RPG Review #98: Star Ocean: The Second Story

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We reach #3 on our countdown to 100 official RPG reviews with only two more to go, and we now check out the second game in the Star Ocean series by Tri-Ace, which is Star Ocean: The Second Story. Lots of ground to cover with this game, and this was the first to get an official English translation. Let's see what this mystical game had to offer.

Gameplay: Well, given that I've already played the first Star Ocean, there was bound to be stuff I was already familiar with already. Indeed, we can have up to eight party members, four can engage in battle, the standard stat rates apply, private actions, and item creation is still a thing. Being that it's a game on the Playstation, you're probably gonna guess and be right, there are significantly more options available for that. One thing to take note of are skills and talents, both mainstays from the first game but done a bit more complex. For talents, it's tricky to get new ones, sometimes it's better if you save before getting a new character and then reload if the wrong talents are learned, or there are methods to actually getting new ones. Leveling up skills leads to specialties which are the main ways of item creation, and something that's actually new to this game are Super Specialties which would involve the entire party. My biggest issue with item creation is of course it's luck-based on which items you really want. A notable skill which I know wasn't in the first game (my memory is so hazy on Star Ocean 1, been a while since I played it) is Pickpocket, which can be done early and well, more ways to get items. With good luck the item creation flat-out breaks the game, which I guess is good at times?

As for battles, they are active-time, active-movement, set characters to AI, actually a fun and engaging battle system. I don't remember if it was in Star Ocean or not, but you can switch character leaders (manually controlled characters) in battle. I know you can set AI properly, and skills being built up could help in actual combat. Formation, replacing characters, assigning "killer moves" and spells, these mainstays all return. I did mention how item creation can break the game and give you powerful equipment, and with that, many bosses and proper battle strategies are made rather trivial. The private actions of course increase relationship points between characters, but they have a very minor battle effect, which could increase stats should one of their friends fall from battle. A nice touch.

Apparently this game also holds several difficulty settings, a trait it also shares with other PSX RPGs like Valkyrie Profile and Rhapsody, a Musical Adventure. Except the default difficulty is the easiest one and the others only get unlocked after beating the game once. They only just amplify enemy stats and basically make the game even more challenging, as if the bonus content itself is already ridiculously hard enough. Yeah, there's a bonus dungeon, seems like loads of actual challenge is the kind of thing Tri-Ace will make players yearn for. Grade: A

Characters:
Claude C. Kenni: He's the male protagonist of the game and the son of Ronixis from the first game. He ends up stranded and on an adventure to get back home. In the beginning he uses his phase gun as a weapon but is given a sword after awhile.
Rena Lanford: Rena is the female protagonist (you can select between Claude and Rena in this game). She naturally has mysterious origins but is presented as a country girl. A mage with healing abilities, but can fight with fists.
Celine Jules: A heraldry magician with a penchant for saying "darling" amongst other cutesy words. She is a full mage character who can gain lots of spells.
Ashton Anchors: A very interesting character who wields dual swords. He fights a two-headed dragon in the game, but something goes wrong and somehow both dragons are fused to him. He also seems to like barrels for some reason, but a good fighter nonetheless. Only issue is that he prevents you from getting the next two characters.
Opera Vectra: She is a Tetragenian, meaning she has THREE EYES. She uses a gun in battle and is searching for his boyfriend Ernest. Her gun really helps with flying enemies, and her techs are fantastic, especially her healing tech. Only that she needs the Machinery specialty to really get her killer moves going.
Ernest Raviede: Opera's boyfriend, also with three eyes. Sadly he's not as useful, as he only uses whips in combat and he's nowhere near as exciting overall.
Bowman Jean: A pharmacist who decided to join as a party member despite usually running a store. As you'd expect, he's got pill-related techs, but also is a martial artist.
Precis F. Neumann: A child prodigy who loves machinery and is hyper. Like Opera her use of machinery is how she gets to use some good moves.
Dias Flac: A brooding swordsman who lost his family to murderers, met multiple times throughout the game and a battle champion. He only joins in Rena's path but is pretty powerful for a sword-wielder.
Leon D.S. Geeste: A child prodigy and apparently the only Fellpool in the game, he's a smart-alec scientist and another mage, it's a toss up between him and Celine for best mage.
Noel Chandler: A Nedian (pointy-eared people, Rena's race) who is pacifistic and nature loving. Like Rena and Bowman he fights with fists, but he's weak anyways since he's more of a mage type with similar spells to Celine and Leon.
Chisato Madison: A very quirky reporter Nedian lady who has skills in some sort of Jujitsu (so another martial artist). She seems average, but really her killer moves proves she is one of the most useful characters.

As with the previous Star Ocean games, private actions are what allow you to fledge out personality with the characters, increasing romance and friendship points between Claude, Rena, and the other characters. The ending of the game can actually differ depending on what private actions were done and other actions as well can have some influence on who gets hooked up with who. Because of that, there are AROUND EIGHTY ENDINGS to this game because of the combinations. It's a lot to do. Really not worth ALL the time to get all of them if we're being honest, just look up the endings on Youtube after playing the game once with both Claude and Rena. Grade: B+

Speaking of which...

