Star Ocean's most disappointing aspect is that it feels devoid of everything except random battles and an optional crafting system. There aren't that many villages to explore and even fewer quests. There are few full dungeons to complete as well, and those that you are given are easy to navigate. In fact, there's not much for you to do other than shop and enjoy pretty cutscenes. Tri-Ace compensates for this lack of "stuff" by requiring frequent backtracking, which usually culminates in another cutscene that orders you straight back to where you came from--on the other side of the world. There is a port system that will normally take you to a sister port on another continent, but the majority of travel is done on foot between landlocked villages. This frequent backtracking is accompanied by pointless random battles against foes you defeated 20 levels ago and combines with slightly overpowered casters to make the game so easy that you can often set the PSP aside to let your party members do all the work for you.
Every element of the presentation has been significantly updated, beginning with the inclusion of Production I.G.'s beautiful, vibrantly colored anime cutscenes that are so striking it's confusing as to why they're so rarely utilized. Full dialogue voicing complements these sequences and is rarely annoying except during battles, when characters tend to scream out their attacks as they spam them. Character sprites are now more colorful, and the sharp, prerendered environments that are the game's most obvious visual improvement are highly detailed. However, you may now find it difficult to locate the proper entrances and exists because they tend to blend in with the walls. Battle environments are 3D, but they are just as bland as the world map, although spell effects and special abilities are quite flashy, enlivening any fight. Music is very reminiscent of the Super Nintendo era and usually consists of charming melodies that provide a good exploration backdrop.
You should finish the main quest line within 20 hours, which is normally a healthy range for portable RPGs, but in this case, you'll spend the majority of your play time watching cutscenes, backtracking, or demolishing vastly underpowered foes by mashing the action button. The intensity does increase after you reach the epilogue, where a second quest and a bonus dungeon open up. However, it's a short segment and a shame that the gameplay is such a breeze until the end. Unlocking new characters or crafting extends the game a bit, but the crafting is rather useless considering that everything is cheap and it's so easy to make money.
Star Ocean: First Departure offers good fanfare with stunning anime sequences and a fresh look. However, it's also padded with backtracking, crafting, and cutscene dialogue that hide its sparse dungeons, as well as its quests. There are simply too many better RPGs on the market that offer pretty visuals and depth to broaden Star Ocean's appeal.