Star Ocean Washes Over PSP

Star Ocean: Second Evolution
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The second installment of the renowned Star Ocean series, "Second Evolution" hits the PSP platform keeping in tact all those familiar elements of the original PS1 sequel story while taking on a more next-gen face lift and casually improving on an already solid game play engine. Of course, the going trend these days seems to be that any time a company ventures out to remake a classic hit you’re always going to run the gamble of loyal followers either loving you for resurrecting a morsel or two of good old-fashion gaming goodness or shunning you for no originality and shear lack of innovation. So what road does this game take? Let us lay out the facts.

The story line has pretty much remained intact overall as it was in its golden days, but for the sake of newcomers to the Star Ocean series let’s review. In this next chapter of the series you can play as one of two heroes, the first of which is Claude, son of the hero Ronnix from the first game, who finds himself accidentally transported to a distant world light years from home after things go bad during a site expedition. On this new and distant world players will learn more of the game’s second playable hero, a native girl named Rena with special powers, curiously struggling to find out more about herself by slowly untangling her questionable past. As fate would have it the two heroes paths cross and through a series of circumstantial events they find out they have much in common.

The two set off to investigate a mysterious artifact named the sorcery globe, in hopes that it will shed some light on both their presently dark situations. Of course, however, as the old cliché’ would have it: "That’s just the beginning."

The overall graphical presentation of the game is solid all the way around. Its transition to the PSP platform comes with noticeable visual kudos including much more polished and refined character models and vividly defined 3D environments. Cities, towns, and dungeon layouts are all done really well bringing a nice mix of color and depth to the game.

Though a lot of the original sound track is still obviously present, the biggest talk in the audio department would have to be the fact that 90+ percent of the game is voiced-over, adding a nice little added touch to things.

Admittedly, though, while it helps players to connect more easily with various characters they play or encounter throughout their adventures, some of the voice-overs come off a little cheesy, especially during some of those moments where the play scripting seems a little stale.

Second Evolution follows the standard blueprints for your average RPG but there are a few new wrinkles worthy of mention, most in particular it’s somewhat innovative real time battle system. Steering away from the typical "turn-based" format SO2 allows players and monsters to duel one another simultaneously during combat.

Players can move their heroes around the battlefield and engage on cue using a series of macro-based attacks. By mapping basic and special attacks to the button layout of the PSP players can dish out a wealth of damage and powerful combinations. The concept is not only very efficient but it’s very easy to pick up even for beginner gamers.

Later on in the game when you have a full party you can choose to play as one character during the entire length of the battle or instantly switch between characters via the press of a button. Furthermore to help compliment your style of play you can choose how members of your party behave during battle by manually setting their tactics to make them either more passive or more aggressive. Not abandoning the turn-based concept entirely, the battle does pause briefly if you need to access your items menu.

Outside of battle the character development concept is fairly creative as well. In most RPGs characters develop their spells or special skills simply by repetitive use. Second Evolution takes a different approach allowing players to advance their combat skills and even acquire new items, stronger weapons, and various armors by developing the innate talents of each individual character ranging anywhere from cooking to Smithing. By use of talents players can totally customize and heavily influence the development of their characters building them to suit their style of play.

The game comes packed with a ton of replay value. Even from the start choosing which hero you play, be it Claude or Rena, will inevitably decide what new members you run into later in the story. By choosing one or the other you will miss out on being able to have certain characters join your party during your adventures which inevitably warrants playing through the game at least once more. Prior to entering or exiting different places along the map you’ll have access to "private action" skits. These private little skits help give players some insight into the characters of their party. However, if you access the PA’s enough you can affect how characters interact with one another, gain access to side quests, and even shape one of a multitude of endings to the game. With so many variables to the equation there are a ton of game play hours waiting to be racked up by those hardcore fans.

Though SO2 is certainly the same solid, well-rounded classic today as it was back then, it’s not without a few gripes. The biggest con is the fact that the game gets off to an extremely slow start. Even a serious RPG fan will find their self frustrated with the overly extensive dialogue at the start of the adventure. On average you spend the first hour and a half of game play listening to a horde of mindless dialogue which brings me to the next gripe. The overall storyline of the game, while it was great then, is clearly aged and probably should have been a little revamped to make things a little more interesting.

Some of the mini-skits are much too wordy and come off a bit stale and cheesy. It also would have been great with all the new modern day technology if the actual weapons and various armors you equipped showed up on your character during battle and exploration"Perhaps that last statement was reaching a little bit, but if the dev team is out there listening?

None the less, Star Ocean: Second Evolution is the same solid, well-rounded RPG as it was back in the day and it looks great on the PSP. Much of the core mechanics and game play are all still there so fans of the series will appreciate their favorite classic being reborn on a more next-gen system. It’s packed with a ton of replay value which you don’t find that often in most of your modern day role playing games. I do recommend that if you’re new to the series, the game is little square on first impressions but with enough time in really develops into an engaging adventure. This is a solid PSP title that I would definitely recommend checking out especially if you’ve been following the highly anticipated "Star Ocean 4" debuting on Xbox 360.

A 4 Gin Gem performance goes out to yet another classic hit.

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