Overlooked sequel to an underappreciated game

User Rating: 8 | Beni no Umi 2 PS2
When Koei switched systems for the sequel to its Xbox-exclusive action-RPG Crimson Sea, many people were surprised. The company probably felt that the PS2's larger user base would give Crimson Sea 2 more exposure, but gamers were concerned that the game might change too much during the system switch.

Worries are unwarranted. Crimson Sea 2 is superior in all aspects to its predecessor. Unfortunately, despite these improvements, Koei's futuristic hack-and-slasher seems to have gotten LESS attention on Sony's machine than on Microsoft's.

Gamers who missed out on the Xbox original need not worry. There are no major plotlines that carry over to the sequel. However, if you are interested in learning about main character Sho's heroics during the Ekdahl Wars, you can find out all about it via in-game conversations. The original cinemas are included for your viewing pleasure.

Either way, the story of Crimson Sea is anime-level bizarre. Sho is a Vipa, a superhuman soldier who uses Neo-Psionics to destroy an invading alien Menace that's turning peaceful people into monsters by inserting plugs into them. Your job is to kill em all. There are twists and mysteries along the way that will keep your attention, but the story is secondary.

Much like the original, Crimson Sea 2 is all about combat. You'll progress through sixty-odd missions, most of which are populated with swarms of icky creatures just begging to be destroyed. Luckily, Sho is more than equipped for the task. He has upgradeable guns and melee weapons, and puts them to fantastic use. New for the sequel are gravity blade, overdrive attacks, and Time Extends. Gravity blade attacks add effects like stunning the enemy, throwing them backwards, or tossing them into midair, and can be applied to any of the four melee attacks. Overdrives are gun attacks that are combined with the gravity blade for even further carnage. Rack up a 30-hit combo and Sho enters Time Extend, in which enemy movements move to a crawl but Sho speeds up, gaining the ability to teleport faster than the eye can follow and land major damage on his foes. All of these moves are easy to execute, and beginners will be creating huge-combo dances of destruction with only a little practice. The additions to CS2's combat make the constant fighting much more enjoyable and less repetitive than before.

All this destruction is rendered with amazing visuals. Koei was somehow able to retain the one-against-a-million odds of the Xbox original on the PS2, while increasing the detail and combat effects. Add to that the best FMV this side of Square, and you've got quite a graphical feast.

Koei listened to criticisms of the original Crimson Sea and took extra care in improving the sequel. The equipment upgrade system is much more efficient. There is a second playable character, Feaney. There are multiplayer modes, which are fun to experiment with but not very deep. You can replay any mission at any time to try and get all "S" rankings, but you only gain a fraction of the experience.

Fans of the original should not hesitate to pick up Crimson Sea 2. It is an improvement in all aspects - longer, deeper, better-looking, and more enjoyable - while keeping the all the quirkiness from before. IAG Headquarters is the same, and much of the soundtrack will be familiar. Those new to the series should not feel daunted about not playing the first game - it's easy to get into but deep enough to replay.

Crimson Sea 2 doesn't reinvent the wheel, but provides a vastly fun, lengthy, and visceral experience that manages to stay fresh despite the one-track gameplay. In addition to its swarms of creatures, RPG elements, weirdo story, and beautiful graphics, Koei has crafted a game that feels different and unique, and will stay with you long after the credits roll.