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I’ll start with two messages. If you have never played the original Star Ocean: The Second Story, strap in and enjoy the ride. You’re due to a fantastic journey. If you did play the original game, oh boy. Let loose of all the straps. Cherish, absorb, relive, and pedal all the way into this fantastic space opera adventure. Square Enix remade an already great game into something even more extraordinary.
I’m not trying to ostracize those who haven’t played the original Star Ocean: The Second Story. But as a remake, there’s always this lingering doubt that the reproduction will never make us feel as good as the original did. However, when the remake is not only as enthralling but better than the classic, the nostalgia mixes with novelty, resulting in a soundly “damn, this game is good.”
I first played the original Star Ocean: The Second Story in my teens. I remember having a lot of fun with it, despite never finishing the game since I sucked and got stuck in the last boss. Now, after 20 years of grinding the RPG industry and delving into many other games, I feel way more prepared to tackle this intergalactic journey.
This was my first time getting a platinum trophy before a game embargo dropped. Yeah, it was pretty demanding and left me with more dark circles under my eyes than expected, but it paid off. The remake is astonishing from start to end. So, if you want to know my complete impressions about it, check out my RPG Informer’s Star Ocean The Second Story R Review, conducted on the PlayStation 5.
The Second Story and Lore
Star Ocean The Second Story R presents dual protagonists. Claude C. Kenny is a human hailing from the sci-fi scenario, and Rena Lanford is a denizen of Expel, the underdeveloped planet that permeates the fantasy settings. The destiny of the two becomes intertwined early in the game while they investigate the Sorcery Globe, a meteorite that fell in Expel and began causing natural disasters and the emergence of a horde of monsters.
The player chooses which protagonist to start the story with. My first playthrough was with Claude, and the second was with Rena. The story has few differences, with each character having a handful of unique cutscenes from their perspective that better color their personality and showcase their backstory. The significant distinction lies in party recruitment, as each has an exclusive character and the Private Actions stories. Honestly, it’s hard to justify replaying the entire game for these few exclusive scenes. I suggest you do so only if you want to experiment with all the 13 playable party members.
Star Ocean The Second Story R starts as a procedural story, as most JRPGs do. There’s an overarching story, but we first solve one-off problems. The gameplay loop takes us into a village, where we get acquainted with their worldly crisis, which leads us to a nearby dungeon where we find the solution. It’s a beat-by-beat narrative, but it worked for me. I didn’t recall the original story entirely, so I refreshed my memory with each event.
From the second part on, however, it’s a marvel. Stakes are higher, the concerns become more critical, and everyone, including the NPCs, seems motivated to resolve the big-picture problem. At this moment, the game’s plot develops and answers then-unanswered mysteries. Both protagonists share equal importance in the plot. The narrative has excellent pacing and never loses itself in its blend of sci-fi with fantasy, making everything feel organic despite the contrasting themes.
A Cast of Stars
However, the splendor that shines and surrounds the entire tale of Star Ocean The Second Story R is the characters. It’s impossible not to admire them. Even those whose first impression is terrible become relatable throughout the game. But only for the players who invest their time with the Private Action mechanic.
Upon arriving in a city, the protagonist can split from the party, leaving each member to their own devices. A marker indicates that a Private Action is available in said location. When speaking to the party member, a cutscene plays out, fleshing out more about that specific character.
Many of these Private Actions allow us to choose the reply to our companion’s pleas, and depending on them, the friendship between the protagonist and the party member increases or decreases – whose implications are only revealed at the end of the game. It’s easy to mess up, so don’t feel bad if you thought an answer would give you laurels but ended up massively offending someone.
Last year, I played Star Ocean: The Divine Force. In it, the secondary characters have their own development outside the Private Actions, with their own storyline. Unfortunately, in The Second Story, this doesn’t happen. There is a minor storyline when you meet the party member, but you must trigger the optional Private Actions to delve further into anything related to that side character. If you don’t do so, your members will come across as shallow characters.
However, and this applies to the main story and the Private Actions, sometimes the writing can be long-winded, a franchise staple. Star Ocean: The Last Hope has a 46-minute cutscene, which I may or may not have dozed off a few times. It’s a back-and-forth of interjections between the characters just to show that they are there, but it’s unwarranted. Being accustomed to JRPGs, I didn’t mind so much. But the game has foreseen this since it allows you to speed up the cutscenes by 2x, which helps a bit.
