Star Ocean: Second Story continues the Playstation's dominance of RPG's. I'm quite strict when I grade games like these. When you see me give a 90%, or even an 85%, you know that the game excels and, at times, presents a sense of mastery for that particular part I grade. As you can see, I gave it a 98% in music. That is an amazingly high score. Know that seeing a 98% up there might be the only time you see such a high score from me. But, I digress. Star Ocean: Second Story, or SO2, is a wonderful game that presents something missing in several of today's RPGs: It is fun to play.
I consider the story to be the most important part of a console RPG. Even if the gameplay is terrible, the graphics suck, and you would rather listen to Kenny G then hear another note of the music presented, the story can save the game from being utter garbage. In SO2, we are, fortunately, treated to an interesting sci-fi story.
A solider has crash landed in a very remote planate. While his race is quite advance, this other race is not. The people still use magic, swords and other medieval type tools. The person who crashes down is a fellow named Crawd Kenny. At this point, you can choose to play Crawd, or Rena Lanford, one of the residents on the underdeveloped planet.
The story greatly grows from there, but I wont go into it. I find that most reviews reveal far too much of the story. Depending on who you choose at the start, the story will be different, as will the choices of people you can use in your party. There is good character development as well.
One problem, however, is the writing. While the story keeps you interested, the writing at times is pretty bad. I mean, Pacific Blue bad. It isn't as much that it's corny as it is that the words the characters say just don't make much sense. I can overlook this, though, as the Gameplay is good.
Which brings me to my next point: The Gameplay. How the game plays and if it is fun or not determines if you really like a game. SO2 provides a lot of really fun and interesting things to keep you busy. Where should I start? Well, first off, there are all of the skills a person can learn. You can become a baker, a machine operator, and much, much more. Also, by making your machine building skills really good, you can make items. Knowing this skill, you can literally make all of the game's items, which total around 300. While this is quite a challenge, it has been done, and is actually fun to do. Also, you can learn things called "Super Skills" which involve two characters teaming up to do one big thing. It is quite interesting, as the combinations are fairly extensive.
Besides the unique "skill system," there is also a really extensive character-interaction system. In "Private Actions," you get the chance to say certain things. Depending on what you say, you will change the emotions of characters in the game. By telling what you think, you can make someone really mad or really happy. The good thing is that if you treat them well, the person you talk to may join your party or perhaps fight better. Treat that character poorly, however, and the person may leave the party or fight badly.
Battles are interesting and fun to play. You can enable a really active battle system that makes battles pretty hectic. I actually had to stop before battles and consider my plan, "Let's see. I will use her to heal, have him cast this, and have him attack with that while she casts this." The game is a challenge, as some battles will actually frustrate you. SO2 also lasts for around 50+ hours, which is a HUGE quest for me. Normally, when companies claim how long a game takes, I beat it in around half the time they say. This is not the case, and I enjoyed it.
The game scores points in another category: It isn't linear. Probably the thing you see least in an RPG is nonlinear quests. Even though some PC games give you this, very few console games do. Be warned, though. While its awesome that it isn't linear, some of the battles you may fight are ridiculously hard. You really are better off leveling up every now and then, or taking a path that seems less dangerous.
One thing I found interesting was that you can choose two different people in the game to start out with. The choice is actually a fairly big one. Depending on whom you choose, the story will be different and some people will not join your party. Also, the endings are different. Actually, no matter whom you play it will be different, as there are a total of 86 different endings. That's right, 86 different endings! It's actually enough incentive for me to go back and play it again, maybe to get a totally different ending. I wont lie to you, about 26 of those endings are very similar, and there is simply a person or an item missing.
Graphically, I've seen better. The detail is at a pretty high level, and most of the designs are nice. I don't care too much if the characters are "cute" as graphics are ultimately one of the least important things in an RPG. Just so long as the game is playable, the graphics don't have to be anything special.
The control is also pretty good in my opinion. Things are pretty responsive, as they should be for an RPG. Not too much more I can comment on this. I have a side comment though. The Playstation controller is poor in general. First, it is terrible for fighting games. As a matter of fact, I think that the controller is only good for RPGs, because RPGs don't require too much use of the controller.
This game is great, no question about it, and I had fun playing it. However, it was a pure joy to listen to it. I'm serious, Star Ocean 2 probably has the best soundtrack for a Playstation RPG so far (I'm yet to finish Lunar Silver Star Story Complete, however). Every tune fits the mood perfectly. I particularly like epic-sounding music; you know, the kind that gives you a real feeling of importance. SO2 has plenty of that. I also enjoy those catching tunes that get stuck in my head. The theme for Figaro Castle, in my opinion, is one of these catchy tunes. SO2 has tons of tunes like these. I will definitely download some Midis of it, and see if I can't get some for the site because they must be heard. My writing doesn't justify the greatness of the soundtrack.
The bottom line is that Star Ocean: Second Story is a worthy game that you will not regret buying. With interesting combat, fun extra gameplay elements, good graphics and AMAZING music, SO2 is a must-play for any RPG fan. The game would get an even higher score if not for the somewhat lame dialogue.