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For the second time in less than six months, Square Enix has released a Star Ocean game for the Sony PSP handheld. This time, it isn't a complete remake of a game that's new to North America, like First Departure was. Rather, Star Ocean: Second Evolution is an enhanced port of Star Ocean: The Second Story, which actually reached U.S. shores in 1999. So how does this title compare to the original version of the game, and to its PSP predecessor for that matter? Not as well as this RPG fan had hoped.
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Second Evolution picks up roughly 20 years following the events of First Departure. Claude Kenny, the son of Ronyx Kenny from the previous title, finds himself transported to the Planet Expel by accident, where he saves a girl named Rena Lanford and is hailed by the locals as the promised hero of ancient legend. On an interesting note, you can actually choose to play through the game as either Claude or Rena, and the choice you make will affect which characters you can recruit and how things will ultimately play out.
Either way, though, the two of them, as well as the other characters met along the way, will (after a seemingly endless introductory sequence filled with far too much dialogue and not nearly enough gameplay) eventually set off to investigate a meteorite that had crashed into the world's surface a few months ago. This meteorite has been blamed for the appearance of monsters, as well as an increase in the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters, but in typical RPG fashion, something far more sinister awaits them on their journey. On the whole, the story isn't quite as gripping or as personal-feeling as First Departure's, but it is passable nonetheless.
The game's translation has been altered considerably from the original PS1 version of the game, and the new localization has been the subject of much debate among longtime fans of the series. Some argue that the new English language text is more grammatically correct and closer to the tone of the original Japanese script, while others counter that Square Enix made several unnecessary changes, some of which were for the worst (especially when it comes to the names of Ashton's dragons). Personally, while I can understand the need for some of the changes, I still prefer the original translation, even with all its flaws and mispronunciations.
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Like First Departure, the gameplay in Second Evolution is chalk full of sidequests, customization options, and things of the like. Once again, you have the opportunity to recruit a great deal of characters, though choosing some means you'll be forced to exclude others. Once again, you'll be treated to four-person, action-based combat where you can level your characters up to 255 if you so desire. Once again, you can utilize Private Actions to increase (or decrease) your party members' affinity for each other, and once again you can get lost for hours on end tinkering with the item creation system. I said it in the First Departure review and I'll restate it here: for my money, there simply is no other roleplaying series on the market today that is just as much fun to sit down and play as this one.
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Graphics and Sound
Musically speaking, the quality soundtrack of the PS1 version is here, pretty much in tact. As a fan of Motoi Sakuraba's work, I was quite pleased to see that. Likewise, the in-game graphics are pretty much just as they were in the PlayStation original, which sadly means that the game doesn't look quite as good as First Departure did. In fact, they look downright blurry at times. Furthermore, there are new anime-style cutscenes which, I have to admit, I didn't care for at all. The characters just don't look right in the cinemas--especially Rena, who looks far too young to be the primary love interest for Claude. It adds a whole new level of creepiness to the game that I for one certainly could have done without. The voice work, too, has been 100-percent redone and is of varying quality.
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Perhaps I'm colored by nostalgia, since I played through the original version of this game when it was first released a decade ago, but I have to admit I wasn't blown away by Star Ocean: Second Evolution. It is a solid roleplaying game, though it isn't as impressive as First Departure was, nor is it the definitive version of this particular title. Take my negativity with a grain of salt, though, because this still is a fairly enjoyable product with fun action-based combat and immensely deep character customization. I still recommend it, especially if you're an RPG fan who missed out on Star Ocean: The Second Story back in 1999. If you have a PSP and can only choose one of the Star Ocean titles, however, I'd suggest going with First Departure instead. It's a more engaging, more polished offering on the whole.