The Star Ocean series has quietly cultivated a passionate cult following since its inception in the mid 90s. While never achieving the mainstream recognition of other Japanese RPG heavyweights like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, Star Ocean carved out a niche with its real-time combat, sci-fi setting, and emphasis on character customization.
Of the half-dozen mainline entries, Star Ocean: The Second Story remains the most acclaimed even 20+ years after its PlayStation debut. The Second Story chronicled the adventures of two protagonists – Claude and Rena – as they uncovered a planetary mystery shrouded in political intrigue and extraterrestrial phenomena. Its sprawling quest across multiple worlds, endearing characters, and innovative mechanics solidified The Second Story’s status as a masterpiece.
Now in 2023, publisher Square Enix aims to introduce The Second Story to a new generation with a ground-up remake aptly titled Star Ocean: The Second Story R. This remake embraces modern console capabilities to overhaul graphics, audio, and quality-of-life improvements while preserving the timeless gameplay and story.
In this review, we’ll analyze how well The Second Story R honors the spirit of the original while upgrading it for current hardware. Does this reimagining stand tall among today’s crowded RPG landscape? Or does it fail to live up to nostalgic expectations? Read on to see if this remake is worth revisiting for Star Ocean veterans and newcomers alike.
A Character-Driven Odyssey Through The Stars
The heart of any great RPG lies with its characters, and The Second Story delivers a compelling ensemble. At the outset, players can choose between two protagonists that offer distinct perspectives: Claude C. Kenny and Rena Lanford.
Claude hails from an advanced spacefaring civilization, having arrived accidentally on the medieval planet Expel after an accident with a teleporter. His sci-fi upbringing stands in stark contrast to the mystical swords and sorcery world of Expel. This fish-out-of-water dynamic gives Claude a unique viewpoint as he aids the locals against an impending threat.
Rena presents a more grounded heroine who has lived in Expel her entire life. She yearns to uncover lost memories from her mysterious past, which ties closely to the otherworldly forces at play. Rena lends a sympathetic voice to the planet’s plight.
Beyond the leads, The Second Story boasts a whopping cast of 12 playable allies that can join your party. With only 8 slots available per playthrough, repeat runs are encouraged to experience the story from new angles depending on recruitment choices. From the brash swordsman Dias to the child prodigy Precis, each character adds charm through their distinct personalities and backstories.
Those not in your active party still get moments to shine thanks to Private Actions. These optional conversations between characters breathe life into relationships when they’re outside the spotlight. It’s easy to grow attached to this crew as their bonds strengthen over the 60+ hour adventure.
While the overarching narrative lacks the complexity of today’s sprawling epics, its brevity allows the colorful cast to take center stage. Claude and Rena’s supporting allies are memorable not only in combat but also in how they influence the story’s lighter moments. Combined with manga-inspired humor and whimsical locales, The Second Story exudes as much heart and soul as the all-time greats. Its fairy tale-like charm serves as a wonderful palette cleanser from the grimmer trends in modern RPG storytelling.
In an age where dense lore and photorealistic graphics aim to immerse players, The Second Story R wisely avoids overindulgence. Instead it crafts a heartfelt sci-fantasy opera that uplifts the goodness in humanity – no matter what planet they may come from.
Thrilling Action-Packed Combat With Plenty of Customization
The Second Story R retains the energetic real-time combat that has defined the Star Ocean series since its inception. These frenzied battles distinguish the franchise from more traditional turn-based fare. Players directly control one party member at a time while up to 3 allies provide CPU-assisted support. Positioning around the battlefield and utilizing your arsenal of skills are key to dominating foes.
Despite its age, the simple yet satisfying core combat loop still holds up impressively. Chaining basic attacks and special abilities feels responsive and impactful. The new Break system adds another layer by incentivizing players to shatter enemy shields for increased damage. Coordinating with your party to juggle aggro and maximize openings becomes increasingly important against colossal bosses.
While managing one character at a time, the Assault system allows you to call upon allies in reserve to briefly jump in for assist attacks. Having access to the full party roster makes for dynamic ability combinations to target any situation or weakness. The Bonus Gauge also rewards maintaining offensive pressure with stacking buffs, keeping each skirmish exciting from start to finish.
