All told I logged a lot of hours into this game. I sincerely enjoyed it! I always give my perspective which is a 42 year old Mom who just got into gaming about 2 years ago. This is the first RPG I bought for my new PSP.
This game is outstanding at easing you into gameplay and "tutoring" you in how to play. You won't be lost and it is not difficult to figure out where to go and what to do. I thougth the graphics were great and the characters well done. The music was good--perhaps a bit understated but it did work with the game.
I loved the story--I found it very well paced with some twists I didn't see coming as well as a bit of romance. That was a nice surprise for me and actually made my enjoyment a bit higher. I play a lot of rated E RPG that don't have any form of romance or character relations so this was a nice change. It is not major (this is not an M rated title) but its presence, for me, was quite fun.
I liked the battle system and the skill points and specialties you could develop. Unlike in some other RPG making the effort to learn these and do things like customization or cooking can actually make a HUGE difference. I spent hours doing the blacksmithing to get good armor and customizing my weapons. It added quite a bit to the game.
The only tedious thing is backtracking and random battles. However they are par for the course in most of the RPG's I play and I'm used to them now. I think the level of difficulty was light to moderate. I found the Second Evolution game a bit more difficult starting out--so I would class this one as especially perfect for a new RPG person or someone who is more of a casual gamer. I didn't get too many game over's (only due to my own stupidity LOL).
I recommend the guide, if you are the type that goes for guides, as I found it very helpful. It pointed out things that were good to know but I usually use guides to help me in dungeons as my map skills are not all too great. Wonder what happened to all that orienteering skill I had in high school?
This is an outstanding RPG with a great story that keeps you hooked for the entire game. Gameplay is great and I believe you will get a good amount of "bang" for your buck with Star Ocean: First Departure.