Star Ocean: The Second Story R is, you guessed it, a remake of the classic PlayStation 1 Action RPG Star Ocean: The Second Story (initially released on July 30, 1998). This remake boasts updated visuals, new quality-of-life features that aim to modernize the experience, re-arranged music, and much more. Some aspects of this remake are carried over from the updated PSP version of the game, Star Ocean: Second Evolution.
Delve into the sci-fi fantasy universe of Star Ocean: The Second Story R and revel in rich RPG systems that intertwine themselves into every facet of the gameplay experience, soak in the unique aesthetic as you tour an unknown sector of the universe, and ponder the themes of growth and self-discovery that are smartly delivered to you through memorable characters.
Check out the Launch Trailer!
The (Second) Story
Star Ocean: The Second Story is the sequel to Star Ocean. It’s…well, the second one, okay?! Fret not, however, dear reader, as there is very little story connection to the first game besides a few sly references. Meaning that you don’t need to worry too much about catching up to speed at all!
If you would like to check out the original game, check out Star Ocean: First Departure R, an updated version of the PSP game Star Ocean: First Departure (which in and of itself is an updated version of the original game). This is a much more straightforward conversion compared to Second Story R, as it is a much more fully fleshed-out remake.
The Mishap of Destiny
Don’t worry, I won’t go too deep into the story itself in order to avoid spoilers. This section will be practically spoiler-free!
The premise of the game involves Claude, an Earthling space cadet, accidentally winding up on the planet of Expel. Expel is an underdeveloped planet that is still essentially in its own Middle Ages. Here, Claude meets Rena, and their journey ends up helping them discover the truth of what exactly is going on. On this journey, you will help many people and recruit many allies. The main plot itself isn’t bad per se, but it definitely has a fairly standard RPG plot as its backbone. If you enjoy those tropes like I do, then you will be in for a fairly fun time.
The world is standout as it is exciting, especially in the back half. Claude acting as a main player surrogate is extremely clever due to him needing to acclimate to this strange and new place just like a first-time player would. I find the actual theme of the game much stronger than the plot itself. Part of the reason why is that the focus of the first two Star Ocean games was on their settings! So it’s definitely intentional. Check out this old GameSpy Star Ocean 3 interview for more information!
What I consider to be the main theme of the game is Discovery. It is reflected in both the main plot and the characters. The main plot points involve discovering the mysteries behind the events and circumstances of the universe the game sets up. Characters, through self-actualization, discover who they themselves are and learn about their allies. This even bleeds into the gameplay systems themselves!
A Galacticly Diverse Group
I love the characters I ended up recruiting. You can nab up to 6 additional party members besides Claude and Rena. They all push the themes of discovery in their own unique fashions, have different playstyles, and integrate into the world quite nicely to boot! Many of them follow classic anime archetypes, but that’s okay. They are so much fun! They may be rooted in these classic tropes, but many aspects are quite fresh. The mix of a recognizable archetype and added depth really root them into the world quite firmly while making them quite memorable. Recruiting additional characters, viewing their Private Actions, and completing their Sub Missions are a substantial amount of game content, too!
What’s one of the most important aspects of a game? That’s right! The gameplay. And hoo boy, Second Story R knocks it out of the park! I was addicted and enthralled early into the game. The combat is satisfying, and the RPG elements fired my neurons while hyping me up on dopamine constantly. This. Is. What. I. Call. An. RPG.
Fast-Paced Fighting for Your Life in Another World
The combat on paper is straightforward. Simply magnificent. Your main actions are ‘Attack’, ‘Dodge’, and ‘Skills’. There’s a scant amount of actions you can perform, but there’s a lot of depth under the surface. It’s like seeing a cloudy puddle that you can’t see the bottom of, stepping in it, and falling into a lake. Enemies have Break gauges you can deplete in order to gain an advantage over them. You can be broken as well! Enemies will telegraph their attacks by glowing red, if you perfectly dodge these you get some powerful hits in, recover MP, and take no damage. This is a high-risk, high-reward system because you get broken yourself if you fail. This also ties into a special meter that gives you various buffs depending on your Attack Formation. When you get broken or back attacked (in the field) the gauge fully depletes, putting you at a further disadvantage. Skillful play will keep you in a fighting fit form! Not to mention, you have battle abilities you can upgrade that pop automatically. These involve evasion and attack buffs along with skills that can warp you to enemies. This keeps the combat focused while not making things overly complicated for the player.
