The Star Ocean series is the eldest child of studio Tri-Ace, refugees of the variably talented Wolf Team and creators of other oddball RPGs such as Valkyrie Profile? series and Radiata Stories?. The Star Ocean games feature an emphasis on incomprehensible (though nevertheless entertaining) sci-fi stories that are ignored for two-thirds of the game in favor of trite fantasy garbage. (That is not an exaggeration.) The games are also notable for their deep skill, talent, and invention systems, which are usually entirely game-breaking and often more fun than the actual games. (Also not an exaggeration.)
Star Ocean? | Super Famicom | 1996 (JP only)
The first Star Ocean game was born into the world amidst a flurry of nerd drama, as its creators had bailed from their long-time home at Wolf Team after making a deal with a devil named Namco, who peed in their collective Wheaties by making significant changes to Wolf Team's magnum opus, Tales of Phantasia. History aside, the first Star Ocean bears more than a few similarities to Phantasia, but generally it's your typical open-ended RPG with real, honest-to-god real-time battles. Also, it's never legally been seen on this side of the ocean.
Star Ocean: The First Departure? | PSP? | 2007 (JP only)
First Departure is a modern-day remake more along the lines of Ninja Gaiden Black? than FF: Anniversary Edition, adding more playable characters and other goodies in addition to integrating an upgraded battle engine based on the sequels, along with new artwork all around. A U.S. release is still up in the air at the moment, but it seems likely enough given Tri-Ace's incestuous relationship with Square "We Localize Everything!" Enix.
Star Ocean: The Second Story | PlayStation | 1999
The second entry in the series was the first to reach American shores. It was a vastly more refined and substantial take on the first game's concepts, all wrapped in an absurd-yet-entertaining pile of applied phlebotinum and science-fantasy cliches. And despite the systems and substance, the actual combat system has all the depth of a kiddie pool... which would be more of a strike against the game if Tri-Ace RPGs were intended to be played on default difficulty.
Star Ocean: Blue Sphere? | Game Boy Color? | 2001 (JP only)
Blue Sphere marks one of the first times that a million-plus-selling franchise saw a main sequel for a handheld system -- an especially bizarre twist given the standard openness the Star Ocean games, and the fact that it was on the humble Game Boy Color, of all system. This one also never came to the U.S., which is a bit of a shame since it's more or less a direct sequel to The Second Story.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time | PlayStation 2 | 2005
It should be noted that the US release of the third Star Ocean is the Director's Cut version, as the original Japanese release in 2003 was a buggy mess, that was quickly "rectified" half a year later. Even repaired, though, the game was still an affront to long-time series fans because it did away with long-standing trappings of the series or simplified them to the point of idiocy. Not to mention the cringe-inducing storyline and the atrocious English-language voice acting. Oh god, the voice acting.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope? | PlayStation 3? | 2009
Star Ocean's fourth chapter still basically exists as teasers and a subtitle, but it's still set the series' fanbase a-frothing. This probably has more to do with the hope that it will be more like the early chapters than Till the End of time. Really, the subtitle "The Last Hope" is wholly appropriate!