RPG Review #109: Star Ocean: Blue Sphere

NuMetalManiak
Normally I'd kill all of my time to finishing a game completely as much as possible, but I'll make some exceptions in the most dire of cases. The good ol' Star Ocean series seems to always have some issues depending on what game is played, plenty of glitches in the first game, the brokenness of the entire second game's crafting system. Now I head to Star Ocean: Blue Sphere, some would say it's a direct sequel to Second Story, and that's not entirely wrong. The fact that they managed to make a Star Ocean game for the Game Boy Color is one thing completely. It's another thing to translate the damn thing and it seems that the English translation is sadly unfinished.

Gameplay: Are you expecting the gameplay of the predecessors? Not quite. See, Blue Sphere is an action RPG with Zelda-like navigation, you move around in square grid areas and there's always stuff on the field. Enemies and items alike will be on the field, and using the A button is akin to punching/slashing/hitting objects and enemies, while the B button is for specific field actions that may depend on the character using them (using bombs which must be bought, viewing a dungeon map, jumping, dashing). There's apparently private actions in some places, but these don't seem to be documented.

The game's battle system is a bit more reminiscent of the Tales games rather than Star Ocean, obviously due to the limitations of the GBC. In a way, it's moreso of a fighting game, using the A button is how you hit enemies, but you also get combos if you successfully hit something and press A at the right time. B button is used for "killer moves" which should be familiar to those who played Second Story. As far as enemies, you fight one at a time, and each will often have distinct health bars which represent body parts, so getting rid of one part's health bar will make one particular attack unusuable I guess.

Instead of the regular old experience points, the characters share a pool of skill points which are given after battle, these of course will be used to increase skills such as herbology or good eye, stuff that Star Ocean veterans are familiar with, which will then unlock new skills as well as field actions and such. The fact that they managed a skill system for a GBC game is nice. What's also nice is that no longer will you be at the mercy of RNG when it comes to item creation (which they also brought over), instead you get unique minigames that help in crafting, compounding, enchanting, etc. I want to like this kind of stuff, the gameplay definitely is a highlight. Unfortunately, and I will mention it a lot, the unfinished translation makes it impossible to determine what is what when I play this. Grade: B+

Characters: The playable characters in this game are actually the same playable characters in Star Ocean: Second Story. Yep, all of them are playable in this game, and while you were likely to run into mutually exclusive scenarios, like choosing whether to recruit Bowman or Precis, that's not an issue here. Up to three characters can be in a party, you get a teleporter item that warps back to the home ship and can switch by talking to characters. Not much can be said for the characters overall that hasn't been said in my 98th review, so go back to that if you want to see some character bios. The one thing I'll say is that in this game, you don't start out with Claude, Rena, Opera, or Ernest, but they will join at some points in the game. The starting characters are Precis, Noel, Dias, Ashton, Bowman, Celine, Chisato, and Leon. All the characters still keep their overall classes in line so basically anyone who isn't Rena, Noel, Leon, or Celine can be great in the front row but those I mentioned are mages and are great in the back. Not much in the way of overall development, then again, how can I be certain who's developing? Grade: B

Plot: Oh man, if I had a good translation I would have a great idea of what's going on. So to start it off, Opera and Ernest have crash-landed on a planet which serves as the main setting, Edifice. They send a distress call to the other familiar characters (minus Claude and Rena) aboard Precis's ship, and those guys end up crash-landing too, perhaps due to a pull of an atmosphere or something. Since they're all stranded, they will of course explore and hopefully find their comrades. Gaining help from the locals in the area, the first character they find is Ernest, who finds his ship and the energy crystal used to power it. Later on they meet Opera, who's helping some girl out. The girl has a rather odd name, Rival. Accordingly Rival was saved by Opera with her gun, and the two have been working together to find some sort of artifact. The town of Knott, where they were located, then is under attack, with Rival being saved again. Rival while journeying with the group mentions about Edifice, as well as some "Akuma" which is some sort of manifestation that corrupts certain people.

And wouldn't you know it, with a name like Rival you bet she's actually the bad guy being possessed by this "Akuma". A place called "Grand Knott" shows up when she betrays the main characters. At the same time, Claude and Rena both crash-land on Edifice, and while they search, Claude apparently gets sick. The main group in the meantime visits the Aqua area, which of course is aquatic. When everyone regroups after curing Claude's sickness, they prepare to fight Rival aboard the Grand Knott, who actually was being controlled by some supercomputer known as Mother Edifice (this is starting to be very Phantasy Star-like, I see), and by destroying that supercomputer the game is pretty much over.

The only way I even got this plot was from a page that did the best it could at translating stuff, since the in-game translation is SO BAD. I feel like this could have been very interesting on the whole, but it just couldn't be. Grade: C-

Music: Gotta admit the GBC is quite loud for what sounds it can make. There's usually a distinct tune for the overworld and for dungeons, both are good, the battle theme will be heard quite often and it's okay. At least Star Ocean games music-wise are generally good. Grade: B-

Overall Grade: B-

I don't have a clue when the English patch will EVER get finished, and I need it to even play this game and understand everything that goes on. If only these dialogue boxes didn't show jumbled text, then I would understand things. The most I can say is that gameplay-wise, this is surprisingly competent, and giving us familiar characters is also good.

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