Star Ocean The Second Story was one of my favourite PS1 RPGs. I didn’t get to try out the demo at the Tokyo Game Show but I did play the Star Ocean The Second Story R demo released on the PSN.
I wasn’t really blown away, but I did have high hopes.
While I never played the previous remaster (Second Evolution), I still hold original Star Ocean The Second Story in high regard. That’s honestly the reason why I looked forward to playing the remake.
So…is the remake worth playing or should I just have dug up my old PS1 cd instead?
What is Star Ocean The Second Story R?
Star Ocean The Second Story R is a remake of Star Ocean The Second Story, which was an action RPG released for the original Playstation. The new remake is jointly developed by Square Enix, tri-Ace, Gemdrops Inc and published by Bandai Namco in Asia.
It is available now on the PC, Playstation consoles and the Nintendo Switch.
Our copy was given to us by the awesome folks at Bandai Namco and Square Enix!
What set apart Star Ocean The Second Story for me was its setting.
While most RPGs have been fantasy based barring a few exceptions (like SEGA’s excellent Phantasy Star series), sci-fi wasn’t really a common theme for the genre back in the 1990s. Star Ocean The Second Story was one of the few games that defied convention and tried something new.
The plot wasn’t really spectacular (and it still isn’t), but the solid mechanics, the deep customization and branching narrative really set it apart from the rest of the (mostly linear) RPG pack. Since Star Ocean The Second Story R is retelling the original’s story, there’s not much difference in the plot.
It’s a bit dated by today’s standards, but Claude’s Hero’s Journey (or Rena if you chose her) is still fun enough to join him on. Yup, there are two protagonists in the game and picking one or the other subtlety alters the plot, events you encounter and even who joins your party.
I have to admit one thing. When I first beheld the remake’s visuals, I wasn’t entirely sold. The blocky sprites don’t really blend well with the fully realized 3D environments. They fit in when the environments were prerendered on the PS1, but stick out like a sore thumb now.
As I played, my impressions changed a bit. I still don’t really like the huge sprites (why didn’t they just use high res 2D sprites instead?) even though they do look like the old ones. BUT! There’s a but! I got used to them to the point that I don’t really care.
What I do care about the visuals are the new character art.
I’m really vibing with the more realistic looking characters. They no longer look like cartoon characters a secondary school kid would pluck from their imagination.
Maybe it’s because of the simplistic graphics, but loads for the game are quite fast. Area loads, and loading into and out of battle is quick. I timed them and the longest was only about 3 seconds. Not bad, right?
On the PC, load times are similarly fast…faster even. Exiting battles are faster. I clocked about 2 seconds to exit battles, compared to 3 on the PS5. Area loads are about the same though.
While the PC version has quite a few settings to configure, maxing them out doesn’t really make the game look much different than the PS5 version. Other than the loads, the two versions are identical, which is great news if you’re looking for parity across both versions.
The battle system’s a bit like the Bandai Namco’s Tales series, where the characters are on a 2D plane. Attacks are all done manually, with skills assigned to L1 and R1. You can also assign strategies to the AI characters, but only 4 characters can be in a battle.
The rest do get experience though, so everybody levels equally no matter what.
New to the battle system is the ability to call in support.
Party members not involved in the battle (and special Star Ocean games alumni) can be assigned skills and summoned with a tap of the d-pad. They’ll pop in, do the attacks assigned to them and then pop back out while their cooldown resets.
It’s a really cool system and gives you a chance to use your unused allies who might otherwise just have remained in the side lines. Fans of the Star Ocean series will also get a kick out of characters from previous games being selectable too, though they can only be unlocked by completing certain Challenges.
Fights are pretty easy in the game, though there are some difficulty spikes with some spells and enemies that can wipe your party out damn quick.
However, these will slowly become lesser as you progress, due to the game’s skills.
There are a boatload of these, with three tiers. They do everything from letting you craft your own equipment, to modifying them, to being able to find stuff while walking around.
It’s the tier 3 skills (called Super Specialties) that change up the game.
These have very powerful effects.
Bodyguard for example, gives you a chance to beat weaker enemies without even needing to fight them, yet still gaining the same amount of XP and money. Another, called Enlightenment, can artificially weaken your characters so you get more skill points. Combined with Training (which artificially weakens your characters for more XP), it makes gaining levels and learning skills a breeze!
I was level 100+ about 20 hours in!
The original had a similar system, but the remake overhauls everything and makes it much better and easier to use.
