With Star Ocean The Divine Force launching to generally favorable reception from fans and critics alike, several new prospective franchise fans have been born. However, since Star Ocean is relatively niche, especially compared to Square Enix’s juggernauts like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts, there’s a fair chance that many weren’t knowledgeable of what Star Ocean even was pre-The Divine Force.
So, with that being the case, this article aims to introduce uninformed parties to Star Ocean, its mainline entries, and where one should dive in. The only major entry I will not mention is Star Ocean: Anamnesis since it is a now shut-down mobile game.
Star Ocean is an action JRPG series developed by tri-Ace and published by Square Enix. The former has worked on other beloved classic JRPGs, the most notable being the Valkyrie Profile series and Radiata Stories. The first Star Ocean game was released for the Super Famicom in 1996, never seeing an official English localization until the title’s 2007 PSP remake, Star Ocean: First Departure. Although, the first official English release would occur via the direct sequel, Star Ocean: The Second Story, in 2000.
The franchise’s identity is rooted in its action combat, stellar soundtracks composed by the legendary Motoi Sakuraba, blend of sci-fi and fantasy, as well as sometimes recruiting optional party members. The earlier titles were immensely ambitious for their time, perhaps so much so that their brilliance can only be fully appreciated and respected in hindsight.
Before moving on, I should note that while the franchise has a timeline and interconnectedness, each title can be played standalone. The casts and contained narratives never require knowledge from other games to adequately comprehend.
Now, let’s dive into each mainline game, briefly summating their premises and notable traits.
Star Ocean: First Departure R
As stated above, the first Star Ocean game received a PSP remake called Star Ocean: First Departure. Though that version would then receive an enhanced port on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, titled Star Ocean: First Departure R. Taking place in 346 SD (Space Date), protagonist Roddick Farrence and his two friends, Millie Chliette and Dorne Murtough, reside on their native planet of Roak, in the village of Kratus. However, during one of their usual mundane days, Millie’s father becomes infected by a spreading disease turning people to stone. As a result, the trio ventures to a nearby mountain determined to find a rumored herb capable of curing any illness.
Though, when at the mountain’s apex, the group encounters two humans from space, Ronyx J. Kenny and Ilia Silvestri of the Pangalactic Federation. They reveal that the disease turning people to stone was spread by aliens from beyond the stars. Then, following a bunch of exposition, the group somewhat unwittingly time travels 300 years in the past to confront the source of the disease, thereby making it possible to develop a vaccine.
Combat is 2D, with staff from Tales of Phantasia having worked on the title. Alongside a combo system incorporating melee skills is Symbology, the uniform title magic is referred to throughout the series. Further, there are a plethora of mechanics to engage with, primarily comprising Talents, which determine innate character traits. Skills can also be upgraded, including combat abilities and more passive benefits like Cooking. Item Creation is another significant pastime that grants invaluable aid.
And while those mechanics are standout enough on their own, Private Actions, personal scenes with party members, optional party member recruitment and character-centric endings based on affection heavily encourage replayability. There’s quite a bit for players to sink their teeth into, and it can be a tad overwhelming.
First Departure, the PSP remake, introduced recruitable party members Erys Jerand and Welch Vineyard. The latter is akin to Cid from Final Fantasy, with different iterations of her found throughout the games. Her first appearance was actually in the third game, Til the End of Time, but she was retroactively implemented into the PSP remakes of 1 and 2.
Due to this being the first entry, and the remake modernizing several elements and presentation, it’s an ideal starting point. The fantasy side is arguably showcased more than the sci-fi elements, but their crossing over using the central cast as avenues for doing so helps make the experience memorable. This relatively well-liked debut paved the way for future games to make their mark.
If you’re a completionist, you’ll certainly have to look up guides, but progressing naturally shouldn’t require that. Moreover, the game being on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch makes it a straightforward grab. Players can switch between English and Japanese dubs, enable a high-speed mode for swifter map navigation, and switch between older or modern character illustrations. The latter are made by illustrator Katsumi Enami, who worked on Star Ocean: The Last Hope and several Trails titles.
Star Ocean: Second Evolution
The franchise’s second entry is titled Star Ocean: The Second Story, which launched for the PS1. Then, its PSP remaster, Star Ocean: Second Evolution was released for the PSP in 2008/2009. Both versions also received official English releases. Unfortunately, the PlayStation 4 port of the game remains exclusive to Japan for unknown reasons. We recently spoke to the Star Ocean Development Team, who suggested that fans being vocal is what that port’s potential localization needs.
