Star Ocean: Second Evolution - Staff Review  

The Corbomite Maneuver
by Adriaan den Ouden

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20-40 Hours
+ Huge, easy to use crafting system.
+ Fully customizable party with lots of characters to recruit.
- Weak voice acting.
- Lacks the polish of Star Ocean: First Departure.
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   Allow me to tell you a story. Roughly seven years ago, during my high school years, when money was scarce and only a small number of games entered my eager hands in any given year, a friend of mine recommended a game to me. Hyping its amazing crafting system, huge number of playable characters, and multiple endings, he claimed it was the greatest RPG he'd ever played, toting it as his all-time favorite game. That game was Star Ocean: The Second Story. Intrigued, I spent the next seven years trying to find a copy, but sadly, at that time it had become excessively rare, and short of blowing eighty dollars on eBay, the game was out of my reach. Then, earlier in 2008, while perusing the used game bins at my local EB Games, I came across a blank, black DVD case with only a tiny price sticker on it reading "$4.99." When I took a closer look, the sticker also read "Star Ocean PS1." I had found it! At long last, I would have an opportunity to play this fabled game of ages past! I quickly purchased it and took it home, ready to slide it into my recently purchased PS3 and have at her.

   And then, less than a week later, I read a horrifying story on our very own RPGamer index. Star Ocean: Second Evolution would arrive in January 2009, for the PSP. With a new translation, new fully-animated cinematics, and various other improvements to the game, it seemed pointless to play through the inferior version now when an enhanced copy awaited me in the not-too-distant future. Alas, my seven long years of searching were for naught, but January has arrived, and finally I can say that I have played Star Ocean 2.

   Star Ocean: Second Evolution follows two characters, Claude C. Kenny, son of Star Ocean: First Departure hero Ronyx J. Kenny, and Rena Lanford, a teenage girl living on the underdeveloped planet Expel. One of Second Evolution's more interesting story features is that it allows the player to view the game's events from either Claude or Rena's perspective, allowing for, at the very least, two fairly different playthroughs. Regardless of which perspective the game is played from, Claude finds himself somehow transported halfway across the galaxy to Expel, where he runs into Rena and begins trying to find a way home, which involves investigating a strange meteor called the Sorcery Globe that has been causing havoc for several months.

I swear, officer, she I swear, officer, she's over 18!

   While Star Ocean: First Departure provided the player with four permanent characters regardless of how the game was played, Second Evolution only provides two, the aforementioned protagonists. The other dozen or so characters that can be recruited over the course of the game are entirely optional, and, should one wish it, the player could potentially complete the game with no other allies whatsoever. Although this is a definite boon for those interested in customizing their party, it has an unfortunate side effect in that the characters met throughout the game feel fairly disjointed from the story as a whole. First Departure did an impeccable job of involving all the player's party members in the story, but the characters in Second Evolution seem fairly unimportant once their own small role to play is over. Luckily, all the characters have very unique personalities and mannerisms, which, despite their relatively weak role in plot, allow them to be amusing ancillary characters that provide plenty of chuckles throughout the game's duration.

   The plot itself isn't particularly great either, unfortunately. It relies fairly heavily on coincidence, particularly at the beginning of the game. The new translation is a significant improvement, particularly the dialogue written for Claude, whose speech patterns and mannerisms mimic those of his father, Ronyx J. Kenny, from First Departure. It's a relatively small detail, but it stands out as a particularly well-done extra bit of work that went into the game.

   Combat in Second Evolution is the same as that of Second Story and indeed First Departure. The player controls one of four characters in a real-time action battle system. Each character can launch a basic combo attack along with two special moves, and the player can switch between them at will. As far as action combat systems go, it is fairly simple, but it's fast and enjoyable at the same time. Sadly, one of the things that becomes painfully obvious when playing Second Evolution is just how much more effort was put into the remake of its predecessor, First Departure. Second Evolution is a port, through and through, and it's more evident in the boss battles than anywhere else. While First Departure provided newly structured boss fights that flowed much better and required a certain amount of strategy, all boss fights in Second Evolution, aside from those with multiple targets, are simply a matter of stunning the enemy in a corner so they can't fight back. Even the final boss can be defeated in this way, and most players will likely discover that victory in any fight is simply a matter of hitting him before he hits you.

The huge crafting and skill system is one of the best aspects of the game. The huge crafting and skill system is one of the best aspects of the game.

   All the other enhancements from First Departure are present in Second Evolution, as one might expect. This includes an expanded crafting system with new specialties and the all-new "super" specialties, at least one new playable character, new animated cutscenes, et cetera. Despite all the enhancements, the core of the game remains the same, so players fond of the original can expect an improved, though not significantly different, experience.

   Visually, the game also lacks the impressive nature of First Departure. The aforementioned title made use of brand new, highly detailed environments, while Second Evolution still uses the backdrops from the PlayStation original. While they are still quite attractive, their age is beginning to show, and they lack the polish of First Depature's. One thing that may be a hit or miss with certain players is the redesigned character artwork, which caused a fair bit of controversy in the months preceding the game's release. While they are unquestionably beautifully designed, their apparent age conflicts with what is given by the storyline. All the characters look significantly younger than they ought to, but Rena in particular is quite egregious, as she appears to be half her actual age without another character beside her to provide a height reference.

   The audio also manages to come up short of its forebear. The score, composed by series veteran Motoi Sakuraba, is fairly good and quite typical of his work, but the voice acting, sadly, is just not up to snuff. Certain characters come off quite well, most notably Claude, who, as mentioned previously, is written and voiced in a manner reminiscent of the character's father. Unfortunately, the majority of the rest of the cast is either barely tolerable or downright awful. It's still a massive improvement from the original PlayStation version of the game, but doesn't meet the standards of today.

   Star Ocean: Second Evolution plays almost identically to Star Ocean: First Departure, and this is in no way a bad thing. However, Second Evolution is an enhanced port and little more. It is clear that less effort was put into updating it for 2009 than First Departure, and sadly this drags the game down. Fans of First Departure and Second Story will easily find thirty hours of enjoyment in Second Evolution, and it is unquestionably a terrific game. Unfortunately, Claude C. Kenny is stuck in his father's shadow.

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