Star Ocean: Second Evolution

The PlayStation Portable has become a popular home for ports of RPGs from previous console generations, not to mention the occasional remake, as was the case with Star Ocean: First Departure, a remake of the original Star Ocean for the Super Famicom. Square-Enix eventually followed it up with an enhanced port of the game's sequel, originally for the PlayStation, entitled Star Ocean: Second Evolution, which saw its North American release at the beginning of 2009. Whereas the original PlayStation version had its share of localization issues, thanks to Sony, the PlayStation Portable version mercifully resolves these problems, resulting in a fresh, solid experience.

The sequel opens with Claude C. Kenny, son of Admiral Ronyx J. Kenny (and, while never explicitly stated, Ilia Silvestri, with whom he shares his looks, fighting abilities, and habit of "scoring" battles), exploring the planet Milokeenia with his father, where a mysterious force sends him to the distant planet of Expel. Here, Claude rescues a native girl, Rena Lanford, and is speculated to be the fabled Hero of Light, beginning an exploration of a meteor known as the Sorcery Globe, likely responsible for a plague of monsters on the planet, and ultimately engaging in a cosmic battle with a group of villains known as the Ten Wise Men.

Second Evolution uses pretty much the exact same randomly encountered real-time battle and item creation systems as First Departure. Battles are generally fast-paced, though mildly marred by unskippable spell animations, not to mention the slight delay in item use and their actual execution, and the item creation system works as well, in spite of the high failure rate without the Orchestra Super Specialty skill. Enemies with breath attacks can easily massacre the player's characters, though in these cases, skills that launch characters off the ground can really help. Ultimately, a fun battle system.

Interaction is also almost exactly the same as in First Departure, although later in the game, Claude acquires transportation other than his feet, allowing for easy conveyance among visited areas. The game does a nice job telling players how to advance, shopping and outfitting characters is easy, and coupled with the PlayStation Portable's built-in pause and quicksave, Second Evolution is largely the epitome of user-friendly, in spite of retaining the archaic JRPG convention of save points, which only really hurts during the tough extra dungeon.

The first Star Ocean sequel largely built upon its predecessor's real-time combat and item creation systems, bequeathing other features like Private Actions, albeit with some tweaks such as Super Specialty Skills and explorable overworlds. The sequel itself would greatly influence its predecessor's remake as well, and ultimately, the original Star Ocean 2 kept the franchise sufficiently fresh.

Given the improved translation, Second Evolution's story is naturally more coherent than in the PlayStation version, with an endearing cast of characters and different endings depending upon which characters the player recruited and which Private Actions they viewed throughout the game. Claude and Rena in particular get the blunt of character development during the game, and as with before, little time is spent in the franchise's titular Star Ocean. Even so, the story still serves its purpose.

The soundtrack by Motoi Sakuraba is still nice as it was in the PlayStation version, with standout tracks including many town themes and a few boss fights theme. Voice acting is also present during most cutscenes, in addition to that in combat, which, despite some occasional inconsistencies in performance, is a sure step above the original version's janitorial staff-quality voicework.

The graphics are also the same as they were in the original Star Ocean 2, albeit with some new anime cutscenes and character designs, which look nice, alongside the photorealistic prerendered environments and 2-D character sprites, all of which look even sharper on the PlayStation Portable. The overworlds still look bland, with plenty of fade-in, but Second Evolution still looks superb.

Finally, the sequel is about a twenty-to-forty-hour game, with content such as the extra Maze of Tribulations padding out playing time. All in all, Star Ocean: Second Evolution is undoubtedly one of the best RPG ports, given the improvements in its translation and voice acting, alongside features that were already solid in the original version such as combat, the music, and graphics. Both those who enjoyed First Departure and fans of the original version of the game will likely relish at the chance to play the definitive version of the first Star Ocean sequel.

The Good:
+Solid battle and item creation systems.
+Much-improved translation.
+Nice cast of characters with multiple endings.
+Sounds and looks fantastic.

The Bad:
-Some missable characters.
-Not enough time spent in titular Star Ocean.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 8/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Easy
Playing Time: 20-45 Hours

Overall: 9/10

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