Star Ocean: Second Evolution Review: Calm Seas Ahead

Square Enix continues its seemingly unrelenting stream of RPG remakes with the release of Star Ocean: Second Evolution for the PSP, an update to the classic PlayStation title Star Ocean: The Second Story.

Second Evolution picks up the Star Ocean story 20 years after the first game, following the adventures of Claude C. Kenni, the initially amnesiac son of Ronixis J. Kenni from the original game, and a young girl named Rena Lanford, as they travel across the planet Expel, looking for clues to Claude's identity and the mysterious monsters that always seem to appear in these sorts of games.

Released only a few short months after the PSP remake of the first Star Ocean game as Star Ocean: First Departure, Second Evolution updates the original PlayStation game with brand-new dialog, new voice acting, and a tweaked combat system to help tie it together a bit more closely with First Departure. Do the new features do the series justice, or should they have left good enough alone?

Loved
Stellar Presentation: Gorgeous anime cutscenes punctuate major parts of the story in Star Ocean: Second Evolution, and I've always been a firm believer in the fact that everything tastes better when sprinkled with tiny bits of anime. I do wish there were more of them, and could have done without the primitive CG segments still littering the game, but on the whole the anime does add quite a lot to the proceedings.

Voices From The Future: With a few minor exceptions, the voice acting in Star Ocean: Second Evolution is quite superb, which is god considering the sheer amount of talking you'll have to deal with between the main story and the private actions the characters partake in. Battle sayings can get a bit grating, but that's par for the course in an RPG. So much better than the original.

Deep Skill System: One of the elements of the original version of Star Ocean: Second Story that I simply adored was the deep skill and crafting system. Between item skills, combat skills, and all of the combinations thereof, the skill system is perfect for players like me who like to go in deep, while not necessary for those who'd rather skip them, though you're really missing out if you don't delve a bit.

So Much To Re-Do: Right from the start, Star Ocean: Second Evolution gives you the choice to play the game as one of the two main characters, giving you a different insight into events as you view them from each particular character's point of view. As you play the game, relationships you form with your party members, choices you make, and even what skills you take determine the final outcome of the game, meaning that one playthrough can be a great deal different from the rest.

Hated
Far Too Easy: While the real-time combat in Star Ocean: Second Evolution can be deep if you really want it to, I found that defeating even the biggest of enemies was just a matter of trapping them one spot and beating them repeatedly until dead. The combat has definitely changed over the original, but the monsters you fight haven't changed to keep up, making for a relatively easy romp right up to the ending.

Throwaway Characters: Aside from Claude and Rena, all of the other party members in Star Ocean: Second Evolution are optional, and as they are optional, they don't really figure much into the storyline once you are finished with their particular arc and make the decision to add them to your party. It's the price you pay for this sort of structure, but it leaves the supporting characters feeling a bit more like tools in battle rather than true party members.

As a remake of Star Ocean: The Second Story, Second Evolution does manage to fix several things that were wrong with the original, but also manages to break something else in the process. If you've played the original title, what you need to ask yourself here is if the updated dialog, new cutscenes, and stellar voice acting make up for the fact that what was once an easy game is even more so now thanks to the goofy combat tweaking. If the answer is yes, then by all means grab yourself a copy.

If you've never played the original title, then Star Ocean: Second Evolution is an excellent RPG with a great deal of entertainment value, as long as you're not looking for too much of a challenge.

Star Ocean: Second Evolution was developed by Tri-Ace and published by Square Enix, released on January 20 for PSP. Retails for $39.99. Played game once to completion, choosing Rena as the main character.

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