After playing my fair share of repetitive, simplistic RPGs on the PSP, I picked up Star Ocean: First Departure with a bit of hesitation. However, unlike the majority of my industry peers, I quickly became enamored by the title; First Departure had an interesting story, an enjoyable battle system and skillfully revealed its best complexities at a deliberate pace to maintain player interest. After investing over twenty hours in the game, I was greatly anticipating its sequel, Star Ocean: Second Evolution.
As the follow-up opens, we meet, Claude C. Kenny, who is the impetuous son of First Departure’s main character. While exploring a cave, Claude stumbles upon a mysterious device, which teleports him to the verdant planet of Expel. Immediately, he observes a monster about to attack Rena, a young woman from the local town. After quickly dispatching the beast, Claude is invited back to town, where he receives a hero’s welcome. While reveling in momentary triumph, our protagonist learns of the Sorcery Globe; a meteor believed to be the root of all evil. Claude and Rena set off to investigate the mysterious object, and hope to stop the spread of evil throughout the land.
Players select the role to play as either Rena or Claude at the beginning of the game, and view the story through the selected character’s perspective. Instead of mildly divergent storylines, Second Evolution begs for a second play-through, as internal dialogue, key battles and narrative segments differ for the two characters. Although the plot starts at a more leisurely pace than First Departure, the sequel’s graceful depiction of relationships had me hooked. There’s a subtle beauty about Star Ocean’s characters that is absent from most RPGs.
Like the first game, players are directed from one town to another via a series of obligatory and optional quests. Hamlets are typically teaming with loquacious townsfolk, survival items, and the occasional entrance to a nearby dungeon. Once players exit a city’s confines, they are transported to the world map. Unlike the first game, Second Evolution wisely keeps the backtracking to a minimum; we rarely felt the title was artificially inflating its playtime.
Whereas many RPG’s incite frustratation with a repetitive and unengaging battle system; I consistently enjoyed Second Evolution’s take on combat. As a conflict erupts, players are offered real-time control over the hero. Pressing the X button will lock on to an enemy and initiate an attack, while the shoulder buttons trigger an assignable spell or special attack. Players must continually monitor combat, as being sandwiched between two antagonists typically leads to a massive reduction in heath. Additionally, players can switch characters, and assign a multitude of commands to your AI comrades.
Graphically, Second Evolution offers players a myriad of visual perspectives to offset the game’s twenty-five hour quest time. Camera angles range from close-up shots, angled high elevation vantage points, to profiles on the battle screens. Although main characters are voiced well, secondary players will occasionally sound like amateurs.
There’s a reason why the Star Ocean series still resonates with fans, thirteen years after its inception. The games feature well developed characters, compelling combat, and a fascinating sci-fi/fantasy setting. PSP owners with the slightest appeal of RPGs should pick up Star Ocean: Second Evolution without hesitation.