Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Star Ocean: Second Evolution (PSP) Review

Happy Tuesday, everyone. We just finished watching those Shaq-a-licious Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time vids, so now let's shift gears to a new review. Star Ocean: The Second Story is a game I have fond memories of. Did this PSP remake rekindle some of them?

Another Dip Into the Star Ocean

In 1999, Star Ocean: The Second Story premiered on Sony's first Playstation. One of its selling points was the huge amount of different endings the game had. Of course, no one was going to play through the game from start to finish 30+ times to see them all. Who could have dreamt that we'd be able to play this same adventure in the palm of our hands a decade later? That's what we have with Star Ocean: Second Evolution, the PSP remake, and while it isn't as different of a leap than say First Departure was, Second Evolution is definitely a universe worth exploring.

Some special scenes get the animated treatment.

Star Ocean: Second Evolution immediately gives you a choice between two heroes to play as. You have a youth cast in his father's shadow, Claude C. Kenny, and Rena Lanford, a blue-haired girl who meets Claude in a forest. Which hero you choose will sometimes give you different story content as well as characters that can be recruited to your party. The talented swordsman, Dias Flac, for instance, can only be recruited when you play as Rena. Regardless, both Claude and Rena will be in each others' party despite which character you choose.

On a routine exploration trip on an underdeveloped planet, Claude C. Kenny approaches too close to a teleporter of sorts, sending him flying across the universe onto the planet of Expel. Not knowing where he is and after falling a monstrous beast in a venerable forest, Claude meets up with Rena Lanford. Rena notices that Claude used a "strange weapon" to defeat the beast. She then comes to the conclusion that Claude is the fabled hero of light. With the moniker to his name, Claude agrees to go with Rena to investigate the mysterious Sorcery Globe, an orb that when it crashed onto Expel, conveniently caused the planet's monsters to become violent. It's up to the two to follow every lead all the while visiting towns and castles, meeting new party members, and slaying vicious monsters.

The world map is fully 3-D.

The Private Action system from Star Ocean one is back. This system occurs when Claude or Rena enter a town by pressing the square button. Once inside a town, the party splits up and does their own thing. Depending on the point of the game you're at, many optional conversations will take place when you chat with one of your independent party members. Depending on your answers to any questions a member asks you, that party member's relationship to you or others will either strengthen or diminish. Private actions are key if you want to experiment with the 30+ endings Second Evolution offers. Additionally, something else that affects what ending you get is what members are in your party. You can have up to eight members in the party, and with more than eight characters able to be recruited, there's some difficult choices to make.

Private Actions from the first Star Ocean return.

Second Evolution is an RPG through and through following the traditional formula. You explore a verdant world map, gather information from NPCs to enhance the plot in towns, enter dungeons to gather treasures and maul monsters, and rinse and repeat. Sometimes you'll be enhancing the plot seemingly forever as dialogue tends to drag on a bit in many cases. The world map is 3-D allowing 360 degree movement of the camera whereas town and dungeon maps use 2-D prerendered graphics for an impressive effect. Dungeons feature every old school gamer's favorite, the random encounter.

Thankfully, battles take place in real time-- hence the action RPG aspect of Second Evolution. You control one of four battlers on screen while you select assignments to your AI teammates such as use as much MP as possible or stay away from the enemy. You can switch to any party member in battle as you please. Triangle brings up these options as well as items, symbology-- the magic of the Star Ocean series, as well as other tweaks. In combat you move along a 3-D plane, pressing X to select an enemy to run to and attack, as well as to use damaging special attacks with L and R shoulder buttons. Something annoying in battle is having a spell-caster. Since you can't skip spell animations, you'll constantly be seeing ten second start-ups for spells in battle. This is annoying after a short while.

Battles can get pretty hectic pretty fast.

When you're not bashing baddies to bits or scampering to and from nearby villages and spending your fol, Second Evolution features an incredibly deep skill system. This system allows any character to use skill points, earned by gaining an experience level, to learn new skills. These are helpful things like forging new weapons, armor, and items, battle skills, and other item creation benefits. The item creation system allows your characters to use raw materials found in shops and hidden in dungeon nooks and crannies in hopes of creating something good. The higher the character's skill level, the better of a chance that the end creation won't be crap.

Towns and dungeons have aged well.

On the presentation side of the galaxy, everything is adequate. Character portraits pop up for dialogue as well as voice acting. There's an incredible amount of scenes that feature voice work, and most of it isn't too shabby either. The music is still some of the best in the history of game music-- even if the PSP's speakers don't do it justice. It's just a fabulous soundtrack. Visually, the game is a bit dated now especially with the sprites and 3-D world map, but the 2-D elements like the dungeons and towns are still breathtaking.

Most dialogue in the game between characters is spoken.

Star Ocean: Second Evolution is a worthwhile remake of a Playstation One classic. There's so much to do in the forty hour campaign that you might get lost in it (including one impossibly hard optional dungeon and resulting final boss). If you're looking towards this adventure or First Departure, definitely look more towards this one. Star Ocean: Second Evolution features a well-varied cast, hours of content, a superb soundtrack, and some fantastic old-school action. If that seems like your bag, dig it, daddio.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.75/10]

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