This game takes place in S.D 366, twenty years after the first entry, and it boasts two selectable protagonists, Claude C. Kenny and Rena Lanford. The former is the son of Ronyx, a party member from the first game, while Rena is a native of the planet Expel. While on his first mission under his father’s supervision, Claude goes against orders, interacting with a device that transports him to Expel. He’s mistaken as the supposed “Hero of Light” after meeting Rena, a being detailed in legends. Summatively, to simultaneously find a path home and aid the planet, Claude seeks out a meteorite dubbed the Sorcery Globe.
The gameplay is largely similar to the first title, with recruitable party members, different endings, Private Actions, and comparable combat. Second Evolution refined the fighting, added new endings, and retroactively implemented Welch Vineyard. This title is most fans’ favorite in the franchise, thanks to its stellar storytelling and one of the series’ best coalescence of sci-fi and fantasy.
The only possible ways for Western fans to play this game in English are by accessing the PSP remake or the original PS1 release. Here’s hoping it receives a much-needed modern port in the West. There’s really no justifiable reason I can think of for why the most beloved entry is the only one not available on any modern platforms outside of Japan.
It is worth noting that The Second Story got a direct sequel in Japan, Star Ocean: Blue Sphere, taking place two years later. It initially launched for the Gameboy Color and later received a remake for mobile. There were plans for a North American release, but that was ultimately scrapped. Thankfully, fans have translated it, so you can seek that out if you so desire.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
The third mainline game was the first one entirely in 3D, launching for the PlayStation 2 in 2003/2004, and it’s an…odd one to discuss. Set in S.D 772, its narrative revolves around protagonist Fayt Leingod who is initially on vacation with his family and childhood friend Sophia Esteed on the planet of Hyda IV. Unfortunately, the alien race Vendeeni attacks the planet, which triggers a war against Hyda IV’s allied organization, the Pangalactic Federation.
After being separated and fleeing via escape pods, Fayt finds himself stranded and alone on the underdeveloped planet of Vanguard III. Though, he is soon rescued by Cliff Fittir, a member of Quark, an anti-Federation group. Fayt then meets Cliff’s assistant and denizens of other planets as he tries to find his loved ones and make sense of the continually bizarre circumstances regarding his existence.
Despite this being the first fully 3D entry and even boasting voice acting, its gameplay systems are fairly similar to its predecessors. Private Actions, Item Creation, and optional party members to recruit are implemented as usual, albeit with some slight changes. The most notable addition is Battle Trophies, essentially an in-game achievement system granting numerous rewards and significant replayability.
Interestingly, its definitive release on PS2 was one of the few games on the system to include two discs. In addition, this Director’s Cut version, which North America and Europe received by default, featured bonus inclusions like new dungeons. As for contemporary times, the title received an official English launch on PlayStation 4. It’s the most convenient way to experience the title, so that’s definitely the way to go if you own the console. Although it’s an early PS2 game, some jankiness should be expected.
As mentioned at the start of this section, Star Ocean Till the End of Time is an odd one to discuss, primarily because it’s the most controversial game in the franchise. And going into detail as to why is a minefield of spoilers. While later entries aren’t as well-liked as the older titles, veteran fans’ reception tends to be relatively agreed on.
On the other hand, Till the End of Time is steeped in more mixed mires, with its events recontextualizing the series, even going forward. It’s my favorite Star Ocean game, but you’re bound to see tons of people with directly opposing opinions on both fronts. This title is quite fascinating in that regard, actually. It’s also worth noting that, chronologically speaking, this is the latest game.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope
The fourth mainline game was, shockingly, a 2009 Xbox 360 exclusive spanning three discs before receiving a 2010 PlayStation 3 release that boasted selectable character portraits with two distinct art styles, dual audio, and more. Then, a full HD & 4K remaster would greet PC and PlayStation 4. The Last Hope takes place during S.D. 10, making it the earliest title in the timeline. It follows protagonist Edge Maverick, assigned as captain of the Calnus, on humanity’s first venture into the stars to find hospitable planets following Earth’s destruction during World War III.
Countless developments occur as Edge, his childhood friend Reimi Saionji, and several allies they recruit from other planets unite to battle threats they gradually learn of. This game leans into sci-fi more than any other Star Ocean title, with space travel being the norm. As a result, while the planets tend to be pretty compact, it’s undeniably the grandest journey in the series.
