This could have been a great game but its bad battle system and complex labyrinths are annoying
Star Ocean (from now on SO) is a RPG released late during the lifetime of the SNES, exclusively in japan, but an excellent fan translation to English is available (and is the version I played).
Despite having no official connexion with the other SNES game Tales of Phantasia, Star Ocean was developed by the same people and uses the same game engine as Tales of Phantasia (from now on TOP). They spawned a few sequel to both games on more advanced consoles, but I admit I haven't played any of them, I've only played the original TOP prior to playing SO, so I'd really consider SO to be the spiritual sequel to TOP.
At a first glance SO looks like your standard medieval-fantasy RPG for the first hour of gameplay. You control a guy named Ratix and his friend Milly, and you met with Iria and Roxinis, who came from a more advanced planet to help you to save your planet from doom by travelling through time and space .
The music in Star Ocean was made by the same guy who did Tales of Phantasia and Golden Sun games (for those who doesn't know, Golden Sun is a very famous RPG for the Game Boy Advance). For some reason however I think the style sounds closer to Golden Sun - In other words this means the soundtrack of this game is for the most part very good. The battle theme in particular is a total masterpiece and never gets old, while other songs are more forgettable, but still enjoyable while playing. There is also a very good boss theme but it's used only once in the game unfortunately, while the standard boss theme is not as good.
The sound effects does their work, and there is a lot of voice clips (just like in TOP), although they are in Japanese so chances are you don't understand them anyway. Some sound effects are weird, for example when someone level ups it sounds like a piano has been thrown out the window and crashes on the ground.
Graphics are very good too, no big surprise they follow the same anime style as TOP, but they improved colors (which were somehow washed out in TOP), so this is very pleasant to look at. It's hard to know what were the standard for 1996, as most games were already on 32-bit consoles with CD-ROM, but SO is definitely one of the best looking SNES games.
Unfortunately, SO doesn't fix up the flaws of TOP. On the other side they made the same errors again but this time they appear more gross.
First of all, the re-used screens. SO re-uses screens ALL THE TIME, without even palette-swapping them. EVERY dungeons are like you are on screen A, you have 4 exits. You choose randomly, you end up in a long corridor, then you are on screen B which have 3 exits. You pick one randomly, you have another long corridor and you end up in a duplicate of screen A. Have you already been here or not ?
It's extremely hard to explore everything without missing treasures and figuring where you are and where you already went.
Tales of Phantasia already had this problem in one place or two, but SO have worsened it. I mean they are both the biggest SNES games with 6MB of cartridge data, and they have to re-use screens this much like very older games did ? How comes that Chrono Trigger which is only 4MB is feels way larger and deeper than this game ?
Second problem : The battle system. Final Fantasy XIII, didn't invent anything and just ripped off SO's system. In other words, your comrades are controlled by the computer while you indirectly control the main character trough menus. Basically this means you press 'A', select an enemy to attack with the D-Pad and press 'A' again to attack him. You can also press 'B' for spells or items and 'L' or 'R' to do special techniques, but those are so slow to load that 90% of the time some enemy will attack you and cancel them before you get a chance for them to work.
The Bottom Line
Star Ocean is notable for it's great music and graphics, and is enjoyable at the start of your adventure but as you progress in the game it becomes gradually worse as you'll be lost in 10 floors labyrinths with random battles every 5 steps without a chance to control whether you win or loose and sometimes lacking resources to heal your party as this game lacks Tents or something equivalent so use your 3 save slots well.
I'd recommend it only for hardcore JRPG fans, and I'd rather recommend playing Tales of Phantasia which is very similar (same game engine), has the same flaws but less of them.