The biggest SNES console game ever made alongside Tales of Phantasia, Star Ocean also ranks among the best on that system. Developed by Tri-Ace and published by Enix, the game remained unknown to gamers outside Japan until its sequel Star Ocean: The Second Story was released in English for the Playstation. Using over 40MB of data, Star Ocean tells the epic sci-fi-cum-fantasy adventure of Ratix, Dorn and Milly, a group of young "Fellpools" (a race of people with cat tails) as they find that people in the nearby town mysteriously start turning into stone. While on their way to find a cure for this disease, they meet Ronixis and Iria who take them to their spaceship, which then conveniently warps 300 years back in time. Your goal, as in any time travel story, is to prevent the disease from spreading in the first place. |
In addition to being probably the best-looking SNES game in existence, Star Ocean offers a lot of innovative ideas. For starters, there are many different characters to recruit into your party. Since there are many more recruitable NPCs than the number of maximum slots (8), this means you will see different stories each time you play, because different characters interact with each other differently. The intricacies of NPC relationships are not as complex as in the Romancing Sa-Ga series (another superb RPG series that never made it outside Asia), but they are still interesting enough to warrant replays. If that's not enough, there are literally hundreds of special customizable items and weapons, as well as secret "Hissatsuwaza" techniques (for use in combat) to discover and perfect. Last but not least, there is a 13-level bonus dungeon you can play after beating the game.
The gameplay is standard "talk to everyone, beat thousands of monsters to get powerful enough to face the big foozle" fare any console fan will be familiar with, but Star Ocean does it well, thanks to a neat item creation system that lets you forge your own weapons, and excellent skill/character development system. Gaining levels gives you skill points, which you can use to improve a large variety of skills, from cooking to specialized swordplay. Different skills cost different amounts of points, depending the character's class. Also, every character in the game has unique "talents" that are a lot of fun to discover and use. Combat, contrary to most other console games, is played in real-time. This would have been fun if not for the fact that random button-mashing seems to get the job done just as well as planning which attacks to use ;) All in all, though, battles in Star Ocean are a pleasant diversion from typical turn-based battles in other games that seem to last forever.
Another neat feature that increases replayability is the "private actions" you can do in each town. When you do this, your party splits up and you can send characters to talk to the citizens individually. This can also be used to set up special events in the game that allow you to get special items or increase/decrease each character's impression of other characters, which then affects his/her reactions later in the game.
On the downside, the story is quite short: it takes only about 10-15 hours to finish, and that includes boring trudges through familiar paths in some parts of the game. Luckily the high replay value does give you incentive to play it for the second time or more. With cool item creation and skill systems, innovative (if a bit repetitive) real-time combat, and a fun storyline that blends sci-fi and fantasy in a neat way Might & Magic fans can appreciate, Star Ocean definitely ranks among one of the best console RPGs ever made. Big thanks to fangroup DeJap and Tomato for translating this excellent game into English.
Reviewed by: Underdogs