Recommended Soundtracks: Star Ocean: First Departure

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recommendedsoundtracksbanner.jpgStar Ocean, Tri-Ace's first RPG after many of the Tales of Phantasia team split from Namco, features some of Motoi Sakuraba's earlier work. He's a video game music composer whose work is either vaunted or maligned depending on what part of the internet you dare to venture to. As a person who likes his music, I'll be honest: some of his material can be gratingly bland; see any tales game, save Tales of Phantasia, for examples. Or better yet, don't; at least not initially.

But when he's usually given the task to compose a soundtrack, he puts out some good work, and we received one of our first opportunities to listen to it with Star Ocean on Super Famicom. Well, some of us did, because it was a pretty late release for the system, not to mention Enix's American arm no longer existing. It was given a fan translation for the rom used with ZSNES, or any other SNES emulator you can think of. But it was one of a few games that was a slight hassle to play because it required a patch to run properly. Then you also had the reputation of fan translations back then, which wasn't good when inane butchery like Tales of Phantasia's translations existed. That same group, Dejap, worked on it.

sofirstdepartureost_053010.jpgIt took a little over twelve years, but the game finally received an official localization in the form of its remake for PSP: Star Ocean: First Departure. This version revamped quite a few of its gameplay features, but it also used remixed iterations of the music used in the original. Interestingly enough, the music here wasn't composed for this game, but was actually released as a separate arrange soundtrack back in early 2004. The earlier soundtrack also featured some of the best tracks from the original SFC title. (The best according to who? Got me.) First Departure was given an official soundtrack release, including the SFC tracks; it also included the new opening theme, "Heart" by Asunaro, and the credits theme "Mother Ocean," the latter of which is from Star Ocean Perfect Sound Collection from 1996, a different arrange soundtrack. Yeah, the situation is a little confusing.

What makes the remixed soundtrack good is that it keeps the melodies of the original very well. Perhaps too well for some people's tastes, as it doesn't take any risks. But that's great in preserving the original intent of the game. Please keep in mind that I'm going to be jumping all around the soundtrack here, so you're going to hear some tracks from the end of the game. Don't worry, I'll warn you if you don't want to hear them.

The very Engrishy "For Achieve," is the title to this game's main battle theme. You'll, unsurprisingly, be hearing this track a lot as you play through the game. It's as upbeat and energetic as you'd expect a Sakuraba-composed battle theme to be. What's great about it is that it's composed to fit the theme of whatever place you're fighting in, be it the overworld field, a castle dungeon, or a labyrinthine cave:



"Ancient Ruin" is used for the two optional dungeons that you can tackle before hitting the main dungeon on the overworld. Its enemies are noticeably tougher than any you've faced before, and they have plenty of excellent treasures to add to either your equipment arsenal or to use for synthesis items. A dungeon of its caliber needs something epic to go with it, and this suits it well:



The final track I want to feature is one I mentioned above: "Mother Ocean." It begins with a soft piano melody, but escalates into playing a full, live recorded version of the main theme. It's by far the longest track on the OST at well over five minutes, and it needs to be that long to accompany all the credits. It's also of much higher quality than any of the other tracks, aside from the opening theme:



Star Ocean's soundtrack is a representation of some the best early work from Sakuraba, and serves as a complementary soundtrack to Tales of Phantasia. First Departure's soundtrack might be one of the most "Play-It-Safe" examples for a remixed soundtrack around, but that really doesn't matter when the tunes themselves are so good.
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