Review | Star Ocean: The Second Story R – Square Enix has been reworking their biggest hits for several years now from the times when this Japanese studio released one hit after another. The quality of their contemporary new games can be debated, but it is difficult to deny that there are quite a few older gems in their catalog. One particular franchise that has received increasing attention in recent years is the Star Ocean series. Just last year we got a new installment (Star Ocean: The Divine Force), but now we can enjoy a reworked version of the ‘best’ installment in the franchise (if we can believe the general consensus). Here is Star Ocean: The Second Story R.
The star of the franchise
Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a remake of Star Ocean: The Second Story that was released in 1999 for the PS1. However, if we want to be very technical, this is already the second time that the game has been reworked, because in 2009 we already received Star Ocean: Second Evolution for the PSP. Normally we would say that two new releases of the same game is a bit too much, but in this case we would like to make an exception. It is not without reason that this part is described as ‘the best the franchise has to offer’. Whether you are a fan from the very beginning, or want to dip your foot in the vast starry ocean for the first time to test the waters: Star Ocean: The Second Story R is accessible to everyone.
Two worlds, one epic journey
One of the reasons why you should give Star Ocean: The Second Story R a chance is the story. You can experience this from two perspectives: Claude’s or Rena’s, both of which have a separate campaign. Claude is a lieutenant of the Pangalactic Federation who is stranded on a planet unknown to him. There he meets Rena, a girl who lives in a small village, but longs for adventure. Coincidentally, the planet has been hit by a meteorite called the ‘Sorcery Globe’, after which all kinds of monsters have started to ravage the land. The duo sets off on a journey that will take them to all sides of the universe to stop the source of all that evil. What follows is an entertaining adventure that seamlessly blends fantasy and sci-fi, something the franchise is known for.
Let’s be honest: JRPGs are known for starting (very) slowly and gradually becoming more and more intense, only to end with an over-the-top finale. It is somewhat specific to the genre: some people find it charming, others rather irritating. Star Ocean: The Second Story R also falls into that typical ‘JRPG trap’: the central antagonist is only introduced very late and the previous events actually have little effect on the bigger picture. But: in the end, all this did not bother us much because the story, despite the slow start, remained fascinating. It’s fun, has the typical JRPG charms and there’s plenty of spectacle. There is also a New Game+ option, so you can easily experience both perspectives. Please note: the events remain the same, but Claude and Rena sometimes split up, which means certain parts will be different.
During your adventure you will also encounter many characters and many of these can also become part of your party (whether or not by completing a side mission). You get to choose who you recruit (a party has a maximum of eight members) and each companion gets their own identity and backstory. If you want to get to know them better, you can activate ‘Private Actions’ at certain times, something the franchise is known for. These are short but fun (and sometimes funny) interactions where you learn more about who the characters are and what makes them tick. It is now more convenient than ever to activate these Private Actions, because in this edition they are clearly displayed on your minimap, divided by region. Taking a break from the main story when you see one of these available is definitely recommended!
On the attack
Another aspect that has received modern adjustments is the combat, although we would like to make a comment here. The core of the combat is still quite simple (and outdated): you press a button to attack and with some counterattacks (when the enemy flashes red) you can perform an evasive maneuver. Nothing special, although the game does make an effort to make it somewhat more interesting. A brand new addition to the system are the so-called ‘Assault Actions’. You have the option to link inactive party members to a button on the D-pad. These are linked to an individual timer and when that expires, you can temporarily summon the character to perform an attack. A nice addition that makes the combat a bit smoother.
Each character can also link a spell or special attack to both the L1 and R1 buttons, and these abilities are unique to each character and must be learned by leveling up. Claude’s attacks are aimed at causing a lot of damage, while Rena is more supportive with her healing powers. Depending on who else you let into the party, you can also try out different tactics. We don’t want to give away too many spoilers about who else might join the party, but there is (among others) a mage, a sword expert, a marksman and more! During battles you can now also easily switch between who you control and you can influence the behavior of the AI by setting tactics (focus on 1 enemy, don’t use spells, etc.). Despite the outdated basis, the combat is quite okay and will not get boring. Oh yes: an extra plus for replacing the random encounters with visible enemies on the map!
Not extremely in-depth combat, but what is very in-depth are the skills that your companions can learn (individually). In real life you usually choose one or two job areas that you then delve into and make a career out of. Claude, Rena and co. find this a boring thought: why would you do one job if you can also do about 20? When you complete battles or when you level up, you get points that you can then invest in one of the many specializations: cook, fisherman, blacksmith, thief, spiritual medium, biologist and so on. The nice thing is that each specialization has its own function and at the same time your general stats also increase. Funny example: as a chef you are good with knives, so your ‘attack’ value increases when you invest in this skill. Nice idea from the makers!
It doesn’t stop there, because if multiple characters reach a certain level in a skill, you unlock ‘super specialties’, which then offer additional possibilities: new items that can be made, the ability to eliminate weaker enemies without that triggers a battle and more! To help you unlock all these skills faster, challenges have also been added to this edition. These are very extensive and speak for themselves: perform a certain action x number of times and you get an item, some money, or some XP as a nice bonus. Nothing groundbreaking, but it does ensure that you make faster progress. Be prepared: you will need time to figure out the whole system, but in the end it will be worth it!
A shining star
This remake has also undergone changes on a technical level. The eye-catcher are of course the visuals: so-called ‘2.5D graphics’ are used here, where the 2D pixel sprites (which have received a Full HD upgrade) come to life in a 3D world. The result looks charmingly retro and modern at the same time. Add new portraits of the characters and the visual picture is complete! The audio has also been updated: the classic tunes have been given a new look (you can still opt for the original tracks) and the game is now fully voiced in both Japanese and English. The game runs smoothly with a frame rate of 60fps (30fps on the Switch) and we did not encounter any bugs during our intergalactic journey: as it should be!
Played on: PlayStation 5.
Also available on: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC.