Friday, November 30, 2012
Startling Odyssey II lacks a calling card. Not a single thing about it stands out as being superlative. But it's an example of an RPG that achieves excellence thanks to its makers doing solid (if not standard-setting) work on just about every aspect of the title.
The graphics, though they fall short of magnificence, are likely to garner some attention as soon as play begins. Canvases done up with subdued hues are sprinkled with flecks of brightness to create appealingly distinctive field and town designs.
The element of visual intrigue extends to the cinemas, which utilize lots of bluish greens to give outdoors scenes an overcast look (which works quite well for gloomy old me). Intermissions are plentiful and showcase the game's cool (if occasionally roughly sketched) main characters. Amusing shenanigans are periodically interrupted by episodes of tragedy; one particularly stunning event stuck with me through the years separating my first and most recent playthroughs.
The combat scenes are also visually interesting in that the action is presented in a "slanted" manner. Nice-looking backdrops and large enemies are on offer, and the characters are hardly the stand-still types: kicks and sword swipes are actually carried out rather than simply being told of via text messages, and badly hurt warriors slump to the turf in agony. The skirmishes don't play out quickly, and the encounter rate leans a bit towards the gratuitously high side, but the positive aspects of the brawling render those issues minor.
While battle sequences proceed methodically, field play is never slow or arduous (provided that you dig through the menus and ramp up the character-walking and message-relaying speeds). Your determined little party members let nothing stand in their way as they travel from one important location to the next--even bumbling townsfolk can simply be shoved aside.
Among those important locations are labyrinthine areas that seem rather plain appearance-wise but earn accolades for offering lots of treasure- and trap-strewn paths to explore.
Once the last of those areas has been conquered, you get to enjoy a long and interesting cinematic sequence that concludes matters in atypical (for a PCE RPG) fashion.
The music is perhaps the only element that disappoints. Early promise of classical symphonic greatness is quickly forgotten as annoying town and combat tunes come to the fore. A masterpiece of a soundtrack just might have elevated the game to the tier of the classics. But even as it is, SO2 is absolutely fantastic and far superior to its respectable predecessor.