A Universe of RPG Depth
Goodness gracious. The amount of experimentation, discovery, and depth available is jaw-dropping. There are, of course, flat combat and skill upgrades that are satisfying to get due to their practical application and the standard serotonin generation of ‘number go up’ goodness RPGs are known for, but then there’s the IC/Specialty Skills. These are so insanely fun to play around with. You can get Experience and skill point bonuses with one skill, you can learn pickpocketing, crafting, item replication, learn instruments to give yourself buffs, and much, much, MUCH more. Wow. I’m still reeling from these systems even after beating the game. I won’t go into it too much, but any of you prospective players out there really need to mess around with this stuff. It’s like a box of Legos in terms of some of the creative things available for you to do.
This gameplay trailer showcases what I’m talking about quite spectacularly!
A remake of a classic such as this requires both talent and respect. Respect towards the original game makes sure that plenty of goodwill and love is poured into the project, while talent ensures that the vision of a truly amazing remake stays on track.
Tri-Ace and the ‘Tales of’ Connection
The Star Ocean series is developed and handled by Tri-Ace. This studio is named such because of the three big industry names that formed it: Yoshiharu Gotanda, Masaki Norimoto, and Joe Asanuma. These are some of the key creatives behind Wolf Team, which later became Namco Tales Studios. These are the guys who created Tales of Phantasia, the first Tales of game. You can definitely see the resemblance in early Tales of and Star Ocean‘s battle systems. Private Actions are even similar in nature to the Skits in the Tales of games. Talk about pedigree, huh?
I’d also like to add that Gemdrops, the studio that primarily developed this remake, isn’t new to the Star Ocean franchise. They are actually responsible for the Japan-only Second Evolution port to PS4/Vita! In fact, Gemdrops was founded by Yuichiro Kitao (Star Ocean 3 Battle Programmer). Giving this project to familiar hands ensured it was well taken care of!
This is an easy one. The graphics have been completely overhauled. The only things completely retained are sprites and some art. The game uses the established HD2D art style while pushing it forward to HD2.5D! All the environments have been lovingly and beautifully recreated in Unreal Engine while making use of camera work not seen in prior HD2D games, hence the HD2.5D moniker. The lighting and material work is really top-notch and evokes the feeling of discovering a new world’s majesty. However, this game relies less on playing with pixel art nostalgia like the material work in the Octopath Traveler games. There’s much more realism packed in on the screen now. So, this remake attempts to elicit the feel of the original game’s areas while offering a fresh presentation. That’s about all I have to say. I think the game is super gorgeous while finding a really good balance between realism and style. Some may miss the old drawn and pre-rendered backgrounds, but this new flavor should be appreciated nonetheless.
The official animated opening movie of the game is quite impressive and really pumped me up to play the game.
Second Story R not only received a graphical and feature overhaul but a newly arranged soundtrack as well! It really helps sell the epic scale of the adventure with the revamped glorious overworld theme, the pure fire battle themes, and somber emotional pieces. Don’t worry, you can freely swap between the new and old soundtracks, too! There are some really standout tracks in this game, which makes sense since the composer is the legendary Motoi Sakuraba. He’s most well known for his work on the Tales of game series. Despite this, I don’t always dig his work on a broad scale. He knows how to craft some great tracks that really bring out and enhance certain scenes, but I don’t really catch myself remembering too many of them or humming them while doing the dishes or something. One of the closest comparisons I can draw is that it reminds me of an epic movie soundtrack; it helps draw you in, but you’re more than likely to gravitate to a select few tracks while mentally discarding the rest. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but something to take note of.