Between battles, players can fine-tune each character’s capabilities via the intuitive Specialties system. Leveling up specific skills like increased damage or MP regeneration can drastically alter your party’s performance. Crafting the perfect lineup to suit your playstyle provides engaging depth outside of combat.
Item creation also returns in full force. Collecting recipes and ingredients allows you to forge custom equipment and consumables to tackle any challenge. While completely optional, dedicating time to expand your alchemical prowess can yield game-breaking outcomes for seasoned players.
Modern quality-of-life additions like Fast Travel, configurable control schemes, adjustable difficulty, and extensive accessibility options help smooth out any roughness that comes with a PlayStation-era RPG. However, the superb injection of new combat mechanics proves Second Story R is more than just a fresh coat of paint. Both series veterans and action RPG rookies will find plenty to like in this deep, refined gameplay package.
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A Mesmerizing Visual and Auditory Experience
While gameplay lays the foundation, presentation can make or break any remake. The Second Story R delivers a breathtaking visual overhaul along with sublime audio design, complementing the classic adventure rather than detracting. This striking balance of old and new creates an entrancing experience for the senses.
The signature “HD-2D” style blends nostalgic 2D sprite characters against a fully 3D world. Lush scenery stretches out beautifully as Claude traverses hills, forests, and quaint medieval villages. Meticulously crafted environments elevate locations like the bustling port city of Lacour and the mystical El Continent ruins. Vibrant texture work, dynamic lighting, and weather effects bring Expel to life unlike ever before.
Spell effects dazzle as brilliant showers of color dance across the screen. The new free-flowing camera dynamically zooms and pans during battles to highlight feats of superhuman strength and magic. Witnessing Claude nonchalantly obliterate a 20-foot mecha robot with lasers never grows old. Even mundane moments like characters bobbing their heads during dialogue benefit tremendously from added personality.
The outstanding art direction extends to menu screens as well. Crisp redrawn 2D portraits accompany detailed 3D models, letting players admire both classic and modern renditions of the cast. Seeing familiar faces with additional flair allows nostalgia without sacrificing quality.
An epic adventure deserves equally epic music to stoke the imagination. Composer Motoi Sakuraba remastered the beloved soundtrack with new live recordings, including orchestral arrangements. The euphoric overworld theme “A Formidable Enemy” or the heart-stirring “Mission to the Deep Space” showcase incredible range from lighthearted to sinister. Players can even switch between remixed and original PS1 tracks at will.
For characterization, the full English and Japanese voice over goes a long way towards realizing a 20+ year old script. Despite some occasionally stilted lines, the script and performances capture the whimsical spirit far better than the original.
By marrying its retro roots with cutting-edge presentation, The Second Story R enthralls the senses whether in the heat of battle or quiet moments of introspection. This remarkable balance should be the gold standard for revitalizing classic art with a modern touch.
Rough Edges Hold Back An Otherwise Stellar Experience
For all its triumphs, The Second Story R still bears some flaws inherited from its source material. While none are dealbreakers, these shortcomings can occasionally hamper enjoyment.
Most notable is the unresponsive dodge maneuver. Meant to add defensive options, dodging instead feels like an exercise in frustration. The tiny timing window paired with harsh punishment for mistakes discourages its use entirely. Players are better off simply tanking hits rather than risking the penalties of a botched dodge. This outdated mechanic could have benefited from an overhaul or removal.
The remake also preserves some of the original’s obtuse design decisions. Certain late-game boss fights boil down to rote trial and error rather than skill. Cheap instant death attacks and unclear telegraphing can quickly drain lives. These difficulty spikes feel at odds with the game’s casual appeal.
Back in 1998, cumbersome dialogue was more acceptable. But by today’s standards, the stilted conversations can distract from emotional moments. While still conveying the core themes, some exchanges come across as overly literal.
Finally, portions of the English script fail to sync with accompanying voice lines. This sloppy oversight suggests localization received less attention compared to other facets.
These grievances never totally undermine what is otherwise an incredible journey, but they do prevent The Second Story R from total perfection. For new players unfamiliar with mid-90s RPG quirks, the archaic elements may prove frustrating. Veterans can overlook the warts, but still deserve a more polished translation and challenge balance. Regardless, the remake remains highly recommendable despite its flaws. But with just a bit more modernization, it could have been truly timeless.
