GameSpite Journal 10 | Star Ocean

Star Ocean | Dev.: tri-Ace | Pub: Enix | Genre: Action RPG | Release: July 1996 (JP only)

Star Ocean was one of the last games released for the Super Famicom in Japan and was only made possible thanks to a chip that bore only a passing resemblance to a normal SNES cart and a unique graphics compression scheme that took fan programmers years to unravel. It featured a large cast of characters with depth -- a rarity in any gaming generation -- complex and innovative character customization, item creation systems, and a plot that wouldn’t be terribly out of place on one of the better Star Trek iterations.

Individually, each of these elements are pretty awesome and incredible. When combined together into a semi-cohesive unit the effect is somewhat less, for several reasons and two in particular. The first and most important of these reasons is that Star Ocean is for all intents and purposes an act of revenge by the newly inaugurated tri-Ace. The company had formed shortly after Wolf Team split in twain following the Tales of Phantasia kerfluffle and was staffed at that point by mostly ex-Wolf members. Phantasia had been the magnum opus of Wolf Team, and financial troubles had forced the development team to go hat in hand to Namco and ask them to fund the production and release of the game. Namco agreed, but only to a devil’s bargain and forced Wolf to make a number of changes and additions to stamp Namco’s brand all over the game. Unsurprisingly, many of the development staff revolted and left to form their own company—hence tri-Ace. Phantasia released in December 1995. Star Ocean released in July 1996, nearly seven months to the day of Phantasia’s.

Creating sprawling epics in any age takes time; an actual development period of around a half a year in all likelihood due to pre-release production times is godlike. Then tri-Ace went and shopped the game to Enix, providing a double insult to Namco and their former teammates, having created a AAA game and shipping it a mere a half year after Phantasia was out of the gate. Which is probably pretty close to burning your bridges behind you and merrily pissing on the flaming remains as you go in terms of hackneyed analogies.

This leads directly into the second main problem facing Ocean: Acts of revenge are rarely acts of perfection. Doing what they did took an incredible drive and amount of work, the sole problem being that it lacks the polish necessary to truly make the package as a whole work. Masterpieces are made in the details, and Ocean tends to be sloppy where those are concerned. The world map is vastly and mostly empty (so empty that the remake discards it entirely, in fact), the combat is messily balanced despite being quite revolutionary compared to anything seen on a console before, and the item creation and related character skills feel half-baked, especially when compared to the later entries in the series. Interestingly enough, Motoi Sakuraba composed for the game as well (and pretty much all of tri-Ace’s eventual output), probably proving that good game music composers are hard enough to find that even inter-corporate tiffs can hardly touch them.

So there you have it: An entire package filled to the brim with the passion and drive of a team motivated by revenge, available at extreme cost on an aging platform whose death knell had been sounded a year prior by the new kid on the block.

By Andrew Bentley? | April 30, 2012 | Previous: Radical Dreamers | Next: Tetris Attack