There is voice acting present as well, and boy, is there a decent selection here, too! There is the English Dub, which was reused from Second Evolution on PSP, the Second Evolution Japanese Dub, and a brand new Japanese Dub. I mostly played the game with the English Dub, and I found it to be pretty good. Spike Spencer as Claude was really good. A funny way that the voice acting connects to the soundtrack is that sometimes it’s hard to hear battle music because characters are constantly shouting out their special attack names. I adore this, but some may consider it a flaw. Xenoblade and Tales of fans may be enamored by this as well. I will say that it is disappointing that a new English Dub was not made for this remake, but I will discuss these ramifications later.
Survival – Using the Whole Animal
Only the strong survive, and what’s one of the best ways games can do that? Iteration. Iteration allows developers to take what is great from a prior entry and improve upon it while being economical in planning the next entry. The next entry, in this case, is this remake. One way remakes can be so excellent is that developers don’t have to start from complete scratch in terms of planning. The game is already there! Of course, some games like Final Fantasy VII Remake shake things up a little, but The Second Story R is one of the best examples of another type of remake. The scale of Second Story R isn’t vastly bigger than the original; mainly, the presentation is updated. This allowed developer Gemdrops to reuse large portions. Hence, using the whole animal. They don’t want to waste anything. Star Ocean: The Second Story R does have a whole lot of new, but I believe that it achieved such a monumental amount of polish by using what was already available. Don’t fix what isn’t broken!
Updating an Update
What I was getting at in the previous paragraph was that Second Story R reuses a lot from the PSP version, Second Evolution. In fact, as mentioned in a prior section, the entire English Dub was reused from this version. That also means that just about the entire script from that game has been left untouched. I found scant examples of some newly updated text, but it’s relegated to non-voiced lines like descriptions and voiceless character dialogue. The base systems of the combat and RPG systems are the same as well, with some stellar streamlining and additions, mind you. The entire goal of the game was to make this classic game better, so I’m very happy that they didn’t forsake that vision in the slightest.
New Updated Additions
I’ve already touched upon a few aspects of the new stuff in their own sections, but here I wanna talk about how smooth the overall experience has become due to this. Lemme slap you with some empirical evidence first: I beat Second Story R in just shy of 33 hours, while the playtime of Second Story is roughly 40 hours, according to How Long to Beat. That includes the ample amount of time I spent grinding and experimenting. There is significantly more content in this version, but it is now so quick and smooth that it cuts down a lot. You can now view Private Actions and Sub Events on your map and fast-travel to them. Private Actions are also done with a single button press and can be done in an instant while IN town. Before, you had to walk outside town and essentially reload the town into a Private Action state. Now, it’s entirely seamless. This, combined with crisp menus and updated mechanics, allows players to do more content in an extremely swift manner. Warp Speed ahead!
I was pretty lukewarm on the first Star Ocean game. To be honest, I was afraid of feeling the same way towards this game. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I enjoy this game to such an immense degree that the only apt comparison I can make regarding my sheer enjoyment of the game is to the density of a neutron star. Yeah, I’m not super in love with the main plot, but that doesn’t mean I dislike it! Far from it! As a package, this game rules. I was even tempted to give it a perfect score! Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a really strong contender for my personal Game of the Year as well.
Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a masterfully done remake. The goal envisioned by the creators was to bring a classic game up to modern sensibilities, and they have truly outdone themselves. Star Ocean: The Second Story R takes the masterfully crafted systems of the original game, combines them with the updates from Star Ocean: Second Evolution, and wraps them up in a gorgeous and smooth package. Any qualms that can be found lie within things like the story and characters, which remain faithful to the original game. However, the ease of play, deep RPG elements, strong story theming, and revamped battle system more than make up for any issues I have. Please, I implore you to check out this absolutely astounding game.
Disclaimer: Square Enix provided Final Weapon with a PlayStation 5 copy of Star Ocean: The Second Story R for review purposes.
Interested in more up-to-date Japanese gaming news and more? Check out more right here on Final Weapon!