Star Ocean The Second Story R Review – Legend Fulfilled

    Title: Star Ocean The Second Story R
    Developer: Gemdrops
    Release Date: November 2, 2023
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Genre: JRPG

When Star Ocean is brought up within gaming circles, one of the most commonly shared sentiments is that Star Ocean: The Second Story is one of the best entries in the series to date. So, it goes without saying that a port has been long-awaited, particularly in the West, where we’ve had access to every mainline entry on PlayStation 4, except Second Story. However, instead of a mere port, Square Enix and developer Gemdrops created a fully-fledged remake titled Star Ocean: The Second Story R. After playing through it in its entirety, it becomes undeniably clear that this project is the ideal outcome for newcomers and fans alike.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R is the third version of this game, with the original released on the PlayStation 1 and a remake titled Star Ocean: Second Evolution for the PSP. This new release offers distinct gameplay differences, which we’ll discuss later. Like Star Ocean: The Divine Force, the story requires you to choose between two protagonists, Claude and Rena. While the narrative itself remains unchanged, notable differences are implemented, such as shifted perspectives in particular story sequences and the choice of recruitable party members.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R captures the heart of the original, and its meticulous execution stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of the franchise.

For newcomers to the series, Rena, a resident of an underdeveloped planet oblivious to the vast ocean of stars, maybe your preferred choice for immersion’s sake. On the other hand, Claude, a member of the Pangalactic Federation who lands on Rena’s planet, might appeal more to fans due to his extensive knowledge.

Story and Character Interactions in Star Ocean: The Second Story R

Claude is the son of the legendary admiral Ronyx J. Kenny, resulting in his fellow officers treating him differently, with unsubtle mockery behind his back and thinly veiled duplicitous praise meant to gain preferential treatment from Ronyx for potential promotions. One day, Claude’s frustration gets the better of him during a certain investigation, leading to reckless behavior that teleports him to the planet Expel, where Rena resides.

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Stranded, he embarks on a quest to discover the truth of the mystifying Sorcery Globe, which appears to be causing havoc across the world. Rena also decides to join this journey in the hope of learning about her origins, including her unique healing symbology that no other symbologist (mage) can utilize.

The game’s weak narrative is more than compensated for by its addictive customization, beautiful scenery, and endearing character relationships.

Similar to the first title in the series, Star Ocean: The Second Story R prioritizes character interaction over a continuously strong plot. While this may seem like an unfortuante compromise, the cast more than compensates for it. Each party member, including Rena and Claude, depending on whose route you choose, has numerous Private Actions. This franchise staple is a bonding scene mechanic that affects the affection levels among various members of the playable cast. As you make progress in the main story, towns will offer plenty of Private Actions, some of which provide choices, comedic banter, or delve into supplemental character motivations.

It’s no exaggeration to call Private Actions the heart of this game, and they remain consistently engaging throughout. Furthermore, the available types differ depending on whether you choose Claude or Rena as your protagonist, ensuring that even on repeated playthroughs, you’ll uncover more slices of life. Additionally, Private Actions are concise, which is essential given their sheer quantity. For completionists seeking to witness every ending scene (of which there are nearly 100), you’ll have your work cut out for you. To elaborate, each party member has affection for each other, and the closest pairs will get unique conclusions after the final boss. Thankfully, there is an informative menu that tells you the exact endings you’ve achieved, and manipulating affection is quite straightforward; it’s just time-consuming.

With its seamless blend of nostalgia and modernization, this remake solidifies its position as a revered title in the realm of Japanese role-playing games.

However, these excellent implementations don’t necessarily make up for the comparatively weak narrative. The last quarter of the core plot isn’t paced particularly well, primarily due to the underutilization of the antagonists, who are meant to be an imposing collective force rather than individually distinct characters. Still, if you take your time and explore what this entry offers, it becomes abundantly clear that the side activities and character scenes are the highlights.

A Look at Star Ocean: The Second Story R’s Gameplay

This ties into the much-appreciated gameplay convenience of Star Ocean: The Second Story R. Aside from a highly intricate fast travel system with multiple options for shops in towns, the map informs you about currently available Private Actions and other side tasks. It even tells you which events are time-limited. When you also consider the viewable character affection from the main menu, it’s undeniable that Star Ocean: The Second Story R values transparency. For the most part, you’ll never be in the dark about crucial features. This design decision may be seen as negating the sense of discovery, but in a title with such a multitude of tasks to fulfill, it’s a wise move.

This convenience extends to the missions, which can be categorized into two types. The guild grants the first type, essentially serving as tutorials for you to become more familiar with various systems, like Item Creation. The second type, Challenge Missions, can be seen as a broader incorporation of the Battle Trophies from titles like Till the End of Time and The Last Hope. A multitude of gameplay feats can be achieved and redeemed for numerous rewards.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R provides a resounding affirmation of why the series continues to be a cornerstone in the world of Japanese role-playing games.

