"I remember easily winning one of the final boss fights with ease solely because my constant attacking was preventing him from doing much of anything. On the other hand, an earlier battle seemed near-impossible because one of my two opponents had no problems with slipping away from me and leaping into the air, immolating himself (while screaming dementedly) and slamming into the middle of the fray, creating a fiery inferno worth several thousand hit points of damage to any of my characters unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity."
Claude -- a young man deserted on a strange planet. Rena -- a young woman calling said world (named Expel) her home. From the moment he saves her ass by laying the smack down on a monster, their destinies were intertwined. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. Errr....yeah, whatever.
Back to the real world of games, Star Ocean: The Second Story allows players to choose which of those two characters will be the hero of the story. Claude is a pretty good melee fighter and the powerful armor he can wear turns him into a very durable fellow. Control Rena in the same way and watch seemingly inoffensive critters send her to an early grave. No, her talents are more suited for sneaking around the periphery of the battlefield and casting spells to heal her allies and hurt her foes.
Regardless of who is picked, Claude and Rena will join forces. The rest of their party isnít set in stone, though. While sexy magician Celine all but forces herself into the party, other folk, like dragon-cursed Ashton, must be found through completing optional quests. A couple, such as sullen swordsman Dias and bratty mage Leon, only will join a party led by one particular hero. It takes multiple playthroughs of Star Ocean: The Second Story to find and control each of the possible characters. Fortunately, the game is good enough to make doing so a pleasure.
While this is a role-playing game, battles are much more exciting than in most of the genre. Claude, Rena and others can run around battlefields in an attempt to get the drop on enemies by drilling them from behind AND to evade them long enough to cast healing and attacking spells. Strategy is a necessity in many of these fights. Enemy mages are fond of lurking behind more physically powerful foes and obliterating a playerís party unless a hero can blitz them before they can finish casting. With certain other enemies, it doesnít pay to attack from the front because theyíll simply belch out devastating breath attacks. And with the fast-paced nature of these fights, things can get ugly in a hurry. Allow the wrong enemy to get a killer attack off when the entire party is bunched together and just like that -- GAME OVER.
But Star Ocean: The Second Story brings a lot more to the table than its fast-paced, entertaining battles. Like many role-playing games, playersí enjoyment will be determined by how much they put into the game. Upon leveling up, characters are allowed to allocate points towards a slew of abilities. Some bestow new moves on the battlefield, such as the ability to dash behind foes to unleash a devastating attack. Others provide the means to invent items -- necessary to gain some of the gameís best pieces of equipment.
Private Actions also play somewhat of a role in enhancing the quest. Before entering virtually any town, players have the ability to have their characters split up and explore the place at their own leisure. Then, Claude (or Rena) can walk through town, run into the others and have brief discussions with them. While all of this tends to have very little significance beyond altering the gameís ending slightly, it does a decent job of fleshing out the charactersí personalities a bit and adds a bit of entertainment to the proceedings.
Not that the game itself isnít loaded with entertainment. Tri-Ace does a great job of blending what could be an overly-serious sci-fi soap-opera drama with just enough slapstick comedy to keep the mood reasonably light. After being introduced to the Ten Wise Men, a group of superhuman beings with the ability to destroy entire planets in the blink of an eye, and getting a taste of their vast power and decidedly diabolic nature, it was hard for me to believe this was the same game in which just hours ago, Iíd gotten more than one chuckle from attempting to help Ashton.
You see, this unlucky guyís attempt to eliminate a two-headed dragon wound up going disastrously wrong -- leaving him somehow stuck with two bickering dragon heads protruding from his shoulders. However, after doing what needs done to dispel this curse, Ashton winds up getting a major guilt trip laid on him by other party members because the dragon heads are just too damn cute. After a short argument, the browbeaten warrior caves in....resigned to the fact heís stuck with the líil fellers sharing his body.
Honestly, there arenít many things that bothered me about Star Ocean: The Second Story. I did notice there are a few HUGE leaps in enemy difficulty, as my party would go from easily handling all opposition in one area to barely getting through battles in the next. The problem with this is that oftentimes itís caused by what characters are being used. The first time I played through the game, I used Claude and made it from the first continent to the second with no problems. The second time through, I picked Rena. Due to my efforts to obtain different characters, a couple dungeons Iíd done with Claude were off-limits to Rena -- causing me to reach the second continent vastly underleveled for all but the weakest foes located there.
There also were a few minor annoyances. Listening to characters consistently shouting out special attack and spell names during every single fight convinced me to mute my television after a few hours. That didnít save my eyes, though, as I eventually discovered that virtually every powerful spell will cause the screen to flash, flicker, shake, rattle and roll. How I was able to get through this game twice without ever winding up thrashing on the floor in convulsions is a mystery to me.
Regardless of those flaws, this was one of the Playstationís top RPGs. The action-oriented nature of the battles definitely could make things interested at times. I remember easily winning one of the final boss fights with ease solely because my constant attacking was preventing him from doing much of anything. On the other hand, an earlier battle seemed near-impossible because one of my two opponents had no problems with slipping away from me and leaping into the air, immolating himself (while screaming dementedly) and slamming into the middle of the fray, creating a fiery inferno worth several thousand hit points of damage to any of my characters unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. But no matter how many times I lost that particular battle, I never got frustrated or discouraged because I knew that my elusive victory was imminent -- all I had to do was figure out a way to keep that opponent from getting free long enough set up his most lethal moves.
And thatís what makes Star Ocean: The Second Story such a fun game for me. Victory isnít necessarily determined by simply being at a high level (although that definitely helps). No, what gets players through this gameís most memorable challenges is their ability to react quickly in order to launch their most effective attacks on foes before they do the same. There arenít a great deal of RPGs I can say I not only played through more than once, but enjoyed just as much the second time. This is one.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (April 18, 2007)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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