Star Ocean’s first two games have become to be regarded as a bit of what could be called a cult classic, being called the legendary JRPG’s of their time and all the other kind of praise that would go with that such title. I probably should have gone through them in the other order, but I finally had a chance to sit down and play the PSP remake of the Second Story, and boy, was it epic.
To summarize the story, the main character, whilst investigating an alien planet with a small dispatch team, comes across a mystical device which sends him halfway across the universe, to an uncharted planet named Expel. Upon arrival, he sees a girl being attacked, and uses his Phase Gun to save the girl. With this planet having no idea of technology, they dub this man as the hero of light, someone who is destined to solve their problems as the planet is battling against a magical meteorite. It’s a pretty simple premise, but it’s all down to the execution.
This underdeveloped world isn’t like every other world, it’s alive. All the people there talk and move and do things, and the game actually shows this. The same can be said for the characters, the game stops at nothing to make it’s vast cast feel like they’re real people and give them real feelings and real emotions…and this in itself is actually really remarkable for a game of this size. See, unlike most JRPGs, you actually get to choose the party of cast members who accompany you. There are all sorts, like a swordsman with dragons stuck to his back, to a three-eyed alien looking for her boyfriend. The decisions you make and the actions that you take in the game vastly change who you get to recruit into your party, and no matter what you do, you won’t have all the characters in the game.
In itself, I love the idea of a fluctuating party, and what’s even better is the implementation it doesn’t suffer from the standard problem where someone added to your party doesn’t do anything or talk anymore, you can actually continue interacting with them and hearing their input on the story thanks to the in-game mechanic where it appears to randomly select a party member to talk on behalf of the entire party at some scenes. It sounds really weirdly done, but hey…all that matters is how well it works. If you want to focus on a particular member, don’t take any others along with you…and that’s not starting to talk about the in-game relationship factor that it’s gotten working, where your characters can all have unique “endings” with each other. In this playthrough, I actually got a really unexpected one, and it’s the little surprises like that which continue to delight me.
You’ve got the lively, fluctuating party, you’ve got the vast and deep world and how it interacts with it’s own plot, and you’ve got the plot which is actually something that could be considered praiseworthy. There is so much left to talk about, though. You’ve got the item customization and the skills that all the characters have, and that leads into talents, specialities and so forth. Needless to say that there is a world of depth inside all of this, and as your characters level up, you can guide them towards the right thing. If you’d like, you can have your main character start pickpocketing at a very early stage in his development, or you can have him become a writer and pen books that can teach other party members skills. They can also all band together and do things like creating armour and weapons, or forge documents and contraband to give you extra money and experience. You can literally spend hours sorting out your party to be “best equipped” or “best outfitted” for the dungeon ahead, and I love that you can actually do that.
The world maps are simple, and the same can be said for the maps in dungeons and in towns. It wants to show you something, and whilst the artistic direction that they’ve taken may be slightly questionable, it’s a breath of fresh air to have such an interestingly different experience when strolling through a town. The battling system is pretty much perfected, where you fight in real-time and have special moves and spells that you can use to give yourself an edge over the monsters; since there’s just so much that you can learn about the battling system and about how brilliant and wonderful and so forth.
Looking back, the only part that I didn’t love about Star Ocean: Second Evolution was some of the voice acting. For me to have that as my only complaint in a game is actually something that’s rather remarkable, and that’s because this game IS something remarkable. It’s one of those JRPG’s/RPG’s that everyone has to play at least once in their lifetime, and I think (personal opinion) that it’s a much better game than some of the more famous Final Fantasy instalments.