Shining Soul II
Wait a sec, didn't the first Shining Soul action-RPG just come out? Well, in America, yes, but in Japan the two games were separated by over a year. Much of that time was apparently spent sprucing up the visuals--Soul II's dungeons are each unique and detailed, a stark contrast to the original's interchangeable caves. Character classes have gotten a bump, too; you can choose from a wide assortment of eight different types, from speedy archers to beefy warriors to spell-casting vampires. Other welcome additions include optional side-quests, story elements, and hidden areas. But at its heart--or its Soul, I should say--this game is a lot like the original. On the one hand, it's rewarding to choose which stats and skills to build as you gain levels, and the huge assortment of equipment and magical items makes collecting treasure fun. On the other hand, combat is simple no matter which character you play--charge, attack, retreat, repeat. Dungeon puzzles or enemies requiring different strategies could have done wonders for the gameplay. Multiplayer adds speed and some tactics to combat, so play it with friends if you can.
Shining Soul II is an awful lot like its predecessor, but with a little bit more of everything: more character classes, more levels, more items and equipment, and (unfortunately) a whole lot more pointless dialogue. Fortunately, the dungeon designs have been given a major overhaul from the first game, but combat remains as repetitive as ever, which means if you're planning to go solo, you're likely to get bored after only a few hours of play. Get some friends together, though, and you've got one seriously fun multiplayer RPG.
The amount of shine added to Soul's sequel is...well, almost enough. This action-RPG easily surpasses its predecessor with diverse environments and a wide variety of character types. Also, I'm always a sucker for a game resembling Phantasy Star Online, where I can team up with buddies to conquer beasties and discover ultrarare weapons. Yet, too few identifying scrolls in the beginning of the game leaves you flat broke, and while the story is a step up from the original, this narrative could still use some work.