Star Ocean: Second Evolution quickly follows the First Departure remake, both of which now get Square Enixís name all over it. But more importantly give the Star Ocean series an opportunity to broaden their fanbase, while building hype and interest in Star Ocean: The Last Hope which was released only months after Second Evolution. Rather similar to the Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth remake on PSP which was released just months prior Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria.
This is a remake of the first internationally released Star Ocean title, The Second Story. Some would say remaking the title is a big risk, as to many a Star Ocean fan itís considered not only one of the best Star Ocean title created, but one of the best RPGís, period. Over the course of this review Iíll focus on reviewing Second Evolution as a standalone title as much as possible, but also via comparison to the original title created 10 years prior this remake later on.
20 years have passed since the events of First Departure, Ronyx J. Kenni, now aged 58 still holds a senior role abroad the Calnus and will feature yet again, although in a much reduced capacity this time around. The attention for this particular title turns to his son, Claude C. Kenni who is one of the main characters in the Second Evolution. He is 19 years of age, and is the envy of many of the remaining Calnus crew, as they believe Claude is getting special treatment since he is the son of the famous Ronyx J. Kenni.
While on the planet of Expel, a young girl named Rena lives with her adoptive mother Westa in the town of Arlia. Renaís distant past is unknown, and the only comfort she has from her original parents is a pendant which she wears around her neck at all time, which she believes is a sign that they did love her.
Star Ocean: Second Evolution offers the gamer a rare option of been able to play the story as either of these two characters. Early in proceedings the two will have a fateful encounter, where Claude will be mysteriously transported to Expel and step in to save Renaís life from a monster attack. Depending on the story you choose however will determine which point of view you see events unfold from. A number of scenes will be different and unique based on who you elect as the feature character, giving the game instant replay value as most will want to finish both characters stories in order to see everything the game has to offer.
Unlike First Departure the story is much longer, and will probably take you around 10 more hours to finish it, but considering First Departure was quite short in length this is not a bad thing. The power of the PSP remake has allowed some new anime style cutscenes to be added throughout the game, and also (for better or worse) a few of the original scenes from Second Story have also been maintained. Generally it feels like an old school action RPG, but with a freshened up feel to it, from that perspective I find it a great thing.
Also very noticeable is the addition of a fully voiced dialogue, with new voice actors as opposed to Second Story as well. Those that played Second Story would know that (terrible) voice acting occurred during battles only. Generally the voice acting have improved significantly (then again, Second Story didnít have much competition there now did it?), although Second Story purists will lament the loss of those they remembered so well, despite the fact they failed so miserably. Overall itís a massive improvement to the original, desperately needed for those new to the game.
One thing that may end up making you grind your teeth though is the game has generally been extended by exceedingly long scenes Ė and you donít have an event skip option either...dammit! Itís a feature Iíve grown to love over the years, and if you are like me, youíll miss it deeply on replays. The first, or second time around though it shouldnít be too much of a problem as itís all new and interesting, but thereafter itís a pain in the neck. I guess there is some solace in that the PSP is easy to carry around while you do other things so you can periodically press X until they are finished. Couldnít have been that hard to add though could it...
Moving on, next we have the game play, adventuring, fighting etc. Typically during the game you will either be adventuring 2D towns/dungeons from an overhead view, or traveling between towns from a full 3D perspective. This is virtually unchanged from Second Story, bar a few minor updates and adjusting the view to fit the PSPís widescreen capabilities.
Battles will occur randomly when you are in-between towns or in one of the many dungeons of the game, once a battle begins you will move into a local battle environment. Here battles will take place in an action environment where generally you face off left to right, unless you get into a surround attack or something of that ilk. In battle you can roam freely in a 3D environment, although despite that you are still generally limited to left and right attacks only Ė which can be ridiculous at times as your character will automatically position themselves in front of the enemy to attack, sometimes you can be running parallel with the enemy for over 10 seconds before you strike, quite frustrating.
To complete the mixed bag, you can bypass the left and right attacks with Symbology, better known as magic to those foreign to the series, here the mage type will just stand still and cast away, invoke time is quite reasonable as well. The annoying aspect though it, most Symbols cause the battle to pause while the animation and strike takes place, pretty much defeating the idea of an action battle.
Itís something that is pretty much exactly the same as the title 10 years ago, back then it was pretty sweet, but boy it feels outdated now. The only saving grace is the voice acting is completely different from battles, which has improved them dramatically from bloody terrible to reasonable. It would have been nice if the remake improved on this more, considering games like Till the End of Time & Last Hope have state of the art battle systems in particular.
The pleasing aspect though is the character development is also unchanged, which was one of the strengths in Second Story. When you win battles you get Exp, Fol (currency) and at times items. Standard stuff, but level ups donít just yield potential new skills/Symbols and parameter increases, but also valuable skill points. You have a plethora of skills you can learn with these, ranging from those that can increase your item creation talents (see more later on), parameters or gain battle bonuses, such as the chance of piecing enemy guard of speeding up Symbol time. This gives you a great deal of flexibility when developing your characters, whether you focus more on battle bonuses, or other miscellaneous benefits is entirely up to you.
