+++ Storyline is still great
+++ Voice Acting is excellent, though slightly deteriorated from the first game
++ Most difficult game in the series
++ Extensive sidequests (other games have very little in this regard)
++ Introduces an excellent supporting character (Jin)
+ Impressive Graphics
+ Fantastic final area
+ Much improved Mech combat system
--- First quarter of the game is a tedious slog of boredom
- Battle system is interesting, but winds up making most of the early random battles more difficult than the early bosses
- Character redesigns are hit and miss
- Kos-Mos' new voice is terrible
- Margulis fight could be made a lot harder
- Second Miltia song is AIDS
No, I haven't managed to replay this whole game in 5 hours, but I may play it in the future still. The game gets to be very fun if you make it past the first 5-6 hours of tedium as you slog through random battles that take much longer than boss encounters and run around Second Miltia blabbing to people. For some reason Namco (and later Namco-Bandai) felt that making the character run around for 3-4 hours was essential at the start of each of these 25-30 hour games, though it only feels especially dragging in this case. The first 30 minutes is actually pretty action packed and entertaining, but after that the facepalms will come, most assuredly.
This game, particularly the North American version (3 exclusive bosses) is actually around 60-70 hours long as opposed to the typical 30, and that is due to the massive sidequest areas that open up after the end of the game. Unfortunately these areas aren't quite as well designed as the last area of the main game which is awesome, but they're still a nice diversion.
As for the action scenes, some of the best ones are here. Though unfortunately nothing compares to Albedo ripping his own head off (and nothing does in any other game either), we do have more entertaining crap from him here as well (uncensored in Japanese). As that might tip you off a lot of this game and the next game occur in the past, since explaining the plot macguffins without actually going there would be pretty impossible. Fortunately we do have this badass fight between Jin and Margulis (Japanese)that, naturally, happens in the first 30 minutes. And here's another one (Compilation with the spiffy music background) much later. I suppose its debatable whether a scene in the next game is better but those opponents are certainly vastly inferior in terms of character design. Yep, Margulis is pretty damn awesome. There's quite a few other awesome scenes that are pretty spoiler-heavy as usual.
This game also has the best ending out of all three games, even though it sort of leaves it up in the air like the previous version. At least a foe is presented and defeated (not Margulis) and he has some interesting characteristics about him. Also some further reconciliation with another longstanding character, and more connection to the overall plot is had. Sans Albedo's craziness in the first game this game actually has a more interesting plot, which I guess is natural given that there isn't quite as much exposition in the beginning.
Unfortunately despite the game's strengths it did not sell all that well, while the first game hit Greatest Hits fairly quickly this game never did and there were several hundred thousand units unsold. I attribute this to difficulty and the extensive boredom served in the first part of the game, but just as every other game in the series it can arguably be labeled the best of the three due to the advantages it holds. The ES (mech) combat system is actually very well done and interesting from the start, hence it is almost copy/pasted into the third game. However due to this game being commercially unsuccessful the third game is basically a bandaged up apology that has several faults due to the nature of merging 4 planned games into one.
Final Grade: 8/10