RPG Review #67: Star Ocean

NuMetalManiak Finally I got done with this. This one took awhile and is a series that I've been meaning to do for a while. This was tri-Ace's first game, published by Enix for the Super Famicom, and never actually got a release elsewhere until a PSP release came by in 2008 or so. Apparently many of the developers involved with this game had actually left Wolf Team, which were responsible for creating Tales of Phantasia. This is certainly one of the more interesting RPGs for the SNES, and if you look at the art style, a lot of it really does resemble Tales of Phantasia.

Gameplay: Although rough around almost every edge, Star Ocean provides a lot in terms of gameplay. While standard role-playing elements apply, there is a lot of differences. Let's start with this battle system. It plays out in real-time, much like Tales games, but is one in which you select a character to do an action against an enemy in real time. Other characters in the party are controlled via artificial intelligence, although they can be controlled separately with the B key. There are special techniques, and magic as well, both of which use MP for stronger abilities. It's also possible to move on the battlefield with the Y key. Battles in this game happen through random encounters, and are incredibly quick-paced. Sometimes I just mash the A key to attack everything I can but it certainly can be hard for many battles. It helps to level up a lot in this one. One thing I hate about this system, aside from how fast it goes, is that characters can only do physical attacks on the left or right sides, and it could take more time than necessary if an enemy is really fast.

Skills help out the characters in combat, and skill points are accumulated upon a level up. Skill sets themselves are actually bought in a store though, but when bought you don't have to worry about buying a second one. The skills can be leveled up by spending skill points, and increase attributes. These can be combat attributes, to ease up combat more, or other attributes that pertain to things like Item Creation. This gimmick helps get some of the greatest items ever, however many use up expensive consumable items and have a high percentage of failing, making this a chore at most. There's just so much to do with these things.

And it does not end there! One other thing that Star Ocean gives is something known as a Private Action. Basically, walk out of town, use Y, and the party members hang out for a bit in the town. This can lead to some special events, and also increase character relations with others. It honestly doesn't have that big of an effect in the game overall, but it is still rather interesting. Overall, the combat is interesting, but not always necessarily fun, and the item creation is gimmicky at best. Not a colossal failure though. Gameplay Grade: B

Characters: Up to eight characters can be in the full party, although only four can participate in a battle at a time. There are more than eight recruits however, but it can be difficult to gain some of them.

Ratix Farrence: Main character, gets all the power in the game and the only one that cannot leave a battle party. He is a member of the Fellpool race, which are actually cat people with long tails. Specializes in some sort of sword style
Milly Killet: A longtime friend of Ratix and another Fellpool and main character. She's an almost typical healer character.
Dorn Mell: Another friend of Ratix, another Fellpool, however, he is only available to use in the first part of the game.
Iria Silvestoli: This time, we have a human character, from Earth itself. She is a senior science officer serving under the captain of the spaceship Calnus, and gets separated along with Ratix. She specializes in martial arts.
Ronixis J. Kenny: Captain of the Calnus, another human. He has all the traits of a captain too. He is acquired late in the game but fights with bow and arrows and is also a spellcaster. Also he is apparently the father of the male protagonist in the second game.
Cius Warren: A wandering swordsman and traditional fighter, member of the Highlander race.
Ashlay Barnbelt: Another wandering Highlander swordsman, this time an old man whose swordsmanship is similar to Ratix's.
Fear Mell: A Highlander who is head of the Astral Knights. She fights with dual throwing knives that can pierce enemies.
Joshua Jerand: A member of the Featherfolk race, also a mage character. His parents were killed and he is searching for his sister.
Marvel Frozen: A mysterious woman who nobody knows much about. Her goals are the same as Joshua's. She's not actually a mage type character either, she fights in combat using a specialized floating orb.
Tinek Arukena: A nerdy boy usually, but his combat speciality has him turning into a werewolf. He wields spears.
Perisie: A Lesser Fellpool, so even more of a cat person than an ordinary Fellpool. One of those characters that starts off amazingly weak but has some amazingly strong techniques upon level ups.

