Star Ocean: The Second Story- Review

I Must Try Harder or Else!

By: Paul Koehler

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 10
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 10
   Plot 6
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 10
   Visuals 5
   Difficulty Medium to Nearly Impossible
   Time to Complete

35-40 Hours; 80+ Hours (Cave of Trials)


Title Screen

   What does a team of RPG gurus do when they leave Namco after creating a masterpiece like Tales of Phantasia? They hook up with Enix, and make a name for themselves by making innovative, fun, and challenging games. Originally penned the WOLF TEAM, they renamed themselves Tri-Ace and have given Enix games a good reputation ever since. North America got its first taste of a Tri-Ace game called Star Ocean: The Second Story, and it provided a viable alternative to the much-flaunted (and disappointing) Final Fantasy VIII. Despite a few flaws, Star Ocean: The Second Story (SO2) is an enjoyable RPG, and boasts a Secret Dungeon that would make the Omega Weapon shudder.

  SO2's battle system is truly unique. Instead of a traditional system such as Final Fantasy, all battles take place in an arena-like setting. Think Secret of Mana, but better. It's nice to know that Claude can avoid a Knight's rush while damaging him at the same time! You can control any character during the battles, and switch between them without much difficulty. The others are controlled by AI settings that determine their actions (i.e. Stay away from enemy!), and work well to boot. After annoying draw marathons in FF8, the battles in SO2 are fun! This is important, because you'll need the experience to survive in the secret dungeon.

The interface is intimidating at first. Integral to SO2 is the Skill System, which allows each character to invest points in different specialties. The Kitchen Knife skill increases your Strength rating a certain amount, and also helps contribute to your Cooking Specialty. Confused? The best way to learn the system is to play the game at some length, but after a while, it makes sense. The game starts out very slow for the first two hours, so be warned. It would be advised that you set the message speed in the game to a faster level, or else you will be spending a lot of time viewing plot. Near the end of the first disc, the game picks up a considerable amount of speed, and it is then that the fun begins.

Silly Little Comment on Screen
Claude is the ladies man! Or, at least he tries to be...  

   It is obvious that Tri-Ace does not have Nobuo Uematsu on their staff. Squaresoft's maestro has spoiled me, yes, but SO2's tracks sounded like muzak to me, with the exception of the final boss fights. The majority of the sounds came from the battles, and…read more on that later. Please.

   As mentioned earlier, Tri-Ace has always included innovations with their games that are seldom found elsewhere. SO2 is no exception. It takes Tri-Ace's developments from Tales of Phantasia and the original Star Ocean (both for the Super Famicom), and expands them. The battle system is an excellent addition, and skill points are used to execute "specialties", such as item creation. Much of the best equipment in the game is not purchased or found in treasure chests; they must be made using these specialties. Of note are "Private Actions". These are scenes in the towns where the party will split up, leaving the main character to explore town. Although optional, Private Actions enable the party to gain certain characters, learn important side plots, and determine the ending of the game. Each character also has "emotions" to their party members. These emotions help in battle. For example, if two characters are fond of each other, and one dies in battle, the living character will dish out more damage. Tri-Ace deserves credit for their ingenuity, because this is SO2's best quality. Hopefully other makers (including Square) will follow some of their innovations.

     The plot is a curious combination of fantasy and sci-fi, although it seems some of the terminology used is a direct rip-off of Star Trek. No biggie, but the comparisons are obvious. As usual, the bosses are evil villains set to cause havoc and conquer the universe with no exceptions. Some of the interaction between characters can be amusing at times, but after playing through an hour of Final Fantasy 9, I've seen better.

    The translation is generally solid, however some of the plot scenes can drag on and on. As for the voice acting…let's just say SO2's battle voices are one of the reasons I prefer subtitles instead of voiceovers. "I must try harder or else!" is one of the many calls that Ashton makes, and he's mild. Beware of Precis. She is a good character, but her voice actor plays the part of a ditzy teenager very well…almost too well. This problem is also apparent because SO2 has multiple difficulty levels, which are accessed by completing a voice collection. Guess where the voices come from?

Cutesy or Realistic Name
A well-deserved reward for wasting LOTS of time!  

   SO2's replay value is extremely high. Whether you are collecting voices to access the different difficulty levels, leveling to take on the Iseria Queen, or wasting time in Fun City at the Bunny Races, there are a lot of things to do in this game.

The visuals reminded me of Final Fantasy VII in many respects. There are a few cool FMV's scattered throughout the game, but nowhere close to the amount of cinema in Parasite Eve or FF9. 2D sprites are used for the characters and monsters. This does detract from the game a little bit, but it seems obvious that Tri-Ace spent a lot more time developing game mechanics than the graphics.

SO2's difficulty depends on two things: the difficulty level and the Cave of Trials. Beating the game without taking on the Cave of Trials takes around 35-40 hours. As for the Cave of Trials…SO2's secret dungeon is an impressive creation. The aforementioned Iseria Queen is its secret boss, and I have yet to even hear of anyone beat her on Universe difficulty. Even defeating her on Normal difficulty is a significant accomplishment.

SO2 proved to be a welcome surprise in 1999, and provided an excellent alternative to the disappointing FF8 that year. Recently, Tri-Ace released another game, Valkyrie Profile, and this one looks to continue Tri-Ace's reputation as master RPG crafters. Hats off to them. Despite a few setbacks and a steep learning curve, SO2 introduced America to Tri-Ace…and the Cave of Trials.


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