Playing Star Ocean The Second Storyas a child significantly impacted me, shaping the games I wanted to play as I grew up. I remember a lot of the things that were happening in my life – I was on my summer break from school, and a neighbourhood friend was demoing a battle with Claude C. Kenny, one of the dual protagonists you can choose and Rena Lanford taking on a boss in the Salva Mines. I was immediately drawn to the world thanks to the music and battle system. So, the next day, I asked to use some leftover birthday money to pick up this niche RPG from Enix. I haven’t stopped thinking aboutStar Ocean The Second Story in decades.
Every subsequent entry was mainly fun, but the shift to 3D brought a new set of challenges. Games like Star Ocean Till the End of Time left an undeniable mark on the series with one of the strangest twists I’ve experienced, and to this day, the ending splits the fanbase on whether or not the conclusion was satisfactory. I even liked the latest entry, The Divine Force, for once again bringing some new ideas to the table while revisiting a dual protagonist system and providing one of the best games for the series in years.
S.D. 366 – A Journey to Expel
Using a dual protagonist system, you can choose either Claude C. Kenny or Rena Lanford as your protagonist. Depending on who you choose, this decision affects several systems, including your party roster – each path has a few characters that the other path misses out on. In addition to who joins your party, Private Actions differ for each character. I wouldn’t stress this decision too much, though, because you’ll have a lot of fun either way, and there’s always the opportunity to return and select the other starting character.
Star Ocean The Second Story R is a complete remake, taking the original, updating the graphics and battle system, and adding quality-of-life features. In short, the changes the developers at Gemdrops have added make this feel like a definitive and remarkable game that I still cannot believe exists. I am at a loss for words that Square Enix took fan feedback and worked on one of the few properties I never expected to receive the remake treatment.
New in-game tutorials help newcomers understand the underlying system in The Second Story R. Previously; this was a section I felt was lacking, and in a game where there are several hidden mechanics and traits needed to understand how things like Private Actions work, this addition is a positive change.
Graphically, The Second Story R feels like a close cousin to Octopath Traveller, providing an excellent bridge between HD-2D and 3D space. The world around the characters is fully 3D and looks crisp, revitalized, and beautiful. Arlia Village, the starting point for Rena and Claude, is so quaint and stunning that seeing it in a new light brought me back to what I envisioned as a child. The world map, a staple of classic JRPGs, is filled with impressive details and showcases that we still require the ability to traverse the world using a map. Most games have moved away from this design, instead focusing on open area hubs that players can explore. But one tour around the map sections in The Second Story R, and I am immediately taken to simpler times. The juxtaposition between the reworked sprites and the gorgeous 3D landscapes makes the world, the characters, and the enemies pop on screen in a way the original could never compete with, doubly so for the PSP upgrade.
Another thing Gemdrops focused on was revitalizing combat and making it feel modern. On that front, the studio has successfully delivered a system that incentivizes the player to experiment. The combat core is untouched; you can still manually control your main character. At the press of a button, you can slash at enemies and, with the press of a shoulder button, use several artes to deliver additional damage that can assist in making quick work of enemies. Overall, it feels snappy and reactive, which is highly enjoyable.
A dedicated dodge button is available, and it plays well into new mechanics. By touching one of several coloured enemies (green (weak), purple (standard) and red (strong) on screen, you enter battle. There are ways to chain battles so you boost your rewards via a multiplier, too, and it makes for some exciting moments.
You can build up a bonus gauge that buffs the entire party. In battle, you unlock spheres that add to the indicator in the bottom right by defeating enemies. As it grows, you will likely open some of the rewards. However, you must ensure conditions are met, like landing critical hits, breaking enemies, etc. Conversely, you can lose the tips by being overwhelmed and failing to counter an attack.
The counter system is a godsend, given newer entries have similar mechanics, so seeing it retroactively added is exciting. You need to time a button press when enemies turn red; if you successfully meet the criteria, you’ll dash behind an enemy and hurt them. An enemy’s shield drops by one, and you recover 25 percent MP.
Many games at the time insisted that rates and magic were to proficiency in battle – the more you used the skills, the quicker you unlocked higher levels of said skills. This is no longer the case, as both are tied to earning BP and upgrading your skills. Some players may prefer the old way, but this change means it’s now easier to streamline these systems to get more enjoyment out of the experience.
Lastly, the Challenge Missions add tasks for you to complete in battle. One might ask you to defeat an enemy in one second or another to beat a certain number of enemies, and with every completed task, you earn Fol and bonus items. I had a ton of fun working through the tiers of challenges in almost 50 hours of playtime.
Star Ocean The Second Story R Is What A Remake Should Be
Gemdrops did an exceptional job tuning combat to feel modern while honouring the series’ roots. You can see that in features like Assault Action, a new feature that allows those members outside your party to deal with devastating attacks and join your combo frenzy by delivering additional damage. And to make these actions even more incredible, you can pull in a protagonist from each Star Ocean game to provide extra damage to enemies, a first for the series and a very nice touch to honour each hero.