Lots of characters, and only up to eight on a single playthrough. Some of them cannot be gained if others are in the party either. Grade: A

Plot: I wanted to make multiple runs of this game, which is why it took too long. In truth, Star Ocean is not really a long game, but if you want to get absolutely everything, honestly forget about it. I had THREE saves of this game, for at least three minor branching points, but after taking a lot of time with the game as a whole, I decided to rush through the rest of the game with my first save. After some part close to the end, I don't think the optional characters in the party are given much story time.

And speaking of story time, Star Ocean surprisingly does not have a lot. In fact, the majority of it is done through the prologue of the game. Ratix, Dorn, and Milly operate some sort of police force in their own town, and then Milly's father runs up to the neighboring village, only to come into contact with a strange disease that turns people to stone. Dorn also gets contracted with the disease, via infected messenger pigeon. The three run up the neighboring mountain in search of a cure, and find Iria and Ronixis warping in. Those two tell them that the disease was part of some intergalactic biological warfare some other race was trying to do. And those two are part of the Earth Federation (no not THAT Federation). They run some tests on Dorn to figure out who's responsible, and do a time jump to the past (yay for original time warping).

This is where Ratix and Iria apparently separate from Ronixis and Milly, and much of the plot is just finding friends. Almost all of it is done on the Ratix and Iria side. They first meet up with Cius and do a job, and here's the first branching point, choose to have Cius stay with you or have him leave forever. If he leaves, then it is possible to get Ashlay in another town, otherwise getting Ashlay isn't possible. It's actually possible to not pick up either as well. At the Astral town, we run into Fear, the head of the knights, and some impostor is ruining her reputation by killing Cius's father. This happens regardless of who's in the party, but if the player doesn't have Cius or Ashlay, it's possible for Fear to be a permanent potential recruit by busting her out of jail. Otherwise, they help her with the impostor. Also, Joshua can be recruited along the way to reunion.

Eventually the original groups find each other. Milly can actually be reunited with Ratix earlier or much later depending on party lineup, while Ronixis is apparently alongside another character, Marvel, who may or may not be recruited (I think it depends on if you have Joshua in the group). The whole entourage then goes to Van Kingdom, and helps out with the war effort against Asmodeus, who is seen as the game's actual villain. From here, it's just going to the other major kingdoms and getting emblems to show that they really mean it when taking down Asmodeus. Also lots of sidequests can be done. It's possible to recruit Tinek in an arena fight, Perisie by going back to the first town (and making sure you have the ocarina she dropped from way back in the early game), or even reclaim Fear. So after getting approval from Van, the group basically runs through the Demon World and kills Asmodeus. It's not over yet though. Ronixis' next mission is apparently an assassination one, on a planet known as Fargett, and against Jie Revorse, who is actually the final boss. Oddly enough, the party sees him as yet another victim of cruel experimentation. The whole group basically separates after it is over, with everyone heading back home and Ratix and Milly back to their time period.

So yes, tons of branching points, not a whole lot of plot. They at least took the time to try out some character development, especially through private actions for some of the minor characters, but that's about all there is to it. Grade: C+

Music: While I liked tri-Ace's musical work in Valkyrie Profile and I liked the fact that that game along with the Tales games have an actual sound test. I will have to say the music in this game gets bugged. Sometimes the instrumentation craps out at parts, but more noticeably, after a battle, sometimes, the music just ceases to play until I reach a new area. And sometimes the silence can get deafening. I really wish that this game didn't have such a bug, or any bugs, but then again nothing's perfect. The music is enjoyable when I hear it though. Grade: B

Overall Grade: B

It stretched the console to its limits alongside its sister game Tales of Phantasia. A ton of work had been placed into a ton of things. Lots of optional things to cover, lots of skills and levels to grind. And the item creation was a unique, if annoying gimmick in its entirety. Despite the plot being mostly linear and uninteresting, the branching points are nice to have and offer a lot of diversity. Having lots of characters is very nice because of all the options to use, making party management something that I often did. A very unique game, but nothing I played here truly excited me to give it a higher score.