Plot: To be honest, I wanted this plot to be a real killer, but it seems like it's at its strongest points at the very beginning and at the ending (which is most of Disc 2), while the middle of the plot doesn't offer too much. I would blame that on the private actions, since they'll detract most of the attention away from the plot. Oh well. So Claude's path and Rena's path seem different at the start of the game, but both will end up intertwining shortly after and the differences in paths are honestly quite marginal by then.

In Claude's case, he, his father Ronixis, and a strike team observe unusual activity on a planet called Milocinia. Entering a ruins, Claude decides to be stupid and investigate something that activates. This sucks him in and teleports him to the planet Expel. Now the start of Rena's path has her leaving her home to go to the local forest, which is where Claude ended up. Rena gets ambushed by a monster, which Claude shoots with his gun, saving her. Rena gets all nervous, thinking about some prophecy called the "Hero of Light", which she thinks Claude is. He has a "Sword of Light" which is his gun and is apparently dressed in "alien raiments" which is just regular human clothing. The land of Expel had a meteorite crash down, called the Sorcery Globe, apparently it's responsible for a number of problems, including natural disasters and monsters. Claude shoots down the "Hero of Light" theory and offers to investigate, but not before Rena gets kidnapped by an old flame who's gone mad for some reason.

Oddly enough, as it turns out, Claude and Rena are the only required characters in the game, every other one is actually optional, but it wouldn't hurt to have more. The next castle town has the opportunity to recruit the treasure hunter and magician Celine. Another town on the same continent gets destroyed by a tsunami, and then Claude, Rena, and whatever company you have go to a new continent. Not much memorable there apart from recruiting characters and/or ruins quests. There's also the cliche fighting tournament, which Claude goes through along with Dias. Dias will win regardless of how things go, but this plays a bit differently since Rena will be doing sideline stuff helping Dias while Claude basically fights. With the tournament out of the way the group fights on the front lines of the Lacour forces, where Leon uses what's known as the Lacour Hope, it's a big cannon, against a group of demons. In an attempt to transfer the cannon the group is ambushed and shipwrecked, then visits Eluria Tower, the final dungeon of Disc 1. Here, if you're playing as Claude, he somehow manages to teleport back to his home ship, the Calnus, where Claude argues with his daddy since he needs to save his friends. Back at the tower, the group comes into contact with some mysteriously evil figures, and Disc 1 ends on an apocalyptic note, as the last we see is Ronixis commenting about the destruction of the planet Expel.

Disc 2 starts off in a new place called Energy Nede, with a lot of exposition. The group's alive, and Mayor Narl does some exposition on those figures known as the "Ten Wise Men", apparently another example of people who argue about superpowers or something, eventually they were defeated and sealed but broke free like usual. Also Rena is actually revealed to be Nedian at this point. The first task on Energy Nede is to get a Synard, which is a different take for an airship since it's actually a living being. As rough as it is, the task afterwards is investigate four fields to get four jewels, which is cliche. Then we actually fight the Ten Wise Men, which unfortunately results in a retreat, they're just too strong, and they taunt Claude by destroying the Calnus, making it worse with each attack. Also the Mayor reveals that there is some EXTREME way to return Expel back to its former state, which to me makes not much sense. Firstly, get better equipment to render the Ten Wise Men beatable, then return to the dungeon, offing them one by one until you reach the two head honchos, first Cyril and finally Indalecio. He of course pulls off the "destroy the whole universe" and "you are too late to stop me" cliches, but you still fight him nonetheless. Now...

This is something interesting, but it's possible to head right into the bonus dungeon before taking on Indalecio, just save at the final save point first, then head back and do a specific private action, then enter a virtual reality version of Expel and enter what's called the Cave of Trials. There's where all the super bosses are, which includes Gabriel Celesta and Iselia Queen, Tri-Ace staple bosses. Also doing this completely powers up Indalecio actually making him one of the tougher bosses too. Regardless of how he's fought, the endgame of Star Ocean 2 has the usage of crests being fused, which ends up in the destruction of Energy Nede and the reincarnation of Expel, with the heroes coming back to that planet. Again, the endings of the game are determined by relationship points for each character. Bits and pieces of this plot were what I was able to find, but otherwise, it's somewhat disappointing for a plot given the cliches which I'm so used to. Still, what's interesting about what I went through always helps to see. Grade: B-

Music: The first few bits of music are quite atmospheric, which is wonderful for this game, definitely. The more action-packed tracks are used for battles and dungeons, some unique ones here and there. All in all another good soundtrack, which Tri-Ace seems to excel at doing as much as they excel with bonus content. Grade: A

Overall Grade: A-

I often wonder just how many reviews I make where the overall grade is A-, but this is yet another example of that. Star Ocean 2 takes the gameplay of the first Star Ocean, localizes it for North American audiences, and gives an okay plot to compensate. Gameplay still remains as exciting as it was before, and gives us some good stuff in return as well in the form of character interactions and endings. Complex, but worthwhile.

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