Another pleasing aspect is Star Ocean trademarks, such as Item Creation and Private Actions are present, just like the other Star Ocean titles and the original Second Story.
Item Creation allows you to try refining existing items into more powerful ones, combining items, appraising items, and cooking new foods and a range of others. This gives you the potential to have far more items and equipment over and above what the shops sell. Donít use it too carelessly though as you need various items to act as your materials, which at times can be costly, and also you can hold only 20 of each item. Not only that, but your success rate is dependent on your skill levels, and even a pinch of luck Ė perhaps saving before you try it might be in order.
Next we have the brilliant Private Actions, one of my favorite aspects about the Star Ocean titles, and Second Evolution is no exception. Throughout the game you can revisit any town you have previously and enter a ďPrivate ActionĒ arrangement, here your characters will disperse among the townsfolk, as opposed to be in your back pocket when you need them. Literally I might add, normally you walk around as Claude or Rena, then the character required for the conversation just walks out of you like magic...strange but it works.
Anyway, Private Actions are generally nonessential to the game, but failing to participate in them wonít give you the full game experience. These can lead to potentially recruiting more characters, witnessing your fellow characters in various discussions or whatever problems they are having Ė allowing you to get to know them better. And all of this has hidden affection ratings attached, depending who you talk to, and what options you take to reply (when given) can determine what endings you will see upon completion of the game, where there are over 80 different ones available in fact!
Now for those that played Second Story, and loved it might get quite frustrated with some elements, particularly renaming, while it sounds minor when you have lived by certain names for 10 years you arenít going to like it are you. How could you feel if someone one day decided to call your pet dog at 10 years of age a completely new name? Not happy Iím sure. The stand out disaster is the unfortunate Ashton who ends up having Creepy and Weepy attached to him, yep thatís right, freaking Creepy and Weepy Ė my 5 year old nephew could have come up with something better than that.
Last by not least, Welch also drops in again Ė literally if you engage in a Private Action at a certain place at the right time. She looks and behaves much alike her role in First Departure, where again you wonít find out too much about her, other than her fantasizing about some boy sweeping her off her feet. Having her around just adds a little more entertainment and curiosity to the game, and if youíre not interested Ė she is only optional.
Refer to the following breakdown for my evaluation of the game in some key areas.
Story: To get through to the ending it will take you around 25 or more hours on a first playthrough, the game offers a wealth of dialogue and events to shape into what is really a rather tragic, and even at times depressing story. If it wasnít for Private Actions it would be quite a sombre experience, not necessarily a bad thing, but you donít get a great deal of entertainment from your characters as standard thatís for sure. Claude is moping around wanting to get back home, Rena is confused about whom she really is, and itís one tragedy after another. It is, and isnít better than First departure, itís really hard to say. There is more happening here though and goes a little deeper than your average RPG, and it will trigger a few emotions along the way. Iíd just like some more involvement from the other characters, this ends up been one area where having the remaining cast as optional backfires. Still quite enjoyable though, one of the better stories youíll find in an RPG. 8.5/10
Gameplay: In Second Story it was one of the better things about the game, but since then, nothing has really changed. You could use a theory that if itís not broken, donít fix it Ė but it is broken. Symbology downtime is just damn annoying, as is characters running sideways trying to hit an enemy Ė just close in and strike dammit! Battles aside though itís quite good, everything surrounding the game is classy and well made, item creation, private actions & skill development makes up for it. 7.5/10
Graphics: For PSP it looks good enough, the game had maintained a bunch of decent original movie sequences, with a few new anime style ones which look great, when they come up. But itís PSP so Iím sure you wouldnít expect too much here anyway. 8/10
Music/Sound: The soundtrack of the game is quite good, the music fits the areas and events that are occurring rather well, and the new set of voice actors keeps the game fresh and working together nicely. If you loved the original to death you might not agree with some voice actors, but youíll just have to live with it, nice job overall here. 8.5/10
Replay Factor: There is tonnes to do on replays, as I said right from the beginning there is instant replay value in been able to play the game from two different perspectives, been Renaís, then Claudeís. Add that to the wealth of different characters you can recruit Ė also meaning different Private Actions there is plenty of reason to go another round. And that is without mentioning a post game dungeon for an even tougher challenge, and also an ability to build a movie and voice collection while youíre at it to watch, or listen to those you like the most over and over again at your leisure. The only disappointing aspect is there is no event skip, some scenes can take quite a while; when youíve seen them more than once you donít really need to see them again. 9/10
Final Thoughts: If you have never played Second Story and breakthrough features arenít your thing then look no further. What the games lacks in state of the art gameplay, it makes up for with a nice story, which has a rare option to see it from two sides. Also loaded with some enjoyable Private Actions and loads of replay value there is much to like. Perfect for new fans following on from First Departure, but also enough to make existing fans curious to see how the remake went. Although if you are a serious Second Story fan you might want to steer clear, as often is the case with a remake of something you truly loved you're going to be quite bothered with some of the changes.
Overall Rating: 8.3/10
Opinion by Fayt.