What can I say about SO:SE that hasn't been said in my preview for its predecessor? Not much -- though this isn't necessarily a negative. Both games received a vibrant graphical update, along with new playable characters, restylized art, and newly-added anime sequences. SO:SE's battle system is the exact same one found in SO:FD -- in fact, you'll find many of the same moves, spells and enemies. Here's how it works: when you encounter enemies randomly on a map or dungeon, you are transported to a hack-and-slash style battle where you are in control of one character -- he or she is free to walk around, attack, use items or cast spells in real time. The other members of your party are controlled by the computer, but you can take dictate their actions at any time by relinquishing control of your primary character.
The anime sequences by Production I.G are as captivating as ever and really help push the narrative along. The skill point system also makes a return, allowing you to allocate points you earn in battle into various areas, whether it be increasing the strength of your basic attacks, or granting you cooking skills which allow you to procure healing items to use in battles. The story also seems to flow better here than in SO:FD, but we are about to get into that.
One of the major (or should I say the only one I've noticed so far) differences in this sequel is the ability to pick your main character. You have two choices: Claude, a Pangalatic Federation officer who worries about being in the shadow of his famous hero father, or Rena, a young girl on an underdeveloped planet who was born with healing powers. While the main story will remain the same, your choice in a main character will cause the story will develop differently and can result in multiple endings. The two characters cross paths when Claude is accidentally transported to Rena's planet by a mysterious device. Rena and the people of her town mistake Claude's advance phaser weapon as a Sword of Light which belongs to a legendary hero who they believe will save them. It turns out Rena's planet was devastated by a meteorite named the Sorcery Globe, which is causing monsters to appear on their landscape. Claude reluctantly helps Rena investigate the Sorcery Globe, hoping it will be a form of advance technology that can get him back home.
In short, if you enjoyed the previous SO title, this follow-up is simply a must-have. On the other hand, if you are new to the series, we'd recommend you first pick up Star Ocean: First Departure. While one doesn't necessarily need to play the earlier title to comprehend the sequel's story, there's no reason to pick up this new title when the older (and possibly cheaper) title has virtually the same gameplay with a different story. Star Ocean: Second Evolution will be out on January 20th, 2009.