During the PS1’s heyday, RPG fans were in heaven. New role-playing titles seemed to arrive every month, and on top of which, many of them were well worth playing. And although we still didn’t get nearly as many RPGs as our Japanese buddies, we still got plenty of awesome games, including Star Ocean: The 2nd Story. We weren’t lucky enough to nab the first one, but we did get the sequel, and it turned out to be one of the more impressive achievements of the 32-bit era. Fans will remember Claude and Rena, and the very long quest that could easily take over 80 hours depending on how many side-quests you wished to undertake (yeah, that Cave of Trials was nuts, wasn’t it?). However, these days, there are more gamers than ever, and many simply weren’t old enough to play The 2nd Story. Well, it’s Square-Enix to the rescue – Enix published the Star Ocean titles before they merged with Squaresoft – as they are releasing the first two SO RPGs for the PSP in classic remake form.
Yep, Star Ocean: Second Evolution is a remake of The 2nd Story, complete with new animations, cut-scenes, and story segments. The adventure itself will remain mostly the same, as we’ve seen gameplay videos that depict the introductory portion of the quest, and it’s quite familiar. Old-school fans will indeed recognize the characters, although Claude, Rena, Dias, Precis, Opera, Ashton, and others are getting the benefit of revamped character designs. Perhaps the most significant addition to this remake will be the voice actors; back in the day, voiceovers were rare, and if they did exist, they were typically atrocious. But we expect solid talent in this new generation, and Square-Enix will bring in Daisuke Namikawa to play Claude, Nana Mizuki for Rena, Tomokazu Sugita for Dias, and Rie Kugimiya for Precis. That alone is enough to make this game a whole new experience, even for those who took the time to enjoy the original PS1 iteration way back when. Besides, it has been about a decade since that game came out…maybe you’ve forgotten it and want to relive it in portable form!
If you need a refresher course or if you’re entirely new to the story, the game takes place 20 years after the events on planet Roak (the original Star Ocean), and the son of the hero of the Terran Alliance is thrust back into the fray. He is known as the Hero of Light, and although the importance of his epic quest isn’t to be denied, he ends up encountering a number of characters that initially have nothing to do with the underlying plot. They simply tag along for the ride, and that includes his first partner in crime, Rena Lanford. In The 2nd Story, you could choose to play as either Claude or Rena at the start of the game, although we were never certain if anything would change. We also don’t know if you have this same choice in The Second Evolution, but either way, we are hoping for a similar character interaction scheme. See, locating and recruiting characters in Star Ocean is akin to the process in the Suikoden franchise…it takes timing and patience. You have to travel to certain locations, answer certain questions in certain ways, and complete certain actions to permanently recruit certain characters. Yeah, it can be pretty complex.
As for the combat, it’s a hybrid turn-based, real-time format that – at the time – was quite innovative. There are traditional random encounters, which means you enter a new zoomed-in battlefield to fight and when the encounter is complete, you return to the regular map screen. But instead of just waiting around, you will immediately rush headlong into the challenge, as all your characters and the enemies move in real-time. However, you can pause the contest at any time to give the character you’re controlling a new command, and you can even switch characters and issue new orders. Obviously, AI plays a significant role in any combat system that’s even semi-real-time, because the player can’t possibly control everything on screen all at once. Therefore, you can set standing orders for your allies before battle even begins; if it’s a boss, you’ll want them to go all out and use heavy magic, special skills, etc. But if there’s no real threat, you won’t want them to waste their best stuff, right? It’s pretty standard strategy, really. Just remember, things tend to happen a little faster out there than you might expect, especially when multiple foes are going after multiple characters.
Star Ocean: The Second Evolution has been out in Japan since April 2 of this year (figures), and we should expect it to arrive in the U.S. in January. Of course, we’ll be getting Star Ocean: The First Departure first, so you’ll have time to play both titles in sequential order. And hey, given the lack of next-gen RPGs, many fans of the genre have been forced to turn to the PSP. And that’s not an altogether unappealing proposition.
10/4/2008 Ben Dutka