The Combat Remade
One of the best quality-of-life improvements in Star Ocean: The Second Story R is the exclusion of random battles. Enemies now appear on the map as a malicious cloud. I can’t describe how much I hate random battles nowadays. Choosing when I’ll battle common enemies made me appreciate the game’s combat better.
The Second Story R is an action RPG, like every Star Ocean. On the 3D battlefield, we control a party member and dictate the strategy of the others, but we can quickly switch between them with the press of a button. The character moves around the field freely, and whenever we attack or use special artes, it automatically advances toward the enemy. It’s all quite simple but functional. Enemies have at most two sets of attacks, which are easy to spot and dodge.
My yardstick for whether an action RPG is good compared to a turn-based one, for example, is if the game allows me to take on stronger enemies by betting on my dexterity rather than just on numbers. In many turn-based games, it’s impossible to face a high-level enemy. In action games, it’s up to you. Star Ocean The Second Story R delivers. I managed to take on a much tougher enemy just by dodging and timing my arts correctly. It was tricky but doable. The new combat provides feedback that matches the player’s skill. That is, at least initially.
The remake introduced four new mechanics in combat. The break system, a dodge button – I know -, party formations, and the assault actions. Enemies now have a shield icon above their HPs. When we break all the shields, they enter a staggered state, becoming utterly vulnerable to our attacks and dropping spheres that, when accumulated, grant bonuses to the entire party according to the formation equipped. For example, I stuck with the formation that gave me bonus experience for almost the whole game and leveled up like an insane hacker trolling an MMORPG.
The dodge does precisely what you’re imagining. But dodging at the right moment recovers MP and enables a counter-attack, which destroys a good portion of the enemy’s shield. However, if our character gets hit during an attempted dodge, all collected spheres and the formation bonus are lost. I rarely dodged because taking a hit in the face was much more favorable than losing the hard-earned collection of spheres.
Lastly, we have the Assault Actions. We can allocate up to four characters in the directional buttons to unleash a special art we defined beforehand or even employ some unique characters. It’s helpful to cause that extra damage to the enemy’s HP or shield. In the original game, the combat was already high-paced and entertaining. But these new features made it even more energetic and tactical.
But as I mentioned above, everything works, at least initially. As the game progresses, we acquire more party members. Then, our colleagues earn some levels and learn earth-shattering, radiant, and exaggerated skills that cover either the enemy or the entire screen. This makes it nearly impossible to see what the enemy is planning, let alone make a perfect dodge.
There are so many visual effects on the screen that, wow, from the middle of the game to the end, it seemed that my triumphs in battle were more the result of my strategically selected equipment than my skill on the battlefield. Personally, I didn’t mind it so much because I feel that this number-crunching approach is the essence of an RPG – and why I don’t think Zelda belongs to the genre – but I know it can be frustrating for those who like to understand what’s going during the struggle.
An Ocean of Quality of Life Improvements
The revamped visuals were dubbed 2.5D style, one that fuses pixel art with 3D scenarios. It’s gorgeous, and I believe it was the right call. While I love the HD-2D engine, overusing it may steal its charm. The redrawn character portraits are spectacularly striking, displaying exactly each character trait and fashion in high definition before converting them into adorable pixel art.
Motoi Sakuraba returns as the game’s composer, and he’s always on fire. It’s not easy to create a soundtrack that expresses the glimmer of a fantasy setting with the scope of a sci-fi scenario, but he pulled it off. It’s hopeful and vibrant with a unique self-identity. Granted, most of the tracks were already there and have just been rearranged by the composer, but there are still a few additional surprises.
Then, we have all the gameplay improvements. The quality of life in this remake is superb. From the markers denoting a quest or Private Action to no more random encounters or killing weak enemies without even joining a battle but earning the rewards, and finally, for God’s sake, the tracking in Item Creation, a feature that made me cry tears of blood when it was lacking in Star Ocean: The Divine Force but finally made its way into Second Story R.
Every character has a set of Specialty Skills they can learn by spending SP, such as Determination, Aesthetic Design, Resilience, etc. They all give some bonus attributes per level. But more than that, a combination of specialties nets you an Item Creation opportunity. For example, leveling Knife, Recipe, and Keen Eye improves your Cooking, allowing the character to prepare some fancy dishes with an excellent bonus. When two or more characters specialize in a Specialty, the party learns a Super Specialty, which provides some of the game’s best items.
