Star Ocean: Second Evolution


Review by · February 9, 2009

Square Enix has released quite a few classics for this generation of handhelds. Valkyrie Profile and Final Fantasy Tactics have hit the PSP, while Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger have found their homes on the DS. With most of their AAA titles already released, Square Enix has turned to some of their games that may not be the cream of the crop. After playing it, it is safe to say that Star Ocean: Second Evolution is one of these titles. Certainly, fans of tri-Ace titles will be right back at home with Claude and Rena, but even with its enhanced battle system, re-written script, and handheld format, it’s not going to wow people any more than it did when it saw release back on the PSOne.

Star Ocean: Second Evolution is unique in RPGs by providing players a choice as to which character they’d like to follow. Claude, a young Federation officer and son of the first Star Ocean’s Ronyx, and Rena, a young girl found on the planet Milokeenia as a child. The story focuses on both characters regardless of which is chosen as the primary, but the game’s story does branch into different aspects depending on which is selected. The story starts with Claude on one of his first missions, exploring a planet with unknown technology. He’s teleported to the planet Milokeenia and meets his counterpart, Rena. From there, the game turns into the standard “save the world” fantasy romp, but does have a couple of twists, becoming a standard sci-fi “save the world” romp. The pacing is fine and the characters are enjoyable, though even with its rewritten script, there’s not a whole lot that’s memorable with the standard aspects of the story.

The one amazing part about Star Ocean’s presentation are Private Events – story sequences which come about when players press the square button to enter a city. The party will split up and players can speak to members of their party alone, exploring their backgrounds beyond the main story. It’s a completely optional part of the game, but is very rewarding as it also has an effect on the ending of the game. These are all done very well and give players a reason to enjoy the characters. With this system, even if the overall events of the story aren’t memorable, players may find some attachment to the main characters.

Chances are if you’re reading this site, you’ve had a chance to play a tri-Ace title, which generally have action-oriented battle systems and obtuse statistic systems – as such, they’re tailored toward a very specific type of RPG fan. Star Ocean: Second Evolution is no different in this aspect. The game’s main draw for players is its skill system, which allows players to distribute skill points gained every level into different types of categories. Unlike most games where a single skill will have only a single effect, most of Star Ocean’s skills have a two-fold value: they function both as ways to create items and as a way to modify a player’s base statistics. As such, a player might want to create one type of item, but he’ll have to juggle his skill points with another skill to make his character physically stronger. It’s a great way for players to have more control over the way their characters develop and, like most tri-Ace statistic systems, is inherently broken for those players who want to go all out.

The battle system, while relatively unique in the 32-bit heyday, has become old hat now with the proliferation of games like the Tales series. That’s not to say that battles aren’t fun or that the system is in any way deficient, (games in the Star Ocean series have some of the only random battles I’m willing to run headfirst into) but just that it doesn’t provide anything new to players who have played more than a handful of RPGs over the past ten years. Similarly to the first Star Ocean title for PSP, players are only able to bind two of their special attacks to the shoulder buttons, as opposed to the four seen in the PSOne titles. This makes it a little bit more difficult in battle, but unless players are specifically looking for a challenge during gameplay, the skill system can be abused easily enough to lower the difficulty level of the game.

The last bit of tri-Ace branded goodness is the item creation system. Bound with the skill system mentioned earlier, players can buy or find materials out into the world and turn them into consumables, equipment, and other goodies. Players can forge documents that give them additional experience or money, craft equipment, or become an alchemist among any number of things. It’s less complicated than the item creation systems in games like Atelier Iris, but it’s simple enough to grasp easily and complicated enough where it’s entertaining to use. And yes, just like other aspects of tri-Ace titles, it’s entirely possible to abuse the skill system to get incredibly powerful items before the game would normally allow you to access them.

While the core gameplay of the title is quality, players who are used to presentations like Crisis Core will be let down by the setup in Star Ocean: Second Evolution. Graphically, the game is mostly unchanged from the PSOne iteration. All of the 2D sprites animate well, and the prerendered backgrounds look perfectly fine, but compared to other games on the PSP (and even some on the DS) there could have been much more done with the graphics here. One of the redeeming factors, however, are the unique angles used during many of the story sequences. As opposed to staying at the 3/4 isometric view during many story sequences, the camera sometimes floats to other views to give players a better view of a dramatic scene. However, this is not all good, as it does often reveal the sprites in a larger size, which doesn’t do much for their beauty. Players are also given large portraits of major characters as they speak, though they are a bit flawed. Rena, a character who is 17, appears to be about ten in her portrait, and it just feels a bit off. It’s passable, graphically, but don’t expect anything out of the ordinary.

Aurally, it’s significantly better than the PSOne version of the game. While it’s sad not to hear Claude spout lines like, “That’s going to be about 80 points,” the redubbed vocals are more than passable. That’s not to say that they’re incredibly high quality either, however, as I’m sure a month from now I won’t be able to recall what any of the characters actually sound like. The score is standard Sakuraba fare – whether that’s good or bad is entirely up to you, so take the audio score with a grain of salt if you’re a huge fan, as I’m pretty ambivalent to his music.

Most RPG fans will be relatively happy with Star Ocean: Second Evolution as a purchase, especially if they are fans of tri-Ace titles. I wouldn’t recommend it as an entry point to the genre or for those who are inexperienced with RPGs, but there’s nothing that’s really bad about the game. Yes, portions of the game are outdated by modern RPG standard, and the game’s not a true classic in comparison to some of the other remakes that have hit the PSP, but Star Ocean: Second Evolution is, above all, just fun to play.

Overall Score 80
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John McCarroll

John McCarroll

A Nevada native now in the Midwest, John started at RPGFan in 2002 reviewing games. In the following years, he gradually took on more responsibility, writing features, news, taking point on E3 and event coverage, and ultimately, became owner and Editor-in-Chief until finally hanging up his Emerald Cloak of Leadership +1 in 2019.