Massive Replay Value Through Variety and Customization
With dozens of hours of content just in the main story, The Second Story R offers tremendous bang for your buck. But the value skyrockets even further when considering the sheer wealth of replayability and post-game options. RPG fans can get lost in Expel for months to come.
The 12 potential party members and branching Private Actions make repeat playthroughs a must. Since only 8 fighters can be recruited per story path, reshuffling your lineup reveals fresh character interactions that add new dimension to relationships. Small decisions dramatically impact the ending you see, incentivizing completionists to experience every possibility.
New Game+ allows carrying over levels, equipment, recipes and more to jumpstart subsequent runs. Higher difficulties provide stiff challenges for seasoned warriors. Achieving 100% completion requires many repeat trips through Expel.
Once the credits roll, even more adventures await in the post-game. The dreaded Cave of Trials returns as an ultimate test of skill. Traversing all 50+ floors of this marathon dungeon will push your team comp and equipment to their limits. Unique prizes like cosmetics and combat perks reward dedicated dungeon crawlers upon its completion.
If demons and dragons prove too daunting, peaceful diversions like fishing provide relaxing pastimes. Catching all 80 aquatic species offers laidback content without pressure. Crafting the perfect gear through alchemy or pursuing every side quest likewise enhances replayability for completionists.
With dozens of endings and countless battle strategies, very few RPGs offer The Second Story R’s sheer breadth of content. Both story-focused players and hardcore grinders can find endless gameplay tailored to their tastes. This exemplary value demonstrates Square Enix’s commitment to creating an definitive edition that will withstand the test of time once again.
A Triumphant Rebirth For An Enduring Classic
In an era where definitive editions and remakes run rampant, Star Ocean: The Second Story R stands out as a gold standard in refreshing a beloved classic. It honors the spirit of the 1998 original while elevating it to modern standards. Despite some slight aging blemishes, this remake worthy of its legendary pedigree.
By leaving the strongest elements untouched, The Second Story R emphasizes ideas that already worked flawlessly. The signature combat maintains its white-knuckle thrills. An iconic ensemble of 12 unique heroes still charms through personality and heart. Trimming antiquated fat like slow travel helps streamline pacing for accessibility.
Where change made sense, the developer wisely enhanced and expanded. Visuals strike a masterful balance between retro charm and cutting-edge immersion. Refined mechanics like the Break system add new dynamics without overwhelming complexity. Even small touches like full voice acting help realize the script’s humor and emotion like never before.
The result is a remake that feels definitively superior to the original game in nearly every way. This sets the new release apart from peers that stumble with excessive changes or struggle recapturing earlier magic. It channels nostalgia while still moving the series forward in bold new directions.
Despite a few legacy oddities like punishing dodging or uneven challenge spikes, The Second Story R succeeds as both an optimal way to discover this classic and a long-awaited gift for dedicated fans. Both groups will find an adventure that retains unique magic despite the passing years.
In an age overflowing with remakes, Star Ocean: The Second Story R emerges as an extraordinary example of how to pay tribute to gaming history while also evolving it. This incredible journey deserves to be embarked upon by RPG enthusiasts new and old alike. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience Claude and Rena’s timeless sci-fi fantasy opera as it was truly meant to be.
Star Ocean: The Second Story R
Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a masterclass in remaking a classic. It retains the original's heart and charm while modernizing almost every aspect. A few rough spots hold it back from absolute perfection, but they hardly detract from this incredible journey with brilliant action combat, lovable characters, and mesmerizing presentation. This definitive edition makes The Second Story feel as incredible in 2023 as it did 25 years ago. Any RPG fan owes it to themselves to experience this exemplary remake.
- Excellent HD-2D graphics blend retro and modern visuals
- Chaotic real-time combat is thrilling and strategic
- Large cast of unique playable characters
- Private Actions develop relationships
- Epic soundtrack with new live recordings
- Quality of life improvements enhance convenience
- Tons of content and replayabilityTons of content and replayability
- Frustrating and unresponsive dodge mechanic
- Some cheap difficulty spikes on bosses
- Stilted dialog and translation issues
- Occasional subtitles not matching voice lines