Gameplay freedom and variety are at the core of Star Ocean: The Second Story R, as evidenced by those previously mentioned systems, but it goes much further than that. Item Creation, a collection of enhancement activities, is where you’ll spend much of your time. Like in other Star Ocean entries, every playable character can participate in these processes, each having their own individual levels. For example, you can cook, replicate already obtained items, write books, appraise unknown equipment, and craft new gear. Once these techniques have been leveled highly enough, which can be manually done from the main menu, you’ll unlock Specialities and Super Specialities. There are even more tasks to explore, such as musical composition, pickpocketing NPCs, summoning animal familiars as shop vendors, and more.

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All of this may seem overwhelming at first glance, but rest assured, each of these serves practical benefits for combat and exploration. For example, musical composition can make enemies on the world map move slower or boost your stats for a limited time. With the exception of the Remaking Super Speciality, the game does a commendable job of explaining the basics of these mechanics. To get the most out of Star Ocean: The Second Story R, you need to regularly interact with these systems, and the benefits you receive for doing so are excellent incentives. In fact, once I grasped the ins and outs of this entry’s take on Item Creation, it honestly became my favorite in the series. It doesn’t waste your time while ensuring there is more than enough to discover.

Of course, there’s also fishing, which functions as you would expect, with transparency regarding your catches. Every body of water you can fish at directly tells you the types of creatures you can catch at that specific location, marking unknown ones with question marks. More side activities, though only available near the endgame, include the arena, a cooking battle minigame, and bunny race betting. They’re all relatively simple yet fun, although betting isn’t really my thing. For such a relatively compact adventure that accurately recreates the sense of scale from the previous releases, there’s a wealth of side content to get lost in if you desire.

The Smooth Combat System in Star Ocean: The Second Story R

The combat system is one of the facets that has been significantly altered. There’s now a Break system in place, similar to the Staggering mechanics seen in modern Square Enix action games. Successfully breaking a foe renders it immobile and vulnerable, allowing for significant damage. Additionally, a mechanic akin to the Blindsides from The Last Hope and The Divine Force is present, letting you dodge enemy attacks at the right time, stunning them. However, you can also be broken if you’re not careful, so battlefield awareness is crucial.

All of this ties into the Bonus Gauge seen in the UI’s bottom right corner, your primary motivation for maintaining strong battle performance. Like a simplified version of the Bonus Board seen in The Last Hope, the Bonus Gauge increases in percentage as you fight effectively, and the benefits you gain from it are impressively customizable. Formations are learned as you complete specific tasks, which determine the active party’s starting positions on the battlefield and provide advantages depending on the Bonus Gauge’s percentage. From gaining more experience and currency to nullifying status ailments altogether, this is a crucial feature that can be easily overlooked amid the multitude of other menus. Still, it can turn the tide in your favor.

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The combat itself is some of the smoothest in the series to date. While I have a higher affinity for the more methodical action of The Last Hope and the freedom of movement in The Divine Force, The Second Story R brings engaging systems to the table that merge into a genuinely distinctive experience. Successful breaks satisfactorily halt the action for a brief moment, solidifying their impact. Enemy telegraphs and character actions are well communicated despite the chibi sprites, ensuring a seamless flow. As in other entries, you can swap between party members on the fly and adjust their AI behavior, enabling a non-obstructive strategy that keeps the momentum going.

You can also summon backup party members via the new Assault Formation mechanic, adding depth to battles. This is seamless and doesn’t disrupt the flow of combat. Fans can even find other Star Ocean protagonists solely outfitted for Assault Formations, acting as neat little cameos.

Visuals and Soundtrack in Star Ocean: The Second Story R

But what I love most about this remake is the presentation. Even after over 70 hours of gameplay, the pristine beauty of the world map and new character portraits remains magnificent beyond words. The vibrant colors and excellent shading give this title a fresh, lovely coat of paint I never expected. I’d even go so far as to call these depictions the newly definitive interpretations. Admittedly, I do wish some of the field sprites more clearly reflected these new character illustrations, but that’s a relatively minor gripe. I should also mention that the English voice acting is from the PSP release, and some of it hasn’t aged well, notably Ashton’s voice actor.

And then there’s the rearranged soundtrack by the legendary Motoi Sakuraba. To be blunt, he did a near-masterful job here. Every track’s ambiance embodies robust grandness or comforting serenity depending on the intended tone, ultimately feeling like the quintessential Star Ocean. Even though there are a handful of songs for which I prefer the original compositions, the identity of each track remains intact. One last point of emphasis regards New Game+, a literal game changer since it was not present in previous releases. Many facets carry over to a new playthrough, including character levels, though it would be nice if you could specifically select which of the carry-over options you want to apply instead of all.

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The Legacy of Star Ocean: The Second Story R and Future Prospects

In summary, Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a testament to the enduring legacy of the Star Ocean franchise, catering to both newcomers and devoted fans. While the narrative might have its shortcomings, the game compensates with its enthralling customization, eye-catching visuals, endearing character relationships, and extensive replayability. The engaging combat, paired with a splendid soundtrack, adds an extra layer of enjoyment. This remake successfully maintains the essence of the original, cementing its status as a revered title in the realm of JRPGs.

Here’s hoping its direct sequel, Blue Sphere, receives similar treatment. Also, for those wondering, yes, the Bloody Armor is here and as broken as ever.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.