Review: Star Ocean: Second Evolution for PlayStation Portable
Although Star Ocean: First Departure just came out this past October, Square-Enix has already cranked out a port of its sequel with Star Ocean: Second Evolution.
Gameplay-wise, the two are absolutely identical, so if you just recently played through First Departure, unless you absolutely loved it to death, we recommend giving yourself a little buffer time so you don't get tired of the formula.
Unlike the first Star Ocean though, at the start you get to choose between two distinct characters: Claude, the Earthling from a technologically advanced space-traveling federation, or Rena, the magically-powered country bumpkin from a small town on an undeveloped planet.
While the parts of the story where their paths converge will be pretty much the same regardless of whom you choose (they're both in your party for a good chunk of the game), there are portions that are completely different depending on the character you pick.
For example, Claude and Rena split up at one point to rescue a bunch of children from bandits, and depending on who your main character is, you'll have a different perspective and fight completely different boss battles.
The real-time battles are on the button-mashy side, with auto- or semi-auto targeting only, and attacks mapped to the X button, with two magic attacks mapped to the shoulder buttons for each character. You only actually control the main character - everyone else in your party is AI-controlled, with some basic tactical and formation settings to choose from.
One gripe that carries over from Star Ocean 1 is that the tactical settings for AI should have been way more robust and detailed - many of the options are completely useless as-is, causing characters to burn through MP way too quickly or otherwise waste resources. We would have really liked to be able to fine-tune things a lot more, to set specific conditions for specific actions, like when specifically to heal and so forth.
The battle system may be a bit too simplistic for some, but Second Evolution has a lot of things going for it to make up for its button mashing, like a great fantasy/sci-fi story and an addicting skill system.
If you've played First Departure, we can best describe this as a very similar experience (with all the same flaws and strong points), but with way more content to explore - this game is huge. Like any respectable RPG, not only are there plenty of sidequests in addition to the main story, but there are a ton of nooks and crannies to explore with hidden gems meant only for the hardcore.
All of this, along with two distinct storylines to play through, and Star Ocean: Second Evolution is quite formidable among other PSP offerings. Unless you hated First Departure, this one is definitely worth a try.