Star Ocean: The Second Story R Review
I Rate This Review An 8 Out of 10
Star Ocean: The Second Story was one of my favourite games growing up. I must have played it more than ten times, I could recite parts of it line for line, and it’s a game that gave me some of my dearest friends whom I still speak to today. Not every RPG stands the test of time, but Star Ocean: The Second Story is often one many RPGamers cite as being both a favourite game and an influential release. When Star Ocean: The Second Story R was announced, I remember laying in my bed with my broken arm, screaming how I wanted the game injected into my veins at that moment. Gemdrops has created a worthy remake that is not only more accessible than the previous iterations but has made what is arguably the most definitive edition of the game to date.
Players begin the game by selecting one of two protagonists: Claude C. Kenny, a young ensign of the Earth Federation, or Rena Lanford, a mysterious girl with healing abilities that no one can quite explain. Whichever hero is chosen, the story begins the same way, with Claude accidentally being transported to the Planet Expel, where he meets Rena in a forest where Rena is being attacked by a monster. Rena believes that the weapon Claude possesses makes him the fabled Hero of Light. Claude soon learns from Rena that monsters are not common on Expel, but ever since the mystifying meteorite known as the “Sorcery Globe” crashed on her planet all the wildlife have become erratic. The two begin to embark on a quest to uncover the mystery surrounding the Sorcery Globe, Rena’s unusual healing powers, and why Claude was transported to Expel.
In all honesty, the story in Star Ocean: The Second Story is utterly ridiculous, kind of messy, and yet is incredibly compelling. There are many weird plot holes that never quite get explained, with a second act that goes completely off the rails in terms of narrative, but it’s all in good fun and is very campy. The first act on Expel is the far more cohesive narrative of the two, with a lot of fun and memorable plot moments. Plot points do vary based on whether the player starts with Claude or Rena, which is a nice touch as well. Part of what makes Star Ocean: The Second Story compelling is the cast of characters. Every one of them from Ashton to Chisato make up some of the fabulous supporting cast and are helped by the excellent localization that exists in this edition. Every character has a compelling sidequest to fulfill and is charming in some way, Ernest excepted.
The best parts of the game involving the cast of characters come from Private Actions. When Claude or Rena enter a town, the player can press square to enter “PA Mode” and split the party. Private Actions allow the player character to encounter new party members, as well as hilarious and fun side stories involving the party. Whether it’s Ashton’s bizarre obsession with barrels, Celine’s romantic woes involving a certain prince charming, or Claude and Rena just not kissing even though they clearly like each other, the stories are absolutely worth investigating. In a very welcome addition, Star Ocean: The Second Story R includes visual cues for the player to inform them when a new PA is available to explore. In fact, there are a lot of new visual markers on the game’s map screen that show not only Private Actions, but also where the next plot point is, and additional sidequests. This simple addition is a game changer, as in the original version it was incredibly easy to get lost and waste so much time trying to find the next destination or backtracking to older areas.
Where Star Ocean: The Second Story R shines its brightest is in its combat. Action-packed battles see players controlling one of four party members, while the rest attack on their own. Players can issue orders to their party members, select specific spells with ease, and use items to get out of messy situations. The combat is smooth, fast, and frenetic. On top of characters using special arts to attack enemies, Star Ocean: Second Story R includes two new elements to keep combat fresh. First is the addition of Assault Actions, where players use the D-pad to select a character to leap in and assist with a signature move. The second is the inclusion of a Break mechanic, where enemy shields deplete as players beat them down until they “break”, making them much more vulnerable to attacks. Using these two new features in tandem is key for players to build bigger chains of damage to defeat enemies.
The combat in Star Ocean: The Second Story has always been fantastic, and these additions only improve an already great combat system. There is a small downside, however, in that the game’s difficulty balance is much easier than it was on the PSX version. Leveling happens quite rapidly, so it’s easy to have an over-leveled party by the end of the game. The base difficulty is far less challenging than one who has played the original would expect. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as on the other side of this, it’s a much more accessible version for newcomers and it sports great UI that makes the combat far easier to understand than in previous editions.
Another area where Star Ocean: The Second Story shines is in its crafting. As characters level up through battles, they gain both Battle Points (BP) and Skill Points (SP), which are used to beef up character skills. With BP, players can use it to add additional moves to their characters, such as the ability to backstab or ignore enemy damage, but also now has the ability to power up a character’s Special Arts, which is so handy. SP, meanwhile, is used to increase a character’s talents for crafting. This can include Cooking, which allows a character to cook meals that can offer a wide variety of effects, or Appraisal, which allows characters to uncover items marked by a “?.” There is also the ability to replicate items and customize powerful weapons, armor, and even accessories. These systems are simple and intuitive to use, and can even produce some game-breaking items to boot. Crafting is a lot of fun and it’s easy to lose time in making new items and seeing the results. On top of crafting, there are also fulfilling Guild and Challenge requests, which offer special bonuses when completed. Top that off with some additional addictive side content such as a fantastic cooking minigame and Bunny Races, and you have a recipe for great time wasters.
It’s also important to share how gorgeous Star Ocean: The Second Story R looks in 2.5 HD, with character sprites inhabiting 3D locations. The visuals are stunning, with many areas showcasing visual prowess. Whether it is blades of grass moving in the wind, or water effects, Gemdrops did a ton of work to overhaul the game’s graphics, without losing a lot of its charm and still making it very recognizable. The new character portraits are beautiful and expressive, adding another layer of presentation to bring the story to life. Motoi Sakuraba’s compositions absolutely shine throughout, from pieces that are calm and sincere to combat bangers, and players are given the option to swap between the arranged soundtrack or the original during their playthrough. The game also has the option for both English and Japanese voice acting, although the English voice acting has been recycled from the PSP version. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the voice actors do a great job portraying their respective characters, and any improvement on the original PSX voice acting is welcome.
As soon as Star Ocean: The Second Story R released, I was glued to my recliner and I didn’t want to stop playing. Not only is this a favourite gem from my childhood, but this edition is definitely the definitive one. Everything Gemdrops has produced in Star Ocean: Second Story R shows a lot of love and respect towards the original game while making it much more accessible and fresh to newcomers. While I will always cherish my memories of the cheesiness that is PSX edition, the joy I felt replaying a favourite game was strong throughout. Star Ocean: The Second Story R is the best Star Ocean game hands down, and every RPGamer owes themself a chance to enjoy this amazing remake. You won’t be disappointed.
Gorgeous graphical overhaul
New Assault attacks add a nice touch to combat
Much more accessible to newcomers
Much simpler than the original version of the game
Story is convoluted at times
Claude and Rena didn't kiss in my ending