Over the last few years, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly disillusioned with gaming. I had reached the stage where I was collecting games just for the sake of having them, and either put them straight in the cupboard or played them routinely and dutifully as if they were little more than a tedious chore. In the end, the outcome was inevitable- I packed up my consoles and did not look at them for months. As far as I was concerned, the gaming era was over.
That being said, there were still a number of titles that I was curious about, and thus it seemed inevitable that in due time, I would again feel the need to pick up a controller and try them out. Nonetheless, “due time” remained continually some way in the future- until I discovered the joys of PSX emulation. Now I could easily play games (at 2.5x normal speed) without ever leaving the comfort of my PC- a small difference, perhaps, but one that would prove vital in ensuring that the so-called ‘second gaming era’ would get off to a good start.
Anyway, enough preamble; the meat of this article was always meant to be dedicated not to my life, but to the game which began the new era- Star Ocean 2, creatively subtitled “The Second Story”. The tale of Rena, an inhabitant of the planet Expel, and Claude, an Earthling who crash-lands near Rena’s village, SO2 is a surprisingly addictive slice of RPG enjoyment, due in no small part to the Star Ocean series’ real time combat system.
Much as I love RPGs, I have to admit that fighting by selecting menu options all the time can get a little stale, making the real time system a breath of fresh air; instead of standing around glowering at the enemy and occasionally attacking, you can actually get in there and fight. Of course, it can get a little manic sometimes, with groups of random enemies often more likely to destroy your party than a boss would, but despite my long-held aversion to real time battles and outright hatred of certain types of enemy and status effects, for the most part it is a fast-paced and fun experience.
Of course, no RPG would be complete without a wealth of levelling up and equipment options, and Star Ocean 2 is no exception. As well as being able to break the customary level 99 barrier and experience the dubious novelty of two and a half times the work just to reach level 255, the game enables your characters to learn a wealth of support skills, from parrying enemy attacks and customising weapons to playing musical instruments and calling a giant rabbit. Admittedly, the usefulness of some of these abilities is highly questionable, but they are still interesting to try out.
Unfortunately, as enjoyable as it is to actually play, Star Ocean 2’s story is one of its weaker points. Although the various plot holes can be filled somewhat by certain sidequests, the game feels extremely rushed in place, with a sense that certain locations or portions of the story were intended to have more to them than was actually the case. The existence of two points of view to play from (Claude and Rena), some lengthy side quests and numerous ‘Private Events’ in which you can chat to party members and affect the game’s ending all add to the replay value, but it cannot be denied that a basic play-through from start to finish need take no more than twenty hours- relatively short for a two disc game.
Character-wise, Star Ocean 2 offers a relatively wide range of playable characters, of which you can recruit up to eight depending on the missions you select and the path you take through the game. Unfortunately, there is a vast gap between the stronger and weaker characters in this game- some are nigh essential for the ultimate party, but others have absolutely no worth no matter what style of play you prefer. Mages are particularly disappointing- although they are useful at the start, later on even the strongest spells cannot match up to a properly equipped melee character. Personality-wise, however, all the characters are fairly bland- quite possibly a fault of the laughably wooden English translation.
Visually, the game uses a pseudo 3D style, combining sprites with 3D backgrounds; the visuals are hardly up to the standard of modern games, but they still have a certain nostalgic charm. The music is reasonably solid, although it is hard to appraise it when it is playing at least twice as fast as it should.
An addictive and enjoyable experience, Star Ocean 2 proved to be the perfect game with which to commence the second gaming era. Unfortunately, such a game also carries a price- I now need to stop playing it so that I can get on with all the other things I’m supposed to be doing.
Extra: playing a game at 2.5x speed
Although the game did seem a little faster than it should be when I first started playing, it was only in its latter stages that I realised just how much faster it was. Under normal conditions, the game should run at 60 frames per second, but depending on what other processes my computer was running, and what the game itself was doing, it was instead running at anything up to 210 frames per second (most commonly in the 120-150 region). Having adapted to this new regime, I found the game irritatingly slow when it was limited to running at normal speed- much as 1x speed was useful for pulling off moves against certain tricky bosses, for the most part, it was now easier for me to play in the unlimited regime, even if it meant that the game sometimes became so fast that I barely knew what I was doing (in one battle I was convinced I was controlling Claude until I realised somewhere towards the end that I had actually been controlling Ashton all along).