Developer: tri-Ace, Gemdrops
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Playstation 5 (Reviewed), Switch
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $49.99 USD – Available Here $69.95 AUD – Available Here
Star Ocean as a series has been a bit of a strange one for Square Enix. Throughout the years they have released a number of enhanced versions of the original couple of games in the series alongside more ambitious, if flawed, new entries. In fact, a new Star Ocean game arrived just last year with The Divine Force following a six year gap after Integrity and Faithlessness. Still, this blend of sci-fi and fantasy RPG has had its shares of ups and downs but perhaps its highest point that any fan of the franchise, even for those that haven’t touched another entry in the series, is Star Ocean: The Second Story. This beloved RPG arrived in 1999 and was even given a PSP enhanced release a decade later in 2009. Now, looking to deliver perhaps the definitive version of this beloved RPG, Gemdrops and Square Enix have released Star Ocean: The Second Story R to the delight of fans, but does this classic RPG still deliver?
Set twenty years after the events of the first game, which players do not need to play to enjoy this one outside of a few references and character elements, Star Ocean: The Second Story R gives players the choice of playing as either Claude C. Kenny, a member of the Pangalactic Federation with advanced technology and son of a previous game’s party member, or Rena Lanford, a magically gifted girl of unknown origins from the planet of Expel. Claude was part of a team investigating a newly discovered world when he disobeys orders and interacts with a strange alien object only to be teleported across the galaxy to Expel where Rena finds him lost in the woods.
Upon meeting Rena, Claude saves her from a powerful creature and is called a Hero of Light spoken of in legends. Despite clearing up this misunderstanding, Claude and Rena choose to begin traveling together to investigate a blight brought upon the land by a recently fallen meteor the residents of Expel call the Sorcery Globe. The pair begin their adventure into seeking out the truth behind this strange object while Claude also searches for a way to return to his people.
Regardless of who players pick as their lead protagonist the not-chosen character immediately joins the group as a secondary lead, ensuring that players will always find a striking balance between the fantasy and sci-fi elements. What does change, and offer some excellent replayability elements in a game that already offers plenty thanks to its different endings, are certain events, viewpoints, and characters that can be recruited to the player’s party. While most events will play out the same way as either Claude or Rena there are a number throughout the game that will see the player experience an entirely different viewpoint depending on their chosen character. This creates a unique approach to an already incredibly well told story that will allow players to experience new elements even a second time through.This element carries over to the “Private Actions” as well.
While most RPGs allow for players to see how characters develop over the course of the story, Star Ocean has always offered interactions between the characters and unique events that are entirely missable if players aren’t paying attention. These come in the form of Private Actions which are now easier than ever to find and trigger. Since all Private Actions are time sensitive and various sub-events are also completely missable, players can now see through the quick travel system any town that has a private action available. This is a great boon to the enhanced release as these private actions are some of the best moments for the characters to shine, often expanding on the history of a character or giving them new motivations for the journey while giving players various dialogue choices from time to time to affect their friendship level with their party. It even adds extra context sometimes to specific story beats that players may have missed otherwise, making the ease of finding these interactions one of the best additions.
In many ways Star Ocean: The Second Story R still feels similar to how fans will remember it though it has also been brought up to modern standards by offering not only a large number of quality of life elements but also improvements and extra content as well. No longer will players find themselves dealing with random encounters, instead enemies are displayed as smoky clouds that start a fight when touched, giving players a chance to either avoid a fight entirely or meet them from the side or back for an advantage in combat. The combat itself has also been given a number of tweaks and additional options to make things more exciting and give players a few more options in a fight.
Combat in Star Ocean has always been action focused with players having access to one character while the rest of their party is controlled with AI. Warriors are still a bit more enjoyable to play compared to spell casters, primarily thanks to spell casters not having attack combos and the surprising limit of only having two skills/spells available for quick use at a time with all other skills needing to pull up the menu to cast. The lock-on system works well and players can dictate to their party if they want them to focus on a target, attack as they see fit, or even go all out with skills. Players can now also actively time a blocking mechanic that, if used properly, will dodge all incoming damage and deal a powerful counterattack that weakens an enemy’s shield meter. A newly implemented “Break” system has also been added with every enemy now having a shield bar that, when depleted, leaves them broken and stunned and makes every attack on them a critical hit. This can lead to some interesting strategy elements as some skills focus more on Breaking an enemy and can be used to whittle away a stronger foe’s defenses before unleashing on them at the right moment.