Exploration has also seen several exciting changes that add a new layer to Star Ocean The Second Story R. Every town and dungeon features Unique Spots, areas marked by glowing light that draw your attention. By moving to these locations and pressing a button, you learn more about that location – the Salve Mines, for example, are where royals mine for gemstones for their jewelry, and you are promptly rewarded with EXP, BP, and more by finding these locations.
The world, towns, and dungeons now have their dedicated minimaps, something the original never had and would sometimes leave you feeling lost and afloat during a dungeon crawl. The change is welcome, beautifully detailed, and filled with information.
There are also several shortcuts you can tackle that make life easier. Pressing up on the D-Pad allows you to check out the Guide Map, an easy way to fast travel around Expel; pressing down provides quick access to item creations; pressing left allows access to items; and pressing right is a way to heal your party quickly.
The Sorcery Globe Begins To Ensnare The World
As much as I love what Gemdrops has done, the story is the one thing that needs some attention. It isn’t bad, but the main plot takes time to ramp up. I wouldn’t say the build-up is terrible by any means; instead, there is a lot of wrapping paper you need to work through to get to the good stuff. I’ve played The Second Story dozens of times by this point, so I’m familiar with the story beats, but it isn’t any less exciting.
Star Ocean‘s distinctive appeal is intricately woven into its exceptional Item Creation system—a feature that sets the game apart as a captivating and unique experience. This system is not merely interesting; it’s positively captivating and arguably the game’s most defining attribute. Players are granted the remarkable ability to transform humble materials, ranging from gold lumps to silver, iron, and even basic foodstuffs, into entirely novel creations, each brimming with the promise of delightful surprises. This facet of the game captivates the player, inducing an insatiable curiosity that keeps them engaged for hours on end as they experiment with a vast array of crafting possibilities. Whether forging potent weapons, concocting powerful recovery items, or cooking up delectable dishes to enhance their strength, the player’s selection of skills significantly influences the outcome of these innovative processes.
The adjustments were added to make the system more cohesive, as every item now displays a success rate, your character’s item creation level, and any hidden talents help to increase your chance of succeeding.
Furthermore, Star Ocean’s expansive crafting and skill systems represent a welcome diversion from the customary questing activities. The Second Story R graciously grants players the autonomy to engage in various constructive pursuits, from crafting valuable items to authoring insightful articles, preparing sumptuous meals, or even sculpting their way to swift financial gain. Crafting, in particular, emerges as an intellectually stimulating endeavour that profoundly resonates with dedicated item collectors due to its multifaceted nature. Fortunately, mastering these crafting endeavours is not a prerequisite for game completion, as obtaining exceptional gear can be effortlessly accomplished through random chest loot.
The skill system, on the other hand, unfurls a profoundly exhaustive canvas for character development. It empowers players to personalize virtually every facet of their beloved characters by bestowing skill points upon levelling. These invaluable points can be judiciously allocated to an extensive array of abilities, enabling direct modifications to character statistics, elevating skill points acquired per level, adjusting enemy encounter rates, and unlocking a plethora of indispensable specialties that enhance the experience. The apex of this intricate system lies in attaining super things, unique skills that unify the entire party in pursuit of specific feats. One of them is collaborative book publishing—an aspect that adds a layer of complexity and depth to the game’s progression.
Another high note is the score, composed by series veteran Motoi Sakuraba once again. The original score in 1998 is held in high regard and contains some of the most memorable tracks in the series. In 2023, the same score has seen a massive glow-up, delivering stunning, impeccable music that retains the essence of the originals but improves on them in such a way I find myself having a hard time revisiting the original. Tracks like The Venerable Forest, Stab the Sword of Justice, The Expel Overworld, and others have been injected with an enthusiasm that immediately catches your attention.
What doesn’t work for me is the English dub being reincorporated from the PlayStation Portable version. Square Enix recruited the original cast in Japan to work on new dialogue while retaining the PSP dub in Japan while only using the English PSP dub everywhere else. For a project with so many bells and whistles, it seems strange that this is the one thing that wasn’t updated for the remake. In short, the English dub sometimes feels out of place, with some characters being miscast — Claude being a perfect example of not sounding like you’d expect. He’s very awkward and has issues speaking up at times; his tone feels off for the character.
Star Ocean The Second Story R is what a remake should be — a project that finely tunes and updates the original. I am delighted Square Enix decided to focus on the one game in the series that was firmly stuck in limbo. Between the updated visuals, the impressive changes to combat, the enhanced Private Actions, and the newly arranged score. Without a doubt, 2023 is packed with dozens of video games worth your time, and this game is the latest to be added to the top of the pile.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
Review: Star Ocean The Second Story R
Star Ocean The Second Story R is what a remake should be — a project that finely tunes and updates the original.
Takes a gorgeous retro game and give it an incredible 2.5D makeover
The cast of characters is the best Star Ocean has to offer
The new musical arrangement is incredible, adding more emotion and depth to already excellent tracks
The new combat changes make a world of difference
Keeping the PSP dub feels like a sleight and detracts from the overall package