Combined with how you can link enemies encounters (up to 5 enemy encounters can be linked, with each subsequent encounter providing a multiplier to XP and money earned), these gameplay systems can get you dramatic amounts of XP with barely any grinding. It’s great because it lets everybody play their own way.
I also truly love the Quality of Life upgrades the developers have added into the game.
Private Action (where the team splits up to pursue their own activities) events are now indicated when you bring up the Quick Travel menu. You can now easily see where you can initiate PAs so you don’t miss any of them! So convenient!
Speaking of Quick Travel, you can now not only Quick Travel to any town or dungeon you visited, but also directly INTO shops or other locations in those places! So coooooool!
Also, the Quick Travel menu also indicates with a ‘!’ if there are any newly unlocked side quests, just like PAs!
One thing that really irks me about Star Ocean The Second Story R are the in-game cinematics.
They’re so damn slow! The sprites move like they’re in slow motion and it takes ages to get through one. Weirdly, the developers seem to agree, because holding R2 actually speeds up the cutscenes.
I do appreciate the forethought, but why couldn’t they just made it a toggle? I have to hit R2 (and hold) every damn time there’s a cutscene because they didn’t! Annoying doesn’t even cover it.
It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten how great the audio was for Star Ocean The Second Story. In this one, you even get an option to listen to the originals or the new, arranged soundtrack. Both are awesome, and though I’ll always love the O.G. score, I do have to admit the arranged soundtrack is a tad more grandiose and epic. The point is that no matter which of the soundtracks you listen to, the game will still impress.
The game also now comes with voices (English and Japanese) for pretty much all the important dialogue in the game. I play with English text and Japanese voices. However, I find that the English text doesn’t really match the Japanese voices.
A lot of the times, what’s being spoken in Japanese isn’t what’s being translated into English. The gist of it is the same, but if you’re a stickler for direct translation (like me) it’s an annoyance. The nuances from the original Japanese voice overs aren’t really carried over too, so sometimes you get statements for the text, when the Japanese voice over clearly was asking a question.
An easy one would be when you meet up with Gamgee.
The Japanese voice over for Gamgee basically asks ‘Oh, is that you Miss Rena?’ (お,Rena-さんか?) but the English translation is ‘Hey, it’s you, Rena!’. Totally different, right? Yeah, it’s like that most of the time.
I suggest you stick with English voices if you understand Japanese (like me) and would prefer the text to match the voices.
Other than that, the game’s written quite well.
Claude and Rena come off as very likeable and the rest of the cast are equally endearing. I’m especially partial to Precis and Welch. These two ladies are incredibly humorous and have some of the funniest lines in the game.
The last part I’m going to talk about are the visuals…or rather, visual issues.
On the Playstation 5, there’s a ton of pop-in in certain places.
Towns for example, can have foliage and people fade into view as you get close. It’s rather disruptive and a bit puzzling if I’m honest. I mean the game isn’t that visually demanding, so why is there an issue with the draw distance?
On top of that, the world map has tons of foliage and they don’t seem to pop-into view when you go near, so what gives?
Puzzlingly, while the PC version has settings to maximize draw distance and rendering, it doesn’t seem to go beyond what the Playstation 5’s visual setting. Yup, that means there’s still object pop-in no matter which platform you play.
I’m a bit disappointed in this, especially on the PC front, as I expected a flawless experience on it.
The Bottom Line.
Star Ocean The Second Story R is a remake done right. It doesn’t alter the original’s vision too much but still manages to inject modern conventions into the game. The end result is a spectacular JRPG that blends what make the original so good, with a malleable gameplay experience that’s liberating.
While I do think the visuals can be better, the rest of the game is top notch. The music, the side quests, and even the writing (barring the dichotomy English text and Japanese voice overs) are all great.
However, it’s the flexibility of the Specialties that makes the game standout the most. It makes customizing your game experience as easy as ever. You can literally level up without doing a single battle if you have enough SP invested in the right skills. How’s that for breaking the game?
Having tested the PC and PS5 versions, I do have the give a very slight edge to the PC version. The slightly faster loads definitely help in the long run.
If you love JRPGs with a decent battle system and want the option to game the system, Star Ocean The Second Story R is what you’ve been waiting for.
The visuals are a love it or hate it thing, but everything else is top notch.
- Lots of playable characters
- Specialties lets you play how you want.
- Decent writing.
- Fun battles.
- Great character art.
- The pixel art style isn’t for everybody.
- Japanese voice over doesn’t match English text.
- Really sloooooooow moving cutscenes.
- Object pop-in in some areas.