Star Ocean: Second Evolution PSP
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: TOSE (Original Version by Tri-Ace)
One of my gaming highlights of 2008 was finally being able to play the first title in the Star Ocean series. When I reviewed Star Ocean: Till the End of Time it was the first time I had encountered the series and it was a game I really enjoyed. After unsuccessfully being able to get my hands on the first two games in the series I was thrilled to learn that they were being released for the PSP. Towards the end of last year we looked at the first of these remakes, Star Ocean: First Departure and it was one of the most enjoyable RPG's to date for the PSP. Here we have Star Ocean: Second Evolution (known as Star Ocean: The Second Story when it was released on the PlayStation), a game that in some respects manages to improve on First Departure.
The game begins with Claude and his father on a survey mission. Things go wrong when Claude approaches an unknown device and he's transported to a world that seems primitive compared to his own. To make matters worse the inhabitants of this world, called Expel, believe him to be a hero that their scriptures have prophesised about. The people of Expel have their own problems thanks to what can only be described as a strange meteorite, dubbed the Sorcery Globe, which crashed into their planet causing all kinds of mayhem. Within moments of arriving on Expel, Claude comes to the rescue of the other main character in the game, a young girl called Rena, who he manages to save from the clutches of a monster. Eventually both Claude and Rena decide to investigate the Sorcery Globe for different reasons. Claude believes it might help solve the problem of getting back to his own world and Rena hopes that they can restore order to Expel.
Second Evolution is a game that offers you a lot of choices. You'll have to choose which party members you wish to recruit (and recruiting some members will prevent you from recruiting others) but your first choice will be to decide whose story you're going to play through first. Do you play through as Claude C. Kenny, son of Ronyx from the first Star Ocean game, or Rena Lanford, an 18-year-old who lives on the planet Expel? The stories of both are intertwined and you are simply getting two different perspectives on the storyline. Personally I thought that Claude's storyline gave a more detailed account but you're going to want to play through both of their storylines as they complement each other very well and add to the replay value. There are also multiple endings to further increase the replay value meaning you're going to want to play through the game, which is longer than First Departure, at least a few times. It should also be mentioned that there are some characters you can recruit only when playing as either Rena or Claude. The storyline is further enhanced by the inclusion of the Private Action system which you can trigger on entering and exiting a town. These scenes allow you to see more of your characters' personalities and how the relationships between your party characters develop.
If you've played a Star Ocean game before you'll be pleased to learn that Second Evolution contains all those features which have helped to make the series as popular as it is. The combat is carried out in real-time. You can only take three party members into battle and during a battle you can only take control of one character at a time. You can switch control from one to another as you please however, and you can set tactics for the AI controlled characters so they behave in a manner that suits your preferred battle style. There's a lot of depth to both the item creation and skill systems in the game and you'll want to make sure you take advantage of both systems to give your party an edge in the later stages of the game.
Second Evolution has received the same makeover that First Departure had. Perhaps the visual highlight of the game is the superb anime-style cutscenes that have been added to this version. Of course with Second Evolution and First Departure both being recent remakes, the games do look similar in many respects and it's unrealistic to expect Second Evolution to look better but it's a fine looking game nevertheless. Yes it does show its PlayStation roots from time to time, distance fogging you'll see when travelling around on the world map is one example of this, but that is certainly not a problem and it doesn't take away from the game's charm.
There are no problems for deaf gamers in Second Evolution. By default the game is subtitled and you'll be able to follow all of the dialogue in the main game and in the cutscenes, so you won't miss out on the game's enjoyable storyline. The cutscene dialogue doesn't have any character names or portraits next to the dialogue but this doesn't cause any problems. During the main game you'll see the speaker's name placed above the text. You'll also see large character portraits of the game's main characters when they are speaking. Essentially then, you'll always know who is saying what during the course of the main game. The text, during the main game, is placed in dialogue boxes and you can alter the colour of the dialogue box to one that suits you best. Comments made by the characters during the course of a battle are not subtitled but this certainly won't spoil your enjoyment of the game.
Star Ocean: Second Evolution is another impressive RPG for the PSP. The game manages to surpass the remarkable First Departure and those who enjoyed that game should definitely regard this as an essential purchase. I really like the way the story progresses (and in places it's refreshingly unpredictable) and it's great to be able to play through the game from both Claude's and Rena's perspective. The multiple endings are also very welcome and give the game a very healthy amount of replay value and with the game being this enjoyable that's certainly appreciated. 2009 promises to be a great year for Star Ocean fans with the fourth title in the series due to arrive on the Xbox 360 at some point this year and if it's as enjoyable as Star Ocean: Second Evolution, we'll be in for a rather special game.