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Star Ocean: The Second Story - Review

The Second Story of Star Ocean

By: Scott Mancuso


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 9
   Plot 6
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 10
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Average - Near Impossible
   Time to Complete

40 - 50 hours

 
Overall
8
Criteria

This isn't even the real title screen.
 

   Nobody could have had too big of expectations with the release of Star Ocean: The Second Story. I'm sure I didn't. Enix had been the sleeper of the rpg community as of late, and it just didn't have the hype surrounding it like that inescapable little Final Fantasy VIII game. However, as unexpected as it was, Star Ocean delivered.

   In my opinion it could have been a stand out rpg of the year, if not for the fact that at its time of release, rpg's were being handed out like candy. (Lunar, Suiko2, Grandia, FF8, FFA) It had a lot to contend with but with exceptionally in-depth gameplay, wicked-cool graphics, and killer replay value this one is going down in the books as one of the greats.

   First off... chose your character. At the beginning of the game you are given the choice of controlling the fates of one of two people. There's Claude C. Kenni, the stereotypical Earth boy on a mission with his war-hero father to investigate some strange occurrences. In the other corner we have the innocent small town girl, Rena Lanford from the not so modernized planet of Expel. Depending on whom you chose your going to be dealt a pretty different game. The choice of the main character leads to differing events and other characters you pick up later on, however the basics of the story stay the same regardless of your choice, a la Resident Evil 2.


Claude, aka:Matt
Claude looks far too much like Matt Damon  

   The story itself isn't the game's strongest point I'm sorry to say. The major reason is because the game detours so much on side quests and other optional events. I'm not complaining about this since a ton of side missions is a great addition to any game, but it's kind of hard to keep concentrated on the task at hand with so many other options available. The end result is that the side quests are helpful in beefing up your characters but not in developing them or the plot.

   The game excels mostly with a fun battle system and the ability to give your characters countless special skills that are necessary for completing the game. Along those lines, each character has their own unique talents that make them more useful with certain skills. This portion of the game alone is pretty entertaining and adds to the overall uniquenss of the game. Aside from your everyday ordinary skills, you can learn "super specialty skills" by schooling the majority of your characters in one area. Example, all of your characters have the skill "writing" on a high level, so the new super specialty skill "publishing" is bestowed upon you. It's kind of confusing at first, but it's a fun break from the normalacy of your everday rpg.

   Star Ocean's battle system is quite unique in that there are actually three smaller battle systems within it. Though the only real difference being how much control you have over the character you posses. It just allows you to chose between a more active or turn-based battle depending on your taste. It's pretty straight up from there. There are four characters in your active party, you control one and the rest are controlled by a surprisingly helpful AI. The AI can be set to your liking so as to have someone use their most powerful attacks, or use spells sparingly. Battles are pretty fast paced and I found it rare that while traveling through a dungeon I would get sick of them or feel the urge to run away. Some people may argue that it was just mindless button mashing, but if you think about it, fast paced, mindless button mashing can be pretty fun.

   As far as graphics are concerned... the pre-rendered backgrounds are amazing. Beautiful towns and dungeons that are fully detailed and colorful. There's nothing more to be desired in the fully rotating, polygonal world map, which is still one of the nicest I've seen. The characters themselves are kind of outdated looking and reminded me a lot of the ones from Grandia· colorful and two dimensional. The fmv's are few and far between, but when they're there they make a memorable presence. They were certainly not up to the level of Square's latest efforts, but they're good looking none-the less, and sparse enough to keep you interested in the game itself.


A ship
Sweet CG FMV of a space ship  

   The music was nothing overly impressive, but it was nothing to complain about. It didn't exactly make me want to rush out and buy the sound track, but for a game that's as extensive as it is, the music was quite varied throughout. Overall though, it's not very memorable.

Another thing I have to mention is the in-battle voice-overs. If you think the most annoying thing you ever heard was the voices for Justin and company in Grandia· you haven't played Star Ocean 2 yet. I swear, prolonged listening could make your ears bleed. The worst part is when they start yelling at the same time after a battle. It's cruel and unusual punishment but every time you hear a new statement it's added to a voice collection area that can be accessed from the main menu. As you collect more voice clips (there's over 1200 total) different difficulty levels can be obtained, so at least something good comes out of it all.

Finally one of the greatest things about Star Ocean is its excellent replay value. I've heard that there's over 80 different endings... although I can't account for all of them. You end up at one of these ending based on factors like, the main character you chose, other major characters you pick up, side quest you partake in, and your actions towards the other characters during private actions. P.A.'s are a brand new feature where before entering a town you have the option of pressing square to engage in a private action and have all of your characters disperse throughout the town. Now you can stroll about by your self and talk to other characters alone. Certain events may take place with other characters where you'll have choices to make, and these choices will contribute to emotional points, which gauge how each party member feels about another. (another factor on your 1/80+ endings)


Group of characters
Claude and Rena chillin' with their crew  

On the subject of endings, after you beat the game for the first time you can unlock and play with harder difficulty levels. This is a good chance to go back and play with character you didn't choose and play a pretty different game on the second time through. This is also where the near impossible difficulty level comes into play. Some of the levels you can unlock are insanely hard and there is also a feature to make the final boss a more arduous task than it already is. If you happen to be a die-hard SO2 fan, you're in luck.

Overall, this is a great game anyway you look at it. The only problem is the story is somewhat weak to begin with and the differing characters that you may pick up, and the numerous side quests don't help its cause any. There's enough character development on the main path and the private actions though to make up for its choppiness and keep the story somewhat alive. SO2 probably would have turned a lot more heads if not for its untimely release but in the end, the in-depth gameplay and replay value alone make this a must have for anyone who's willing to put a great deal of time into a great rpg. Really· any game that contains an Iron Chef parody needs to be played if for no other reason then to be a contender in virtual Kitchen Stadium





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