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Square Enix (2004-present)
|First release||Star Ocean
July 19, 1996
|Latest release||Star Ocean: The Last Hope International
February 4, 2010
Star Ocean (スターオーシャン Sutā Ōshan?) is a franchise of action role-playing video games developed by the Japanese company tri-Ace and published and owned by Square Enix (originally Enix). A new game in the franchise, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness was announced at Square Enix's E3 2015 conference and scheduled to release 2016.
Creation and influence
As fans of science fiction and space travel, the developers at tri-Ace created the Star Ocean series with a sci-fi setting in mind and have cited Star Trek as one of their main influences for the visuals of the games as well as being an underlying, but noticeable, influence to the series as a whole. While the first Star Ocean game included more fantasy elements to appeal to a broad audience, subsequent installments naturally moved towards a more sci-fi oriented feel, with Star Ocean: Till the End of Time described by its producer Yoshinori Yamagishi as tri-Ace's "ultimate vision" of the "whole Star Ocean world". The large gap of time between Star Ocean: The Second Story and Till the End of Time, in terms of in-universe chronology, can be explained by the series' choice to emphasize the setting of its fictional world rather than focus on its characters.
Star Ocean games are known for their real-time battle engines, and, for being one of the first of its kind to come to the consoles. Battles take place on a separate screen, but all characters (rather than waiting in one spot and taking damage) are fully mobile in three dimensions, can dodge and chase foes, and must cast their spells and deploy attacks despite enemy harassment. In the earlier games, magicians had spells, whereas fighters had special physical attacks called "Killer Moves"; both are learned after passing certain level requirements (or through specific items and sidequests) and cost HP or MP to use. In Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, all the characters are able to use spells and battle skills (i.e. killer moves).
The series is also known for being some of the earliest action RPGs to allow players to alter the storyline's outcome through the player's actions and dialogue choices, mainly through a social relationship system referred to as "private actions". The original Star Ocean, published by Enix in 1996, introduced a "private actions" social system, where the protagonist's relationship points with the other characters are affected by the player's choices, which in turn affects the storyline, leading to branching paths and multiple different endings. This was expanded in its 1999 sequel, Star Ocean: The Second Story, which boasted as many as 86 different endings, with each of the possible permutations to these endings numbering in the hundreds, setting a benchmark for the number of outcomes possible for a video game. Using a relationship system inspired by dating sims, each of the characters had friendship points and relationship points with each of the other characters, allowing the player to pair together, or ship, any couples (both romantic heterosexual relationships as well as friendships) of their choice, allowing a form of fan fiction to exist within the game itself. However, the relationship system in Star Ocean not only affected the storyline, but also the gameplay, affecting the way the characters behave towards each other in battle.
Star Ocean games also take an all-encompassing approach to items. Party members can create new objects or improve existing ones through crafts like metalworking, alchemy, writing, painting and cooking. The strongest items and equipment are usually only available via Item Creation, and many others can be sold for a profit or provide other benefits (books can be used to transfer skills and abilities; cooked foods can be used to circumvent the 20-of-each-item inventory limit), placing great importance on Item Creation.
The characters of the series were designed to be "action-figure-like". A feature adjusting the characters' appearance when changing their equipment was considered for the series but ultimately was scrapped because of the large number of characters to design. However, in the later installment of Star Ocean: The Last Hope the appearance of the characters did in fact change to reflect the type of weapon they were using.
Finally, both the second and third games were somewhat notorious for renaming characters whose names contained religious references, which some fans found unusual given the recent association with Square and other RPGs (most famously Xenogears) that do not omit such references.
Star Ocean gameplay is often compared to the Tales series of video games by Namco, which is not a coincidence: after the release of Tales of Phantasia, practically its entire design department left and founded tri-Ace. As a result, many regard the original Star Ocean as a 'spiritual sequel' of Tales of Phantasia; a comment that may be traditionally found at fan-sites describing the first title in the series.
Star Ocean, the first game in the series. It was released on July 19, 1996 for the Super Famicom and never released outside of Japan; however, it was unofficially translated into English through ROM hacking by DeJap Translations, and the resulting game can be played through emulation. It established the series' staples, including the futuristic setting, real-time battle system, item creation, and private actions. It takes place in 346 SD, and follows the adventures of Ratix Farrence as he searches for a cure for a sickness on his planet with the help of two Earthlings. An enhanced remake entitled Star Ocean: First Departure was released for the PlayStation Portable on December 27, 2007, in Japan, October 21, 2008, in North America, and October 24, 2008, in Europe. The game was remade using Star Ocean 2's engine, adopting prerendered backgrounds and 3D battlefields, as well as new character art and animated cut-scenes provided by Production I.G, and fully voiced dialogue. There are also new playable characters.