The Item creation feature makes Star Ocean an authentic entry into the genre. Crafting is a staple in, well, almost every game out there. However, the fantastic space odyssey franchise tackles it differently. If you invest in it, be patient, learn the ropes, and save-scum a lot, the creation system can instantly break the game.
I was familiar with it and its boundless freedom. I had to play the game on Universe, the hard difficulty, because I made a sword so strong for Claude early on that every enemy died in a few hits, including bosses. That doesn’t mean the game went from interestingly challenging to dull boredom. My dedication, previous knowledge, and the game mechanics allowed me to be this powerful early on.
A Spacefarer Exploration
If there’s one thing old RPGs knew how to do, it was to give you a sense of rewarding exploration and discovery, which I attribute to the overworld. Whenever I hit a new landmass in Star Ocean The Second Story R, I would head to every city and dungeon available and explore it to my heart’s content. Even if there wasn’t an objective there, I could still open treasure chests, buy new and better equipment, and unlock fast travel as a bonus.
Hopping on my bunny and crossing several mountains just to find an isolated chest with a lonesome accessory was so gratifying and showed me that it was worth gallivanting around without paying mind to the main quest. The remake also promotes exploration by adding raid monsters and unique spots scattered throughout the world that give a tremendous chunk of experience and the best gears.
On the other hand, the many markers kind of take away some of the magic of discovery. When exploring, I always imagined that at the end of a dungeon, there would be a rare event or a secret boss, but nope. If it did, there would be an exclamation mark indicating the fact. Still, it’s better with them than without.
The game also added the most staple minigame ever in any JRPG: fishing. It’s as straightforward as it gets. You drop the line and press a button when prompted. But it has a weird nostalgia effect, causing a fuzzy feeling in my belly. Although the time invested in fishing didn’t initially justify the rewards, I still made sure to fill my entire fish encyclopedia. As a Breath of Fire major fan, I couldn’t have done otherwise.
Star Ocean is a JRPG that blends two settings, sci-fi and fantasy. Although there aren’t many other games that do this mix, there are some close alternatives with heartwarming moments that can itch that scratch.
- Trials of Mana
- Grandia HD Collection
- Star Ocean: The Divine Force
- Tales Of Symphonia Remastered
- Ni no Kuni Wrath of the White Witch
The Verdict – 9/10
I couldn’t be happier with this wave of remakes of classic RPGs from Square Enix. I’m not belittling its current games, as I enjoy quite a few of them, but the developer seems to have recognized when its golden years of releases were.
Star Ocean The Second Story was a pending entry in my RPG player portfolio, and resolving it with this remake was a delight for me from start to finish. The game embraces what made it exceptional, modernizes it, and makes the whole experience even grander and more memorable.
For the first time, I must agree with the marketing. Star Ocean The Second Story R is a game that can be enjoyed by long-term players of the series and complete newcomers alike. Anyone who navigates in this ocean of stars will embark on a lifelong voyage.
- Quality of life improvements are superb
- The revamped 2.5HD visuals are gorgeous
- Battles are way more fun with the new features
- The story is gripping and consistent throughout
- Private Actions are funny, enjoyable, and emotional, adding numerous layers to the secondary characters
- The writing gets quite wordy sometimes
- Quite hard to keep track of what’s happening in battle with all the visual effects
Murillo played for about 56 hours, completed both protagonists’ playthroughs, recruited every party member, reached level 255, saw more than 50 endings, and got a platinum trophy by the end.
Question: Does Star Ocean The Second Story R have multiple endings?
Answer: Holy cow, it does. It has up to 99 endings. A final scene will play out according to your party members’ relationships or even some special Private Actions triggered during the game. It’s a colossal endeavor to unlock them all since you need at least four complete playthroughs while exercising the right actions.
Question: Is Star Ocean: Second Evolution the same as Second Story R?
Answer: No, and yes. The Second Evolution was the PSP remaster of the original Star Ocean The Second Story, which added a new character, voice acting, and more. The Second Story R is based on the Second Evolution version, so in a way, now it’s all tied together.
Question: Is there a New Game+ in Star Ocean The Second Story R?
Answer: Yes, finally! It’s the first time a Star Ocean game has a New Game+ feature. It’s a bittersweet sensation. While you can bulldoze the second playthrough with your ultimate equipment, I can’t shake the feeling that starting from scratch lets you cherish the experience more organically if you go for the party members you hadn’t recruited in the first playthrough.