Star Ocean First Departure Original Soundtrack – Piano Solo Music Collection


Review by · February 5, 2018

Let’s take a moment to pause and admire the true rarity and obscurity of this album. Obscure, because most people who enjoy Star Ocean and/or Motoi Sakuraba seem blissfully unaware of this album. Rare, because it took me some significant time and money to procure this CD+book combo item.

And that’s another part of what’s rare about this album. DoReMi publishes “OST – Piano Solo Music Collection” books for hundreds of games, primarily Japanese in origin, and primarily RPGs. However, they rarely obtain rights or add production time into the process by including a performance CD. To my knowledge, it has never happened before with DoReMi and a JRPG…not with piano solo, anyway (they did get rights to guitar and ukulele solo CD+book combinations for the Final Fantasy franchise, as did rival publisher Dream Music Factory). That makes this release extra special to me.

However, it’s not everything you might think it to be. While the DoReMi book contains arrangements by Shiori Aoyama for every single song on the OST (the First Departure remake of Star Ocean 1 has over 60 songs, reflected appropriately in the book), Aoyama only recorded 15 songs from these arrangements. And these arrangements are, to be sure, stripped-down transcriptions of Sakuraba’s original tracks. DoReMi has always published vanilla transcriptions for the OST-to-piano solo transition, and the arrangements are designed for beginner to intermediate pianists. To that end, you’re unlikely to be particularly impressed.

In fact, among piano arrangements in the world of VGM, this particular album probably belongs on the lower end of the scale in terms of lasting impression and technical prowess. The lowest of the low, as some readers will know, goes to the Dragon Quest “On Piano” albums…though even there, the last one Sugiyama allowed to be arranged and published (DQVII) was somewhat advanced. I would rate the quality and enjoyability of this collection as on par with DQVII On Piano, and/or with the earliest of the Final Fantasy Piano Collections (namely, IV and V). Battle themes are almost entirely avoided in these recordings as well, with Aoyama leaning towards the softer side of Sakuraba’s offerings.

But all is not lost! There are glimmering moments where things get interesting. The melodic right hand, for example, is filled with decorative flourish in songs like “INNOCENCE” and “NEW HUMAN RACE.” In “FLOWING,” Aoyama skilfully recreates Sakuraba’s modern contrapuntal skills between the two hands, all in a way that aspiring pianists will find deceptively simple when learning for themselves.

Perhaps the most impressive track of all here is “MOTHER OCEAN,” a lengthy multi-part piece that may well be this collection’s magnum opus. When listening to this short CD (note the time: 32 minutes), I find myself returning to “MOTHER OCEAN” many times. Wow…that last phrase feels downright poetic. And, considering how weird Sakuraba’s track titles can be (cheers to “LABO OF TAS” and “TAKE A FANCY”), a name like “MOTHER OCEAN” is as palatable as its corresponding piano arrangement. Very nice!

If you’re looking to add this CD+book combo to your personal collection, a word of caution: this publication is now a full decade old, it ran in relatively small numbers, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a new/sealed copy. At present, I know that is selling at least one used copy of this item, to the tune of $75. However, with such a limited stock, readers of this review within even a year may find that Otaku’s stock has run dry, which means the eager would-be owner will have to become more resourceful, turning to Amazon Japan or Yahoo! Japan Auctions, and be ready to pay prices commensurate to, or well above, $75. Is it worth it? Perhaps, if you truly love the Star Ocean franchise, particularly its origins. As a pianist, I have an additional 45 tracks to learn and hear for myself, which adds value. If you’re only in it for the 15 audio tracks, the price point may well rule out your desire to hunt down this artifact.

For information on our scoring systems, see our scoring systems overview. Learn more about our general policies on our ethics & policies page.
Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.