Other elements that have been added to combat include a “Bonus” system that slowly fills up over the course of multiple fights. The bonus gauge offers a variety of boosts to the player’s party ranging from boosting stats, increasing XP gain, regenerating health faster, and more depending on what attack formation players are using. The bonus gauge can take some time to fill but can really help make players feel overpowered when maxed out. That being said, should an enemy run into the player from the side or back while exploring they will lose their entire bonus gauge and start a fight broken. Along these same lines, improperly timing a dodge can also lead to a broken gauge and stunned character. Alongside the bonus gauge is a new Assault Action that allows players to call in assistance during a fight on a cooldown meter. Players can equip up to four characters and can summon them with a simple directional push on the D-Pad with characters from the player’s own party that aren’t in the direct fighting team being able to be added alongside unlockable guest characters from more recent Star Ocean games.
This, along with a number of other elements that make powering up characters easier than ever, does make combat in Star Ocean: The Second Story R far easier than many may remember, making even the normal difficulty a bit of a simple affair even without any attempt at grinding. Of course, players can bump the difficulty up at any time but it is a bit of a noticeable issue when enemies in a new dungeon can be slain within a few seconds and only bosses offering any kind of challenge. Of course, given the options available to players and the wide variety of ways to obtain powerful equipment and boost their character’s stats, Star Ocean: The Second Story R also happens to be the type of RPG that can really let players break it wide open especially with the quality of life elements with the skill system.
Star Ocean: The Second Story R offers a somewhat staggering amount of specialty skills for players to obtain, with every character having the same skills but some being more “talented” than others. These range from things such as Determination, Poker Face, Courage, Knife, etc. and then unlock specialty skills such as pickpocketing, item creation, cooking, the new fishing mechanic that is just a joy with its simple but fun nature, and much more. Previously, SP used to level up these skills was incredibly limited and only available through certain methods but now players can obtain them as well as BP for combat skill upgrades simply through fighting against enemies and even completing little Missions and Challenges unique to this release of the game. This allows players to, even without trying hard, basically upgrade everything to the max with little worry of missing out on a skill or unique interaction. Combine this with fun elements such as the ability to summon a giant bunny on the overworld to travel around, crafting game-breaking items at the cost of friendship, or straight up writing a friendship boosting book, and players will find that there are tons of options available at their fingertips here.
As mentioned before, one of the best elements added into Star Ocean: The Second Story R is the quick travel system and there are a few reasons for that. Primarily, players no longer need to go long distances backtracking through areas in search of a quest they may feel like they have missed or return to a previously visited location for a quest but the main bonus here is the way it displays the time limited Private Actions and Sub-events in every location. Players can now easily identify where these previously easily missable events can now take place and access them incredibly quickly. This quality of life element makes traveling and experiencing the full story of the game far more enjoyable and a bit less problematic compared to before where players could miss out on entire events if they happen to advance too quickly without visiting old areas.
Audio & Visuals
Star Ocean: The Second Story R has seen a significant improvement to its graphics in numerous ways, thanks in part to the game’s unique art style. The original release back in 1999 saw 2D sprites exploring pre-rendered 3D environments and this remains true in this latest release, though now the sprites have been cleaned up and look just as detailed as ever while the world that they move through is as vibrant as fans of modern games could hope for. Previously dreary dungeons with little life are now flourishing with details that make exploration feel more varied and even the enemies that players do battle against have been given the same loving sprite-revamp. It must be said that there is a bit of a bloom problem with some environments in the game, with certain towns and parts of the overworld appearing a bit too saturated with light in an attempt to impress players. What is truly impressive though is the brand new character portraits for every notable character in the game. After the PSP release saw them undergo an anime style downgrade Star Ocean: The Second Story R offers detailed and expressive looking portraits that are even better than the original release, though all three versions of each party member’s portrait are available should players have a favorite.
Star Ocean: The Second Story R’s voice work has also been given a little bit of touch-up depending on the audio track players use. Players can choose to listen to either the PSP release’s Japanese voice track or a completely fresh recording for this release if they so choose, though the English dub offers only the one found in the original PSP release. The soundtrack on the other hand offers both a complete rearranged set of background music that sounds as impressive as ever, improving on some already great pieces of music though the option to swap between the original arrangements and the new ones is available at any time through the settings.
Reviving a PlayStation classic thought by many to be the best in a series was likely a daunting task for Gemdrops but the team has managed to surpass expectations here by making Star Ocean: The Second Story R a must play for any fan of the series or even those looking for a great RPG to experience. The blend between the classic gameplay and elements that fans know and love with modern quality of life improvements and design elements makes this RPG one that fans truly shouldn’t sleep on, especially thanks to its enjoyable storyline and wonderful characters. Sure, the difficulty is a bit on the easier side thanks to these modernizations and the specialty skills are a bit convoluted but these small issues do little to damper an amazing take on a classic.
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