Originally created 07/05/99

'Star Ocean' a decent role-game



Role-playing games are just not my cup of tea.

There, I said it. I feel so much better.

However, I have been known to enjoy a really good one -- the Zelda series is a fine example, Parasite Eve is another -- and so I came to Sony's latest offering, Star Ocean: The Second Story, with an open mind.

I wasn't bowled over, but I wasn't disappointed, either. If you can overlook a few really obvious flaws, fans of role-playing games should feel they got their money's worth. However, this is not Zelda. Or Final Fantasy.

The game comes on two disks, with a manual about as thick as a telephone book. It tells the interwoven story of two main characters, Claude and Rena. Claude, a young ensign in the Earth Federation, vanishes while inspecting a mysterious dome on the planet Milocina with his father, a starship commander.

Rena appears on the planet Expel, a lovely world until a meteorite strikes and strange things begin to happen. That's a pretty brief description for a game that features 80 possible endings.

Other characters include Celine Jules, a sorceress; Ashton Anchors, a handsome young fighter described as "just about the unluckiest man alive"; and Dias Flac, a poker-faced young man with an exciting fighting style.

As our heroes hunt for something called the Sorcery Globe, they learn many special skills, collect weapons and magic, gather information from those they meet along the way and fight a variety of unpleasant enemies.

While the characters are interesting, the way they are portrayed graphically is dull, dull, dull, especially when you match them up with the more spectacular role-playing games now available. The tiny, polygon-based figures are kind of a throwback to 16-bit days, not representative of what you should expect in a 32-bit production.

Background graphics and the interesting cut scenes, on the other hand, are usually worth looking at.

The real clunker in this mix is the sound. Dialogue is awful -- and adding insult to injury, it is repeated far too often. Listen to the music long enough, and you'll be running to the medicine cabinet for half a dozen aspirin. Fortunately, the important communication arrives in talk bubbles, so you can safely turn off the noise -- or put some music of your choice on the stereo while you play, for inspiration.

Control, on the other hand, is solid and responsive, with a vast storage area allowing you to hang on to almost everything you come across.

Star Ocean is fun despite its flaws. There's more than enough to keep you busy, and the simplistic graphics and figures, while annoying for adults, might make it a perfect introduction to the genre for the youngsters -- while you wait for the next episode of Final Fantasy.

Star Ocean: The Second Story is rated E, for all ages.