|Following on the heels of Legend of Legaia and Lunar: SSSC, Star
Ocean: The Second Story fails to live up to the expectations that we, as gamers, have come
to expect from RPGs that tout spectacular graphics and multiple endings. Yeah, yeah, I
know, buyer beware. It may look good, but, once you step in, it's really a lemon. Yet Star
Ocean isnt that sour at first. In fact, when the first FMV hits you youre
amazed, to say the least. Even the story is appealing.
But it isnt all eye candy now, is it? The game play is decent and some of the menu options are pretty damn cool. Star Ocean allows you to build your characters skills. You can learn to become proficient in a variety of areas: metallurgy, fairylore, and cooking. When I first saw the list I said, "Yeah, right. Like Im going to spend time on building those skills." It pays off, trust me. The skills coincide with various objects you purchase in town or find on your quest. For example, if you have built up one of your characters to be really good at metallurgy and creativity, then you can have them make special objects like bracelets, rings, and anklets. These items can range in effect. Some make you more defensive in battle while others simply sooth your soul. I still havent figured that one out. I found that even after building all my levels to ten I still, nine out of ten times, made crap, instead of something useful.
Lets get to the core of this RPG, or at least what it's supposed to be at the core: the quest. You can either play Claude or Rena, and depending on who you play it splits the games endings---or at least I assume it does. Star Ocean isnt entertaining enough to play 80+ times. I went with Claude, whose story entails stumbling into a kind of transporter which beams him to planet Expel, where the adventure begins. He is believed to be the Warrior of Light come to save the world from utter destruction by a horde of demons. Strangely, previous to your teleportation to the planet, aptly named the Sorcery Globe, a kind of meteor hits it, which increases the powers of the demon hordes and is central to the completion of your quest.
Too straight-forward is what I call this game. Star Ocean doesnt really throw any curve balls at you. Your first ten hours are spent dealing with incessant dialogue and wandering through cave after cave and maybe a forest here and there. You never really stumble into a mystery or even a very encompassing quest; there's no depth here. Bu there are a few interesting sidelines. One of which is a tournament of warriors at Lacour Castle. How well you do in this tournament (I lost pretty early on) determines your ending and the respect you gain from certain characters--mainly Dias, the bad-ass. And, of course, how well you fare in the tournament is thrown into the mix of determining your specialized ending.
Onto war. The combat interface allows you to go auto or independent, which is cool except for one little problem: you are unable to use all of your characters in combat--thus youre always reduced to a four man line-up. This is obviously meant to challenge your strategic skills, but instead it just pissed me off. I hate having eight characters in my party, but only using four. And, to boot, if your four characters die in combat the game is over. Poof. Where the hell did the other four go? A nice thing about the game is you dont really have to spend too much time wandering around building your levels. Rarely did I find myself struggling with a quest.
The biggest problem in this game are save points. There are not enough! Usually, you are able to save your game frequently, and most of the time in towns and caves. In Star Ocean save points are thinly dispersed, making you play longer than you want. Half of my time was spent making my way to the next save point, which might be towns away and quests away. At points, I had to return to previous areas to save my game. This, along with the amount of dialogue, frustrated me the most. Imagine sitting through a very long and drawn-out story about some character or some such thing, then being sent on a mission where you run into more and more dialogue and finally die because the dice werent in your favor. Now you have to start over and go through all of that crappy dialogue again, hoping youll by some chance find a save point somewhere in the vastness of Expel. I was on the verge of scouring the web for a gameshark code that would allow me to turn off the characters dialogue.
Star Ocean has 80+ endings, each dependant upon which private actions you chose to do. For me this was the most attractive element to the game. It boasted a kind of emotion-engine, where each character can either begin to hate or love another character. I chose to go after Rena. Essentially, the theory behind private actions in Star Ocean is to execute them prior to entering a town. Simple. A one button move. Then you enter the town and go and find the various characters in your party and talk to them. Sometimes the game allows you to interact with them, answer questions and make a choice, while at other times it merely gives you one line of dialogue and youve just wasted 15 minutes.
Private actions can also be used to do mini-quests. In some towns these little side stories can be engaged, depending on whether or not you have ever entered the town. They are one-time events, and if you dont get it right the first time youll have to reload and do it again. At the beginning of the game I went private action happy and ended up wasting a lot of time doing nothing but running around the town. It also helps to speak with various characters outside of your party during these moments, since they might lead you to a mini-quest. Overall, the hype doesnt meet the expectations I had for this "emotion-engine."
OK, maybe Im being too cynical here and downing on a game that is popular with most people. For me, that wonderful RPG experience wasnt there. Star Ocean had me bored. If youre starving for an RPG and have already completed the long list of titles out there, then go ahead and lay out some cash. Itll keep you occupied, but you wont want to come back again and again to see every ending.