The second coming of the Spirit Engine plays like the original, an jRPG-like game with a platformer perspective without any real platformer elements. Even if it looks like Ys 3 or similar games, it isn’t like them.
The game has two major elements, the strongly linear narrative and the fights, who are the only real gameplay element of the game. In comparison with the first part the changes seem slight, but they do increase the overall playability. For example the fights have become much more tactical, since you can’t just simply wear your enemies down anymore.
Like your characters, they get revived automatically after a certain amount of time. What may sound rather stupid at the beginning, makes the fights much more challenging. You don’t have to just figure out how to inflict damage, but also which of the enemies you have to take out first, which to attack later and so on. The difficulty is also much better balanced than that of the first game. The fights are always challenging, but never overwhelming.
I already liked the writing in the first game, but the second part cranks things up even more. Not unlike the Final Fantasy series the new part sports a completely new setting which allows for a fresh plot. It all starts with the kidnapping and subsequent murder of a young boy. Your group of unlikely heroes has barely managed to save his sister.
From there on things get out of hand. The whole thing reminded me a little bit of the early Might & Magic games, that start out as fantasy but morph into full-blown SF near the end of each game. Another plus of the game is an excellent villain. Villains work best when you can sympathize with their reasoning, if not completely with their course of action.
I just wish the game would have included some choices that could have allowed me to support the “villain”, not to get an evil ending, but a different outcome. Not all choice are either black or white. Overall, a great game that manages to be even better than the good first part.
What follows are short descriptions of my playthroughs. 27 character combinations are possible, but for beginners a diverse party is the most useful. So don’t try three knights on hard in your first game. While each character provides unique plot elements, some of the characters have larger sideplots. I try to mention them when I find them.
1st playthrough 04/2009 (Kaltos, Charlotte, Enshadu)
Kaltos and Charlotte have a strong relationship going and both Kaltos and Enshadu have longer sideplots (Kaltos has the black sword and Enshadu his past). Typical starter party, probably has much to do with how we read (left to right). I wager if TSE2 would be rolled out in Japan, the typical starter party would be Mericious, Charlotte and Denever).
2nd playthrough 06/2010 (Ionae, PyanPau, Denever)
As much as I like the writing in the game, it really became a bother the second time around. I wanted to read each line of unique dialog, but skipping was always a temptation.
As for this combination: Ionae and PyanPau have also a good dynamic going, if not as strong as Kaltos and Charlotte. Ionaes background is the most outre of all characters (second is Enshadu) and provides another longer unique sideplot. Denever’s end is bittersweet, but very fitting. I really liked how the game depicted both older and younger characters convincingly.
3rd playthrough 08/2010 (Mericious, Ferwin, Grace)
While there are three basic personality types, the games manages to make them still unique. Kaltos isn’t Ionae isn’t Mericious. Each of them is a little different. The same goes for the other six. Ferwin and Mericious have their own little sideplots, while Grace’s presence sheds more light on what happened during the rebellion of the small region from where the evil guy originated.
This combination feels a bit more mundane than the other two I played. There’s also no strong character dynamic going on like with Kaltos and Charlotte or Ionae and PyanPau. That said, I thought the characterization of Mericious and Grace were excellent (Ferwin was a little bit bland in contrast).
Romance plot aren’t uncommon in RPGs these days, but a priest who has a religious midlife crisis and a strong, older female character coming to grip with her violent past, that’s still a bit rare.