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Star Ocean: The Second Story - Review

Enix makes a triumphant return

By Ryan Amos, RPGamer Writer


Review Breakdown
   Battle System9.0
   Gameplay9.0
   Music6.5
   Originality8.5
   Plot7.0
   Replay Value10.0
   Sound8.5
   Visuals9.0
   DifficultyMedium to Very Hard
   Time to Complete30-60 hours 
Overall
8.0
Criteria

   The first thing that goes through many people's minds when they hear the words "non-linear" is "Uh oh, another SaGa Frontier." Star Ocean: The Second Story proves that this is definately not the case. It is called "the second story" because it builds on the massive 64 megabit SNES game, which, sadly, never made it to America. Star Ocean: The Second Story is a very unique RPG, with many systems to master and many things to see.

   Yes, Star Ocean 2 is non linear, but not too muchly so. It really is just a regular RPG with an unusually large number of side quests, and these side quests are usually several hours long. In fact, you have to choose some of these side quests merely so your levels will be high enough to progress to the next area.

    A lot of the game will be spent leveling up, but the battles are actually fun to fight. They're not your typical RPG battles, rather they're more like Secret of Mana battles in a confined area. You only control one character at a time, and the rest of your characters operate on a settable AI. This AI, unlike in many games, is actually fairly intelligent. Magicians cast the right spells at the right times on the right targets, you can set your attackers to prevent their team mates from being attacked, or whatever you please.

   The battles range from very easy to very difficult. The game has three difficulty modes, Earth (regular,) Galaxy (hard,) and Universe (completely, utterly impossible.) These modes are activated by getting a certain number of the voice samples played during the game (you can check your progress via the "Voice Collection" menu on the title screen. If your levels stay high, you shouldn't have too much of a problem (side note: the maximum level you can achieve is well above 99. I believe it's 255 but I'm not sure.)

Large dungeons
Big, beautiful dungeons  

   You'll need a lot of those 255 levels if you want to see everything the game has to offer. The characters you can get in your party are all optional, though you have to pick some over others. For example, if you get Opera, you can't get Ashton and vice versa. The characters interact surprisingly well for a non-linear game such as this. They all seem to feel as if they're part of the party, not an "outsider" as many non-crucial plot characters in other games are.

   The characters interact in special "private events" in towns. Basically, if you press the square button before entering a town, the characters separate and you can talk to them individually. If certain conditions have been met, then you will see special scenes. These scenes can trigger other events later in the game, and usually involve some change of emotional points.

   What are emotional points? Basically, they're the sense of either love or friendship sensed between characters. They effect the game in numerous ways, the least of which are the endings. There are 86 endings in all, and they vary depending on characters' emotional levels toward eachother, and if certain events have happened during the game such as if you beat the harder version of the last boss or viewed certain Private Events. In addition, if a character falls in battle, other characters can react with anger (and increased stats) for the duration of the battle.

Pow! Ziff! Wham!
Lots of damage is possible  

   The plot itself is pretty basic, without too much turbulence. Claude's father, Ronixis Kenni, is a legendary hero and an Admiral in the Earth Federation (his tale was told in the original Star Ocean, though there is a small introduction in the beginning.) Claude is on an expedition with his father to a new planet and accidentally activates a teleporter. After the obligatory sobbing scenes by his father, Claude lands near the home of Rena Lanford on the planet of Expel. She thinks he is a legendary hero who will vanquish the evils which have been plaguing Expel since the landing of a strange meteorite. Without much fanfare, they set out on their quest.

   Their quest leads them through many wonderful dungeons and caves. They're winding, filled with enemies and jam packed with treasures. You can actually get some nice stuff from these chests, though the best gear is obtained through item creation skills. The bosses generally aren't very hard. In fact, some of the sets of enemies you have to fight are a lot worse than the bosses themselves. They do give a lot of experience, though, so levels are gained very quickly.

   Whenever a character levels up, they gain "Skill points." These skill points allow the character to learn various skills, such as mixing items to create potions, which can be very nice. However, the system is not explained well at all, so it will probably take a while before you figure out what exactly to do. The skills play a very integral part in the game, so they can't be overlooked.

   In part because of these item creations, the replay value of Star Ocean: The Second Story is incredible. So many powerful and cool items exist that you'll find yourself tinkering with creating them for hours on end. Toward the end of the game, you gain access to a 13 floor secret dungeon that will challenge even the best players (there's a nasty rumor around that the last boss of the secret dungeon is literally unbeatable.) You have to be over level 100 when entering to even stand a chance, and you need items that would otherwise make the game a cakewalk. On the other hand, there are some incredibly powerful weapons and armor inside, so it is worth your while to go through it (not to mention the fact that it adds about 20 hours to the game.) In addition, there's a Golden Saucer type town where you can go and play games, including a battle arena. There are also more than 1200 voice samples, so of course, they're not great individually. It would have been nice if there were some kind of standard pronunciation of names across voice samples, but sadly, Rena's name is said three different ways (that I've found, that is.)
Good graphics
And some good graphics to boot  

   A lot of people don't like the music in this game, but I don't have a problem with it. Sure, the tunes aren't great, but they're bearable, and a few (such as the final boss battle musics) are pretty cool. In short, it's not terrible, but I can see how people wouldn't like it. I guess this is more a matter of taste. Additionally, for those of you who are as lucky as me and have a surround sound setup, it supports surround sound very nicely, as you can easily tell where a friend is in trouble on the battlefield instead of having to blindly run around looking for them.

   Many people complain about the quality of the translation, though from what I can tell, SCEA did a decent job. Some things just don't make sense (example: Ashton's naming of the dragons on his back, apparently these names have some bearing on the way their eyes are in Japanese, but it sounds like gibberish in English.) There are also recurring characters from the first Star Ocean, and it's pretty confusing because the game acts like you know what's going on, even though you're confused out of your mind.

   So, what's the final verdict on Star Ocean 2? It sure took me by surprise. I wasn't expecting much, so I was pretty impressed by what I saw. There are some issues, such as the translation and the fact that the plot takes a back seat sometimes, but overall it's good. This is definately a good candidate as Enix's first game in the United States in over 4 years. And with Dragon Quest VII not far off, we'll see how much staying power they'll have.


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