"The lack of positive changes only reinforces the fact that the Star Force series turned out much weaker than its Battle Network predecessor and with only three games in the entire series, the outlook is fairly grim."
Mega Man Star Force 2 is similar in many ways to its immediate predecessor. The game continues the story of young Geo Stelar and the alien Omega-Xis, who when merged together become Mega Man and fight viruses and other malevolent beings in the EM world that supports the technology of the future. The game features more or less identical gameplay to the first title with only minor improvements to character customization and a few other features. It does do something interesting regarding its 3 versions (Zerker, Ninja, and Saurian); each of the two game cartridges available holds two of the game's versions. The player chooses from the start which to play and has the opportunity to play both, though it should be noted that as with Star Force 1 there is not much difference between the versions. My review is based on the Zerker version of the game that I played on the Zerker X Ninja cartridge.
The story of Mega Man Star Force 2 picks up after Geo, as Mega Man, has repelled the FM-ian invasion of Earth and is living peacefully with the alien Omega-Xis. A new threat appears in the form of a man named Hyde who, like Geo, has the power to "EM Wave Change" and uses that power to cause trouble for others. Moreover, Hyde can bestow the power to EM Wave Change on others seeking to gain power, and he uses them as pawns in a quest to revive a lost civilization. Along with Hyde and his shadowy boss is a boy named Solo who acts as a sort of rival for Geo and fights him at various points throughout the story. Much like the first game, the plot of Star Force 2 has an episodic structure with Geo and his friends getting into some sort of predicament caused by someone Hyde has given power to. As these episodes progress, more information is revealed about the ancient Mu civilization and the kind of command they had over EM technology.
One improvement in the story is that there is more character development than there was in the first game. Part of this is due to the fact that, being the second title, Star Force 2 does not have to spend much time introducing the players to the world established previously. A short introductory blurb reminds players of what happened in the first game and then the story continues from there. Geo's friends are each examined more closely in this game, and the villains (and their motives) are much better developed compared to the bland alien menace of the first Star Force.
The gameplay in Mega Man Star Force 2 is more or less the same as it was in the first game. The game is split between exploring the overworld, talking to people, and wandering labyrinthine "dungeons" in the EM wave world as Mega Man and ultimately fighting viruses and bosses along the way. Sadly, a few of these bosses are recycled from the first game, and flimsy explanations are given as to why they must be fought again. The overworld sections in a given episode are fairly straightforward and usually involve some preliminary exploration and item-hunting followed by entry into an EM area where a boss is lurking. These sections mostly serve to develop the plot and characters.
Exploring in Star Force 2 is more interesting than in its predecessor due to the introduction of the "Sky Wave," a network of EM waves high above the planet that Mega Man can use to travel between countries. This is a concept that should have been integrated from the beginning of the series, as it shows the advantages Mega Man has as an EM being in a world dominated by technology. Moreover, Star Force 2 includes a more robust postgame experience, with an added mini-storyline that can only be accessed after beating the game and will appeal to completionists who want to collect everything and face extra challenging bosses.
There is a welcome increase in character customization in the second game, something that was lacking in the first title. In addition to still being able to designate your favorite battle cards, thereby making them easier to use in combat, Star Force 2 introduces the concept of Link Power and associated customization programs for Mega Man. Link Power represents your trustworthiness and the strength of your bonds with other characters in the game, and it can be increased through story events or sidequests. The more Link Power you have, the more programs you can equip. Programs give you benefits like a barrier at the beginning of each battle, more HP, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to transform into your version's associated special form (Zerker, Ninja, or Saurian). These special transformations each impart different abilities that boost a certain element type and modify Mega Man's attacks to add effects such as paralysis. If you know other people who are playing Star Force 2, you can connect with them in game to increase your Link Power even further and subsequently equip more upgrades.
The graphics in Star Force 2 are nearly identical to those in the first game with, as expected, many recycled ally and enemy models. The graphical structure of the game is also the same, with the exploration portions being presented in a kind of isometric viewpoint while battles are fought with the camera behind Mega Man so that you can see the enemies straight on. Graphically, the game is still clunky and feels like a hybrid between a DS and Gameboy Advance game. In short, Star Force 2 is not a visually stimulating experience. An area where the game has improved, however, is in the sound. There are many more catchy tunes in Star Force 2 than its predecessor and far fewer that sound tinny or out of place. The boss battle theme and Sky Wave travel theme in particular are fitting and memorable. The sound effects, like the graphics, are more or less completely recycled from the first game.
Controls in Star Force 2 are also the same as the first game. Moving around the overworld and the battlefield uses the D-pad, and menu selections use the touch screen. The game really does not use the touch screen much except in some very minor ways. Most of the time, such as when you are selecting battle cards, either the touch screen or traditional controls work fine and it is up to the player's preference.
Overall, Mega Man Star Force 2 does not deviate much from its predecessor, and those who enjoyed the first game will likely enjoy the second, while players who did not like the original title would be wise to avoid its sequel. Minor improvements in storyline and character customization make the game seem at least somewhat more polished than Star Force 1, but there are no major improvements to the game. The lack of positive changes only reinforces the fact that the Star Force series turned out much weaker than its Battle Network predecessor and with only three games in the entire series, the outlook is fairly grim for its final installment.