Star Ocean Review
Posted by Corbie Dillard
The Super Famicom version of Star Ocean might feature a lot of flashy technology, but it's the game's epic storyline and unique combat system that's made it such a beloved classic among 16-bit RPG fans over the years.
The Super Nintendo is well known for sporting a rather large and outstanding library of RPGs, but there were several of these outstanding titles that never made an appearance outside of Japan. Star Ocean would have to be at the top of that list, but thanks to the kind folks at Dejap, a translation patch has been created for this amazing Super Nintendo title and now English-speaking RPG fans can finally enjoy this outstanding adventure in its original form.
Star Ocean's biggest distinction comes from the fact that it's the culmination of several developers who originally worked on the Namco hit Tales of Phantasia, which explains why the game sports so many similar features and stylings. Having said that, it's worth emphasizing that Star Ocean is a distinctive RPG experience that features a very unique battle system and some of the most cutting edge technology available for the Super Nintendo console at the time of its release. It's also why the translated game took so long to become fully playable on an emulator. But for those who've played the game, it was well worth the wait.
Visually Star Ocean is one of the best-looking Super Nintendo games ever created. The original game used a special graphics compression chip inside the cartridge that allowed the developers to use complicated sets of graphics throughout the game while still fitting it all inside the cart's ROM size limitations. This is one reason the game was so difficult to emulate and for a long time required the use of a separate graphics pack in order to play. It won't take playing the game long to realize just why these graphics needed to be compressed. Every area in the game features lush surroundings and the type of detail you don't normally see in a mere 16-bit title. Every area is very distinctive and has its own unique look and feel and you'll rarely see the same area twice which has the effect of making the universe of Star Ocean feel incredibly immense. It's clear that the developers put a lot of time and energy into bringing the game's visuals to life and spared no expense in doing so. Star Ocean is easily one of the best looking titles available on the Super Nintendo system and a true testament to its sheer visual capabilities.
As if the impressive visuals weren't enough, the soundtrack in Star Ocean never ceases to amaze. There's honestly not a bad musical track in the entire game. Now how many games can you honestly say that about? The music is a bit reminiscent of the Final Fantasy titles, but it also seems to have a melodic touch that sets it apart from other Enix releases of this same time period. Much like the visuals, there's a lot of variety in the various musical tracks, so you'll hardly ever the same track twice. The battle music is one you'll get used to hearing quite often, but it's so catchy and fits the action so well you'll welcome it no matter how many times you've already heard it before. One particularly unique feature of Star Ocean's aural presentation is the use of audio samples. During battle you can hear the fighters yelling out spoken dialog and making battle sounds just like you would hear in a real battle. By today's rpg standards it's not anything overly special, but at the time this game was released, there was nothing else quite like it. In fact, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that the overall audio experience in Star Ocean ranks right up there with some of the best the system has to offer.
Now here's where Star Ocean gets really interesting. The game features a very unique real-time combat system that's somewhere in between an action-style battle system and a more traditional turn-based combat engine. You can still carry out attacks in real-time, but instead of actually swinging a sword, you select an attack command. You can also target specific enemies, as well as use items and special magical attacks that can be assigned to the "L" and "R" shoulder buttons on the SNES controller. You only control one character at a time, but you can toggle through the available characters and change which one you're currently controlling at any time during a battle. The other characters are controlled by the AI of the game and are helpful, but can be a little troublesome at times when they just sit back and watch you do all the work.
As with most rpgs, you'll spend a lot of time exploring the many areas of the game and occasionally squaring off against a boss at the end of most dungeons and caves. Star Ocean even features a "Private Action" command that allows you to play out certain side-quests at various times throughout the game. They're not required to complete the game, but they do add a bit of additional detail and depth to the plotline if you choose to carry them out. They also make the game feel a little less linear, as well. And while the combat system takes a little getting used to and might seem like nothing more than a button-masher at first, once you get the hang of it all you'll come to appreciate the unique game play aspects the battle system brings to the table.
It's easy to understand why so many diehard RPG fans have held this game is such high regard for so many years. It's also easy to see why it was one of the first games to be translated into English by the talented group at Dejap. Now that the game's graphics have been decompressed, there's no reason gamers shouldn't patch the game rom and give this one a try. Star Ocean is easily one of the best role-playing games available for the Super Nintendo console and that's making a pretty strong statement considering how many fantastic RPGs the system has in its vast catalog of games. While the new updated PSP version of the game is a solid enough rendition of the game, there's still nothing quite like this original Super Famicom RPG masterpiece.