Jade Cocoon 2 is much better than its predecessor, retaining and improving on its predecessor's strengths, but it lacks that special something that makes it more than the sum of its parts.
When the original Jade Cocoon was released for the PlayStation, it turned heads due to its slick character design (courtesy of anime artist Katsuya Kondo), its impressive graphics, and an interesting gameplay element that allowed players to capture monsters and breed them into a wide variety of creatures. While the actual game didn't quite gel and become more than the sum of its engaging components, it still managed be a solid game. Developer Genki has drawn on the strengths of the original for the game's PlayStation 2 sequel, Jade Cocoon 2. The end result is a beautiful game that manages to have the appeal of its predecessor and winds up being both frustrating and addicting at the same time.
Jade Cocoon 2's story picks up quite some time after the events in the original Jade Cocoon. The time of the Nagi people and cocoon masters has passed. In their wake, a new variation of cocoon master called a beasthunter has emerged. The hero you control this time out is a young boy named Kahu, who visits the Temple of Kemuel in the hopes of becoming a beasthunter and having adventures like the old cocoon masters he's idolized. Unfortunately, Kahu encounters a hefty dose of trouble during his beasthunter license test. A chance encounter with a young fairy named Nico leaves Kahu cursed and sporting a tail, and he's given a very short time to live before his body is consumed by evil. Fortunately, Kemuel Temple's resident guardian, Levant--the hero of the original Jade Cocoon--offers Kahu a chance to heal himself. It seems that by using the four magical orbs found in the heart of the elemental forests and a dark lute, Levant will be able to save Kahu's life. A fan of living, Kahu sets off, with Nico in tow, to save himself. As is the case with nearly all RPGs, Kahu will eventually end up saving the world. The story is conveyed via a mix of in-game cutscenes, CG sequences, and scenes in which Nico addresses you directly. The story is a bit forgettable--you may find yourself anxiously skipping past the story sequences to get back to exploring--until the end of the game, when you get a very engaging curve thrown at you. As a whole, though, it's fairly weak.
If you've played the first Jade Cocoon, you should be at home with Jade Cocoon 2, as the core gameplay is the same--you'll interact with NPCs, explore forests, level up Kahu, and, of course, battle and raise monsters. The actual game mechanics are slightly different due to some tweaking, and the enhanced system works fairly well, though there are some bumps in the road. As in Jade Cocoon, you'll navigate through a hub area. This time out, it's the Temple of Kemuel, which features five rooms for you to visit: the throne room, the room of life, arena, kikinak and co., and the lounge. The throne room is where you'll interact with Levant and travel to the various forests. The room of life is the place to go for all your beast-related needs. You'll be able to check on creatures you've encountered, name your beasts, hatch your eggs, and merge your creatures, among other things. The arena is a battle arena in which you'll find two types of fights, advancement test and beasthunter war. Advancement test battles are essential, as, if you win, your level will increase, allowing you to carry more beasts into battle and gain more shield points. Beasthunter war allows you to fight other beasthunters for yan, the game's currency, and reputation points, which you'll need in order to take higher advancement tests. In addition, you'll be able to save any beast amulet you use in beasthunter war to your memory card for use in a separate battle arena mode for two players. Kikinak and co. is the game's shop and storage area, allowing you to purchase items and store those you don't have room to hold. Finally, the lounge allows you to interact with other beasthunters and take on "jobs" that will earn you yan, reputation points, and items.
Exploring the forests in Jade Cocoon 2 is also a bit different this time out. You'll find four forests, each one based on one of the four elements in the game--earth, water, fire, and air. Each forest is broken up into four levels consisting of four areas each, for a total of 16 areas per forest. You'll face a boss at the end of every level, and defeating that boss earns you an item that opens up the next set of four areas in that forest. The boss fight at the end of the last level of a forest will reward you with that forest's orb. You'll advance from area to another by finding a "keyspore," which, once Kahu eats it, will allow you to progress further into the forest. Things change a bit in the last set of forests, as you'll also have to track down specific keys to open gates blocking your way, but it's still the same idea. The beasts you encounter in all the forests will share their native forest's elemental affinity and weaknesses. The key to successful exploration is selecting beasts whose attacks exploit those weaknesses. For example, fire beasts can mow down anything they encounter in the water forest but are weak against the special attacks of earth beasts.