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PSP Fanboy hands-on: Star Ocean: First Departure

Having played all the Star Ocean titles officially available in North America, I was more than eager to try out Square-Enix's remake of the game that started it all. As most Star Ocean fans know, the original title was released on the Super Famicom in 1996 but never saw the light of day in the US, so this PSP-exclusive remake is the first time many of us will be playing the game. Read on to find out my thoughts after spending a couple of hours with the game.

Star Ocean: First Departure
begins with an anime sequence and a catchy J-pop song that really grows on you, especially after listening to it every time you turn the game on. The animated cutscenes by Production I.G really are quite beautiful and inject a shot of vigor into the narrative as you progress further into the game. You begin the game by taking control of three friends from a small town; Roddick, Dorne and Millie attempt to find a cure to a strange plague which infects a nearby town that is slowly turning all of its residents into stone. The trio climbs a dangerous mountain in hopes of retrieving a cure in the form of an herb, but Dorne has already been infected by the time they reach the summit. Out of nowhere, two representatives from a space federation appear before their eyes to offer them the chance of a cure, but they have to board a spaceship and never return to their home planet ever again. Roddick and his friends barely hesitate before they agree, hence beginning the game's awkward transition from fantasy to sci-fi.

Unfortunately, the story of the game is its weakest link, though you have to put into consideration it is twelve years old. Star Ocean is full of RPG clichés and one-dimensional characters -- you know, the hot-headed tough guy, the responsible hero, the cute-but-annoying female sidekick, to name a few. The battle system, on the other hand, is my favorite aspect of SO: First Departure. Unlike other turn-based RPGs, the game's battles play like a hack-and-slash title. Enemies still appear in random encounters, but the fights take place in a field where you directly control one of your characters who is free to walk around and attack, cast magic or use special skills in real-time. You can switch between different members of your party during the battle while the CPU guides the actions of the other members. Other aspects of the game I enjoyed were "private actions" which are optional sequences that reveal additional background information on the story and skill points you can earn which allow you to customize your character with skill sets such as stronger attacks or the ability to cook food that can restore your hit points.

Ultimately, fans of the franchise will enjoy Star Ocean's debut on the PSP. Other RPG fans seeking a game with a more lively battle system and more customizable options than other titles of the genre should also check this out. Look for the game when it is released in the US on October 21st.

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