Yes, the Little Gamer is me. I'm considering doing a site for gamer girls, seeing as how female gamers usually get some pretty nasty responses to their opinions online. If so, this kind of thing will be my contribution. Honest feedback would be appreciated. *-*-* Movie Clips Anime-style movie clips are surprisingly rare in gaming, and for a pretty good reason - most of the time, they suck, and they're almost always completely inappropriate for the game in question. To date, the Little Gamer has seen only three video games where anime - or pseudo-anime - clips have been advisable; Rogue Galaxy (which was essentially an anime in and of itself), and the first two Star Ocean games (which are very anime in style). So the Little Gamer was hardly surprised to find anime movies in the middle of First Departure. What did surprise her was the quality and appeal of said clips. From the stylish opening sequence when the UMD first boots up to the heart-wrenching conclusion to Ioshua and Mavelle's side-plot, they were smooth, attractive, appropriate and, although disappointingly rare, always welcome when they did appear. 9/10 - this would be a solid 10/10, but there are only ten clips in the entire game. And it's not a short game. Characters Alright, the Little Gamer will not deny it. She was frightened that she was going to loathe the main characters. After all, they're a slightly goofy but unexpectedly powerful swordsman and a young female healer with temper issues. You can hardly blame her for being nervous. Luckily, said fears were unfounded. The characters in First Departure are, in a word, brilliant. Roddick, the potentially highly stereotypical swordsman, is fun. He's a little goofy, but it's a genuine 'I really don't understand why you're annoyed' goofy, as opposed to the 'dumb-as-Forrest-Gump' goofy that gamers are usually subjected to. Even better, he's had prior training, so the pitfall of 'unexpected sword master' is neatly avoided. Millie, the healer, is a little closer to stereotype, but she more than makes up for it with a cheerful personality and some very clever writing. Ronyx and Ilia, the token humans, have all kinds of fun little personality quirks that make them a joy to behold, especially when romance starts to blossom. Again, this could descend into cliche, but clever writing keeps it from turning into the usual saccharine bullshit gamers must tolerate. The optional characters are something of a mixed bag. Some characters, such as Ioshua and Cyuss, are an absolute necessity to pick up in the first couple of run-throughs, because they are talented, interesting and useful characters well worth the effort of tracking down. Others, however, may not prove to be as amusing. Although Pericchi is necessary for the Bunny Whistle, she doesn't really add anything except a cute cat-girl for certain types of fans to get all hot and bothered over, and apart from looking like Ranma and turning into a wolf, the Little Gamer has yet to see any proof that T'nique was worth dropping the Ioshua/Mavelle plot. The new characters, Erys and Welch, were well-created and a ball to use, and Welch especially was all kinds of hysterical. It's a true pleasure to discover hidden characters that don't suck like a vacuum cleaner set to 'High'. 7/10 - some characters were brilliant, and others were just frustrating. Voicing It's not often that the Little Gamer allows herself to say this, but she loved the voice acting in First Departure. When she realised that something like half of her party was under the age of 20, she felt a terrible wave of most decidedly appropriate fear, and memories of MOMO made her shiver. Luckily, said fear was unwarranted. Even the cat-girl has a good voice, appropriately cat-like but without devolving into the squeaky cuteness that seems to plague younger characters. (At this point, the Little Gamer turns a hostile eye to Xiao Qiao, the origin of her nickname.) Older characters have suitably mature and appropriate voices, characters with formal speech patterns have voices that suit their manner, and the young characters sound young without being squeaky, 'cute' or nauseating. A fair number of NPCs get voices as well, and even these are well-acted and appropriate for the characters being portrayed. Let's hear it for Square-Enix, for finally getting it right. 9/10 - Welch's 'Yahoo' battle cry was annoying enough to drop this down a point, but it stands alone in a game full of good voice acting. Plot The Little Gamer knew that she was going to have to be a bitch at some point, and this would be that point. The main plot is, sad to say, a slightly odd twist on what is a fairly large cliche by this point. Young innocents encounter disaster, encounter mysterious figures who will guide them, and embark on a massive quest to Save Their World. While this is a fun and unexpected variation on the cliche, it is a cliche nonetheless. The side-plots are far more interesting. The Little Gamer will refrain from spoilers at this point, but heartily recommends going to the effort of complete Ioshua and Mavelle's plot at least once, and again if you manage to grab Ashlay. You owe it to yourself, especially if tragedy is your thing. 5/10 - for the main quest 8/10 - for some of the character-driven side quests Gameplay Anyone who has played The Second Story or, to a lesser extent, Til The End Of Time (which the Little Gamer still refuses to acknowledge as Canon), should recognise and have little to no problem with the control of this game. For those not in the know, in Star Ocean games the battles, although taking place on a different screen to the one being explored, are real time. The player controls only one character out of the four available at the time, while the other three act according to instructions given in the main menu. The controlled character can be changed quickly and easily in battle, so if a certain action needs to be performed right this second, it can easily be set up. Although the enemy AI is a little lacking when it comes to the normal battles, character AI is decent and boss AI can be downright frightening. The system does lend itself to controlling your all-important magic-using characters, either to ensure that healing is performed when it's needed, not when the AI sees fit, or to cast spells that have been disabled through the main menu but have become necessary for that particular battle. The item creation is quick and relatively easy, although it can easily spiral into something quite scary if you aren't exceedingly careful about how you assign Skill Points. Some crafting is useful from go to woe, while other abilities may only be used once or twice. Talents mean that no two plays will be exactly the same, and the same character will not necessarily have the same crafting abilities from one run-through to the next. The only constant is that certain characters will always have the 'Blessing of Mana' Talent, because it governs spell-casting. 8/10 - the random Talents can be a massive pain and not being able to control your entire party is sometimes more hassle than its worth Overall Overall, the Little Gamer enjoyed this game. It was smooth, intuitive, surprisingly hard in places and some of the side-plots made her laugh and cry. On the downside, parts of the plot were so cliche it made her groan, even though the writing and characters were enough to mask this most of the time. 8/10 - great game, but it came so close to being utterly brilliant. Worth a play if you have a PSP.