A number of new combat mechanics are introduced, such as Blindsides, which lets players slip by enemies’ sights depending on positioning and timing. Further, Private Actions and Item Crafting return, with Welch providing the former and being a permanent fixture in the main cast, unlike other titles. Battle trophies from Till the End of Time also make a comeback. However, aside from a unique circumstance requiring New Game +, there aren’t any optional party members to recruit.
The Last Hope isn’t as well received as the previous games, but it’s undoubtedly worth experiencing, even if that’s just my bias. Narrative and characterization aside, which I do believe are great, there’s an almost intimidating amount of content here, especially for completionists seeking to achieve every Battle Trophy. If you’re yearning to try it, the PlayStation 4 and Steam ports are worth looking into. Sadly, I’ve heard reports of the latter’s port not being great. My experience solely lies with the PS3 and PS4 versions.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness
The fifth mainline game in the franchise was released for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in 2016, though the former platform’s launch was exclusive to Japan. It takes place in S.D 537, between the events of The Second Story/ Second Evolution and Till the End of Time.
Protagonist Fidel Camuze and his childhood friend Miki Sauvester reside on the underdeveloped planet Faykreed IV, which suffers from the war between the Kingdoms of Resulia and Trei’kur. The latter possess new weapons that shouldn’t be possible here, and Fidel’s village has been suffering from constant bandit attacks. After being denied aid from Resulia, Fidel and Miki encounter a silent and amnesiac girl named Relia, who is the crux of the plot. Sci-fi and fantasy do intertwine as usual, but the latter is the general focus, at least until a certain point, far later on.
Gameplay-wise, Integrity and Faithlessness contains series staples, such as Item Crafting and Private Actions, as well as Battle Trophies. However, there are some notable additions, like every party member being on the field at once, even during combat. Admittedly, this is cool in concept, but it gets pretty messy. Moreover, Roles, specific AI-behaviors, can be earned and upgraded as well, offering variety in an ultimately simplified battle system. Unfortunately, Blindsides from The Last Hope are not incorporated, and there are no optional party members to recruit.
So, this entry is the most disliked one, and I agree with that consensus. While the game has its merits, like a stellar English dub and an excellent soundtrack, it does not feel finished. Further, its arguably most infamous fault is lacking consistent fast travel. It’s only available in select scenarios and makes sidequests excessive time wastes. I won’t say you should avoid Integrity and Faithlessness entirely since its cast and story can be engaging if you open up to it, but it’s best to go in with regulated expectations. The game’s only currently available Western avenue is on PlayStation 4.
I’ve neglected to discuss Star Ocean The Divine Force here since we’ve published a review for it, so that’d be re-treading the same ground, even under this differing context. Though, I didn’t mention it taking place in S.D 583, forty-six years following the events of Integrity and Faithlessness. It’s also clearly inspired by The Second Story/ Second Evolution since there are two selectable protagonists.
Now that we’ve reached this point, it should be evident that despite all of these games being connected, they can all be enjoyed entirely standalone. Personally, I don’t recommend a first-timer playing through these titles in their chronological placements, as the shifts between gameplay features and presentation would be undoubtedly jarring.
Still, if you intend on going through these games in their timeline order, it’s as follows:
- Star Ocean: The Last Hope
- Star Ocean: First Departure R
- Star Ocean: Second Evolution
- Star Ocean: Blue Sphere
- Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness
- Star Ocean The Divine Force
- Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
As for my recommended order, I usually don’t really have one since each experience feels wholly different from one another. But I decided to come up with one anyway. It’s simply what I deem to be the most comfortable order, but I have no strong reasoning for it. I don’t find the interconnectedness to be a potential barrier of entry at all, unlike the Trails series, for example.
- Star Ocean: First Departure R
- Star Ocean: Second Evolution (+ Blue Sphere if you want)
- Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
- Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness
- Star Ocean: The Last Hope
- Star Ocean The Divine Force
You should just try out which of these games interests you the most, and maybe use this article as a basis for if you choose to play any more games following that initial excursion.
I don’t ever expect Star Ocean to become massively popular or even as prominent as it was during its early years. Still, I sincerely hope it garners more fans so the franchise can enjoy well-deserved success and release new titles.
In case you’ve missed it, we recently spoke to the Star Ocean Development Team, who revealed that fans’ voices might be what’s needed for Star Ocean: Second Evolution’s PlayStation 4 port to come West.
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