemy to attack and see Ratix go towards that enemy and attack, you now have full control of Ratix or any of the other party members you want to manually control. Battles also flow seamlessly and aren't as clunky as they were in Star Ocean: The Second Story, making intense fights and running aimlessly from one side of the field to the other easy and fun.
Also knew to The First Departure's battle system is something almost all Tales of games are known for; linking special attacks to combos to increase the amount of damage. This came as a surprise to me because I remember wondering exactly why this feature was missing from its former version, so now being able to actually play out combos in real time is a bit refreshing.
It's also very interesting to note just how seamless battles do play out. If you remember Star Ocean: The Second Story, you probably remember just how clunky and a bit laggy most battles played out along with some odd camera angles. In First Departure, though, these issues have been rectified and now provide the player with a much broader view of the battle field with your characters moving at a much faster pace than in The Second Story's engine. Combat still plays out the same, and you still equip ougis on your character of choice as you would in any other Star Ocean game. You can also give your characters commands to follow.
New engine, updated and remixed music, and newly done anime cutscenes and character portraits from Production I.G. aside, Star Ocean: The First Departure is pretty much a definitive remake of the classic game. Much like the remake of Final Fantasy IV, First Departure's main scenario remains the same while new side scenarios have been added along with the ability to recruit new party members you originally couldn't recruit and the inclusion of Star Ocean: Till The End of Time's Welch, the ever humorous girl who guided your way through inventing items. Anyone who's spent long amounts of time laboring over new inventions will tell you just how time consuming the whole invention process can be; and because some of the in-game equipment you can purchase may not seem as strong or durable, inventing new items often lead to the invention of newer and powerful equipment that can only be accessed through mixing items together.
Whether or not Square-Enix decides to bring over First Departure is beyond me, but considering one of their goals is to expand their market beyond Japanese shores, I wouldn't put it past me if First Departure did see a NA announcement. The game was developed by TOSE (put down your pitchforks); and for a TOSE remake of a tri-Ace game, First Departure actually holds up pretty well. Unlike Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth and Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, First Departure's load times are acceptable and isn't plagued by sound issues or any major form of lag. Star Ocean fans, this is a remake you don't want to miss.