Saturday, November 22, 2014

Diary Entry #45: Star Ocean 2 Do Not Have The Value

            I remember balking at ads for PS1 games throughout the late '90s. At the time, I was an NES purist. We only owned three different game consoles: the Sega Game Gear, the Sega Pico, and the NES. I balked at the silly 3D images of Final Fantasy VII's huge marketing campaign, thinking about how stupid it all looked in comparison to my beloved 8-bit Final Fantasy.

            But in 1999, Star Ocean: Second Story's ad was played continuously on Cartoon Network. Years later after the actual content of the ad has faded from my memory, I can still recall how the ad made the spry, twelve-year old me feel. Did they show the little 2D people running around hitting each other? Did it show clips from the games 3D cutscenes? My girlfriend and I have only managed to uncover an old French ad, but I'm pretty sure the original ad had a robotic female voice telling me about the game's features. I do remember the ad boasting about the eighty different endings available in the game, which to me was unheard of. I could play this game EIGHTY TIMES and it would never be the same!

            Based on how often they ran the ad, this was Enix's attempt at having their own Final Fantasy VII, but I never really heard anyone talk about the game. If anyone ever did mention it, my eyes lit up and I started blathering on about how great this ad was.

            Eventually, I managed to pick up the PSP remake of the game. The battle system was ingenious, with everyone running around wildly swatting and casting spells at creatures. You could set it up so that the game would play itself, or you could switch between your party members and take control of any of them at one time. Still, something didn't sit right with me. I wanted to play the original Star Ocean: Second Story, the one whose ads lit my face up and finally got me interested in 32-bit gaming.

            And now, fifteen years after that pivotal commercial, I'm knocking on the final boss's door. I broke down, got the game, and went through virtually everything Star Ocean 2 had to offer. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my deeply-rooted personal hype.

            The company behind the game, tri-Ace, is either a very lucky company or an extremely talented group of developers. Over the past twenty years, they've gone from being a small independent company to being vanguards of the Japanese RPG. After years of Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile games and releasing seven games in their first decade of existence, the past several years have seen them developing three games a year for big name publishers like Square Enix and Sega.

            Founded in 1996, the company was comprised largely of people who left Wolfteam during the troubled development of Tales of Phantasia. Prior to that game, Wolfteam was known in the west for it's Genesis and Sega CD games, ranging from the Castlevania clonery of Earnest Evans to the FMV auto action of Road Avenger. Phantasia benefits from this pedigree, reinventing the side-scrolling action RPG into something entirely new. Rather than having a Zelda 2-esque action title, the game's traditional JRPG random encounters are all in real time, with most of the strategy lying in your positioning of your party and timing of discrete attacks. Even better is the over-the-top use of digitized voice effects, with every character spouting silly battle cries and victory pomps. It's all very fun, and you can tell the Super Famicom hardware is being stretched to its limits.

            With all the main designers moving to tri-Ace, it's no surprise their first game uses some very similar principles. Star Ocean uses tons of recorded voice and a real-time battle system, although it's one of the first "it plays itself" style games. Ditching Phantasia's side-scrolling view, fights take place across a large battlefield where characters automatically attack based on the player's menu options. At the time, this was probably super innovative, but nowadays it's Square Enix's status quo. Final Fantasy XIII's battles are a prime example, forcing the player to choose between different fighting styles and just watch everything automatically unfold. Not surprising that Final Fantasy XIII's two sequels were developed in part by tri-Ace. 

            Expectations were astronomical coming into the game, and at first, I thought everything was alright. Great battle system, complex-ish skill development, cool digitized voices during fights, and some fairly interesting visuals peaked my interest. Unfortunately, early on, the games awful storyline managed to ruin much of the enjoyment.

            The game features two scenarios, although I'm sure they're largely the same. Claude is in the space military because he does whatever Commodore daddy tells him to, and Rena is part of a mystical race with special powers. Of course, they've got a budding romance thing that EVERY CHARACTER has to comment on or allude to in the first five hours of the game, and they're ALWAYS embarrassed by the implication. Here's a small thumbnail gallery of examples:

            It's obnoxious, and it doesn't get any better as the game goes on. Later, the game tries to shoehorn in a bunch of pop-psychology crap about the tension between Claude and his father. Perhaps the most striking scene is near the beginning of the second disc, where we delve deep into Claude's brain and uncover this: 

            How do I react to these decadently pixelated close-ups? Was this what developers had in mind when they created sprite scaling and rotation effects?

            Who writes this crap? Who does this appeal to? Embarrassed that someone might think you have a boyfriend? Shouting at your super-pixelated father? Perhaps the girlfriend-less, twelve-year-old me could relate to it. Crotchety old me doesn't.

            Even more trashy are the CG cutscenes. This strange pink Elvis demon looks even worse than pixel-face dad. I understand that Final Fantasy VII had a ton of awesome cutscenes, but those were integrated in fun and interesting ways. Here, there's just four random cutscenes that mostly look like trash.

            It's unfair to say any game is bad just because the story sucks, but Star Ocean's dialogue is so verbose and the cutscenes are so long that it totally ruins the experience. Do I really have to know what everybody thinks of each other? Do I really have to wade through twenty lines of dialogue about how cute a character is or general "how's everything going?" type deals. I don't mind the thirty second spell cast animations, but why do I have to know what everyone's thinking at all times?

            All of this functions to wear down the player, forcing them to endure hours of wordy garbage to go through the occasional dungeon. Perhaps the second biggest problem was no effort on the games part to explain the smithing or crafting aspects of the game. The only time I actually needed hyper-powerful weapons was the last two bosses, which is just plain rude. 

            And the eighty different endings? My one sucked. The characters just talk some more until the game ends. So much for playing the game seventy-nine more times.

            The game ends with the phrase "DO LIFEFORMS WHICH DO NOT EVOLVE HAVE THE VALUE?" Probably a desperate attempt to draw from the genes/cloning themes of Metal Gear Solid and FFVII. Talk about a flaming bullshit aftertaste. And why keep that as the only piece of Engrish in the entire game?

            So my hopes and dreams were deflated. Moving on.

            Currently I'm dabbling in both Tales of Phantasia and Star Ocean 1. I compared them a little bit here, but I look forward to going into much more detail. I'm also playing Hokuto no Ken 4 for the Famicom, and I'll probably start something else. Either way, I'm going to be playing four RPGs at once.

No comments:

Post a Comment