Name: Star Ocean: Second Evolution
Last year, I dove into the world of Star Ocean for the first time with the PSP remake Star Ocean: First Departure. While I found the game enjoyable, the story didn’t quite hook me and the shallow battle system was less than desirable. Despite this, I was still willing to give the series a chance, and I was optimistic about Star Ocean: Second Evolution, the recently released PSP remake of the second game in the series. However, with a story that takes too long to get going and the lackluster fighting system unchanged, the series still hasn’t won me over.
Second Evolution (originally called Star Ocean: The Second Story when it was released for the PS1 ten years ago) takes place twenty years after the events of the first Star Ocean, and gives the player the choice of two protagonists with whom to play. The male lead is Claude Kenny, an Earthling on an intergalactic mission, and the female is Rena Lanford, a pointy-eared Nedian who looks and acts about eighteen going on twelve. The two cross paths early in the game no matter who you choose as your main character, but the option allows for some major changes in each playthrough, giving Second Evolution a good deal of replay value. Over the course of the game, Rena and Claude set out on an expedition to figure out what is causing the problems on her planet, and recruit more teammates along the way.
While there are some shining moments in Second Evolution, there are also times when the story and gameplay are incredibly dull. The game takes a while to get started, and there is not a lot of action in the first few hours. This isn’t always a bad thing, but if you are not hooked from the start, you may have trouble forcing yourself to continue playing. Also frustrating is the fact that you cannot skip past any dialogue; you must wait for the line to be spoken completely before you can continue with the conversation. Since most people can read faster than the voice actors in this game talk, this will slow things down considerably. I know that Square Enix wanted to show off the fully voice-acted game, but when I’m not even paying attention to the conversation anymore because I’m mashing the X button trying to move along, something is wrong.
Despite my issues with the game, there is still a lot to like about it. Graphically, the game looks polished, with a really nice visual style; I also appreciated the return of animated cut scenes, which I enjoyed in First Departure as well. These are really well done, and the voice-acting in the game is surprisingly good. The skill system, also making a return, still works really well, allowing characters to develop skills like cooking and item-finding. This helps make your characters more well-rounded and adds another layer of strategy to the game. Most of the characters are genuinely likeable, and the fact that you can recruit different teammates depending on your protagonist also makes the game more interesting.
However, the problems that I had with the battle system in First Departure have gone unchanged. It feels to me like the game didn’t know whether to be an action-RPG or a more traditional one, so it tried to combine the two battle styles in a way that didn’t really appeal to me. Battles are still random and mostly occur in dungeons and on the world map, like in most traditional RPGs; however, once in battle, there’s almost no strategy whatsoever as it turns into a button-mash-fest. There are magical abilities to be learned later in the game, but honestly, there are many battles you could win by closing your eyes and hitting the X button repeatedly. There’s nothing technically wrong with that, but it doesn’t feel engaging at all. Instead, fighting feels like a chore to get through as quickly as possible, which should not be the case for any RPG. If there’s not a good balance between story and fighting, the game is going to fall flat, which is exactly what happens here.
Another issue I had, which is minor but worth mentioning, is the lack of save points in this game. Sure, you can save on the world map, but once in a town or dungeon, they’re few and far between (which is made even worse by the amount of time you have to spend conversing with people). In a console RPG, this is something I would expect, but as a handheld game, there should be better options as far as saving goes—especially considering that the PSP’s battery life is so short and its stand-by feature doesn’t last for long. As a result, this doesn’t feel like as much of an “on the go” game as it should, and unless you’ve got a long trip or an hour or two to kill, you might have trouble finding the time to play.
Star Ocean: Second Evolution is not a bad game in any way. It’s a solid RPG experience, and though not terribly original, still has plenty of enjoyable moments. Fans of the series will find enough reasons to buy this enhanced version of the game, and with two different protagonists and multiple endings, you will get your money’s worth. However, I spent too much time bored or annoyed to really fall in love with this game. As a fan of RPGs, I really wanted to like it, especially with the enjoyable visuals and characters. I’m still willing to give the other games in the series a try, but my patience for this franchise as a whole is wearing thin.