Videogame Retro-Review: Star Ocean – PSP

Star Ocean – PSP

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Star Ocean originally released on the Super Famicom and was later updated and released on PSP.  The team that made Star Ocean is mostly made up of ex-Namco employees that had worked on Tales of Fantasia.  Star Ocean was the debut venture from Tri Ace.  For the record, I played through the PSP version.  Star Ocean’s schtick is a traditional JRPG with a player decided cast sprinkled with a little bit of time travel, fantasy, and sci fi.  Star Ocean does a lot of neat things despite it age but also subscibes to a lot of old tropes that are incredibly hard to put up with.

Star Ocean follows the tale of Roddick, who is from a race of humans with tails known as Roakians.  Basically his bud gets turned into stone and they have to go into the future for some Stone Cures–Oh wait my bad.  See you find the Stone Cure item about halfway through the game but you need a blood sample from a certain “demon” to make a cure.  Hi-jinks ensue.  The most refreshing part about Star Ocean’s story is how chipper everyone is.  Most of the party simply wants to join because they like Roddick, which is a refreshing pace from idealism, politics, and principles.

With that said the story is sparse but the characterization is rampant though the Personal Event (PE) system.  Unfortunately most of the characters lack quite a bit in the way of depth.  When entering any city the player has the option to press a button to send his party around town to do whatever it is they want to do.  Insights into characters can be gained along with fighting techniques.  The oddity about the PE system is the player typically can’t finish any story quests in the city when they are active, which is not something the game informs you.  With that said, many of them are delightful and worth participating in.

There are a dozen or more playable characters but the player can only recruit eight of them.  The game doesn’t inform you of this either until its too late.  Characters will judge and respond to Roddick’s decisions and actions, which there are not a ton of.  The game contains multiple endings all based on which characters were recruited and which ones you did good by.

JRPG’s catch a lot of flack on story and characters of, “oh that guy has spikey hair” and “oh that’s the sword guy”.  So let’s bust out a quote, ” I wasn’t the first writer to create a young magician with potential, nor was Rowling the first to send one to school. It’s not the ideas, it’s what you do with them that matters.”  That’s Neil Gaiman answering a journalist who is trying to get him to sue JK Rowling for similarities between Harry Potter and Gaiman’s Books of Magic.

Lets change it up shall we?  Star Ocean has a TON of problems.  Without even applying the psychology of modern design and crushing on it for lack of a check point system, the traversal system is simply atrocious.  Walking every where?  Screw that.  The player never gets a world traversal tool and is stuck walking from city to city, random encounters galore.  The lacking ability to complete quests and continue the story with Personal Events active in a town was already mentioned.

The dungeons are pretty bad as well.  Star Ocean comes from a time when traversing a screen from left to right resulted in a new screen where the player needed to traverse from right to left.  And yes, the controls changed to suit the new screen so except to see those screens a few time before you get out of them.  On top of this the art assets of several of the dungeons are simply the same screen rotated and copied.  Its incredibly easy to get lost or forgot which direction of the screen you entered on.  The last dungeon in the game took me approximately 10 hours because of this.

The leveling up system is pretty fascinating.  Each character has approximately 50 skills.  All of these skills provide different stat bonuses or functions.  Each skill can be leveled up to 10.  And each level the player earns a certain number of points to level these skills up.  Abilities skills provide range everywhere from painting to combat to item creation to training.  Characters can also develop inherit traits that give bonuses to skills by using the skills.  Characters can also develop Specialties by reaching certain levels in groups of 2-3 skills.  Super Specialties can be learned by the party by multiple characters possessing the same Specialty.  It should be noted the game only requires the player to participate in skill leveling by way of surviving combat.  To really experience the skill system players have to explore it for themselves.

The combat is action-y.  There are giant huge spells that kills all the baddies on screen and there’s also the button mashing sword attacks.  Combat wields the abilities to switch between characters are the players discretion, perform learned skills and spells, and use items!  I probably need to spell out my jokes more often.  The problem with combat is the player doesn’t actually need to do more than mash the attack button unless a character gets turned to stone or the opponent is the final boss of the game.  Magic characters share pretty much the exact same spells but luckily melee characters vary significantly in their abilities.  Well as long as the definition of “vary” can be applied in that melee characters hit dudes.

There’s so much good and bad in Star Ocean.  I look forward to seeing where the system goes in Star Ocean 2, particularly the skill system.  From what I hear the series takes a pretty bad plunge with Star Ocean The Last Hope but I will find out when I get there.  Its definitely not a title I’d recommend to today’s general gaming populace with their health regeneration, hand holding tutorials, and checkpoints.  But if as a gamer you like old games and wouldn’t mind experiencing a nice piece of RPG history that isn’t very challenging but holds a lot of interesting ideas, then its a very enjoyable ride.


About MusiM
Musician, writer, Gundam model hobbyist, video game lover, host of The Carousel Podcast, and all with a day job.

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