When Star Ocean debuted on the Super Famicom 20 years ago the RPG, an American import that Japan made its own with pinch of Shintoism and a dollop of anime, was poised to change video games. The previous year Chrono Trigger had brought together Final Fantasy’s Hironobu Sakaguchi and Dragon Quest’s Yuji Horii, a muscular collaboration that squared each respective team’s talents to deliver a masterpiece.
The following year Final Fantasy 7 broke the genre from its niche and, with the processing power of PlayStation, or, more precisely, the storage power of CD-Rom discs, steered the video game blockbuster forever away from Nintendo’s pristine platformers toward high-production cinema. New and lavish JRPGs arrived every month. Then production costs rose and sales fell. The games became fewer, and thinner. Now, in a shift that would have been unimaginable back in 1996, the Polish have usurped the Japanese as masters of the American role-playing game.
It may seem unfair to compare Star Ocean, the prog opera of the JRPG line-up, to The Witcher 3, CD Projekt’s HBO epic. For one, tri-Ace’s game mixes the mediaeval fantasy with spaceships and sci-fi (an unusual but not entirely unworkable brew). Nevertheless, similarities abound. Both aspire to present a lavish and geographically diverse world, from snow-burdened mountains to Sound of Music-esque green plains, each scene filled with a hotchpotch of monsters and bisected by a grandiose storyline. Both games dispense of the genre’s turn-based foundations, instead featuring real time combat that mixes sword-fighting, magic and item tossing. Both games heavily feature item crafting and alchemy. And both games offer a core storyline that is supplemented with freelance missions posted to notice boards in local towns.