Star Ocean: The Second Story was released for the PlayStation on July 30, 1998, in Japan, May 31, 1999, in North America, and April 12, 2000, in Europe. It retains the features of its predecessor while introducing prerendered backgrounds, full motion videos, and 3D battlefields. Taking place in 366 SD, it features a new cast of characters, including Claude C. Kenny, the son of Ronyx J. Kenny from the original Star Ocean, and Rena Lanford, who both investigate the Sorcery Globe, which has landed on Planet Expel and has been causing disasters ever since. An enhanced port entitled Star Ocean: Second Evolution was released for the PlayStation Portable on April 2, 2008, in Japan, January 19, 2009, in North America, February 12, 2009, in Australia and February 13, 2009, in Europe. It was announced alongside First Departure, and features similar enhancements, including fully voiced dialogue, new playable characters, and new character artwork and animated cut-scenes provided by Production I.G.
Star Ocean: Blue Sphere is a direct sequel to The Second Story, released for the Game Boy Color on June 28, 2001, in Japan (a North American version was planned but canceled). Blue Sphere adapts the Star Ocean series to hand-helds altering several aspects in the process, including interactive item creation, auto private actions, 2D side scrolling battles, Field Actions, and the removal of random battles. It takes place in 368 SD, two years after The Second Story, and features the return of all twelve main characters as they attempt to solve the mystery of the Planet Edifice and its destructive nature that eradicates the planet's civilizations every 200 years.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time was released for the PlayStation 2 in Japan in 2003. A director's cut of the game with bonus dungeons, new playable characters, a versus mode, and tweaked gameplay was released in 2004, and that version was brought to North America and Europe the same year. Till the End of Time is the first fully 3D game in the series and features fully voiced dialogue. It retains most aspects of the previous games with new features, such as the fury and bonus battle gauge, as well as the ability to patent items created during item creation and recruiting inventors to create items for the player. The game takes place nearly 400 years after the last Blue Sphere, in 772 SD. Fayt Leingod is the main character, and after finding himself separated from his family during an alien attack on a resort planet, is pursued by the same Vendeeni forces across space for reasons beyond his imagination.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope was released for the Xbox 360 on February 19, 2009, in Japan, February 23, 2009, in North America, June 4, 2009, in Australia and June 5, 2009, in Europe. It was also released for the PlayStation 3 worldwide in February 2010. It is a prequel to the entire series, chronicling the aftermath of World War III in which humanity must find a new home to survive. The protagonist is a young man named Edge Maverick who is accompanied by his childhood friend Reimi Saionji.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness was announced on April 14, 2015 for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. The story will take place between Star Ocean 2 and Star Ocean 3, in 537 SD, as seen in the first teaser.
North American releases
Of the five games in the series, four have been released outside Japan. Star Ocean: The Second Story was the first game to be published in the USA, by Sony Computer Entertainment America. However, the translation for Star Ocean: The Second Story was done rather literally, without localization of cultural differences, which made some people[who?] complain that it detracted from the game's experience.
With the PlayStation 2's installment, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Square Enix hoped to attract more gamers, especially in the United States, where the franchise has not been very popular. The Director's Cut 2 Disc version of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time has been released in North America, with more playable characters, more games and additional storyline tangents. As of July 2005, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is a part of Sony's Greatest Hits line, indicating that the game had done reasonably well in North America.
In 2008, Square Enix released an enhanced remake of the original Star Ocean title for the PlayStation Portable called Star Ocean: First Departure. This was followed in 2009 by an enhanced port of Star Ocean: The Second Story for the PlayStation Portable called Star Ocean: Second Evolution.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope was released in North America within one week of its Japanese release on Xbox 360. An enhanced version called Star Ocean: The Last Hope International edition was later released as a PS3 exclusive worldwide in the first quarter of 2010. This port included the Japanese audio, new character portraits, as well as a few other new features exclusive to that version.
Star Ocean: Blue Sphere remains the only game in the series not released outside of Japan in any form.
Manga and anime
There was an incomplete manga series by Mayumi Azuma based on Star Ocean: The Second Story, which became a similarly incomplete anime series Star Ocean EX. The anime series saw release by Geneon Entertainment in the United States. The anime features 26 episodes covering events that happened on the first disc of the PlayStation game. The show was continued on Drama CDs afterward.
- Christian Nutt (May 15, 2003). "Exhaustive Star Ocean 3 Interview". GameSpy. News Corporation. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 2007-07-01.
- Yin-Poole, Wesley (March 10, 2009). "Star Ocean 4 Interview". Videogamer. p. 2. Retrieved 2009-08-17.
- Lada, Jenni (February 1, 2008). "Important Importables: Best SNES role-playing games". Gamer Tell. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
- Star Ocean, RPG Fan
- Star Ocean: Till The End Of Time, Gameplanet
- Brendan Main, Hooking Up in Hyperspace, The Escapist
- Christian Nutt (May 19, 2005). "Yoshinori Yamagishi Interview". GameSpy. News Corporation. p. 2. Retrieved 2007-07-01.
- Ashcraft, Brian (April 14, 2015). "First Look at Star Ocean 5". kotaku. Gawker Media. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
- English product page from tri-Ace
- Eternal Sphere Japanese portal site for the series.
- Official North American Star Ocean series site