“Star Ocean: The Second Story R” brings new life to a long-standing but underappreciated franchise in the Japanese RPG genre. Having been around for over 25 years, Star Ocean has not reached the soaring success of contemporaries like Persona or Tales. However, this remake, developed by Square Enix, pays homage to its roots while introducing fresh elements. While it might not be the breakthrough to propel Star Ocean to new heights, it stands as a commendable Japanese RPG in its own right.
Rediscovering the Story:
The plot follows Claude C. Kenny and Rena Lanford, two protagonists with distinct backgrounds. After an unexpected encounter on the planet Expel, they become central to the narrative. Claude, hailing from a technologically advanced society, and Rena, an orphan with natural healing powers, embark on a journey to unravel mysteries surrounding a meteor-like object called the Sorcery Globe. Despite not reaching the complexity of modern RPGs, the story’s simplicity allows character relationships to shine.
“Second Story R” boasts 12 playable characters, including Claude and Rena. While not all directly impact the plot, the game compensates with Private Actions—side conversations that add charm and change based on your party composition. The varied interactions among characters contribute to the game’s immense replayability, offering multiple party combinations and unique perspectives.
Dynamic Real-Time Battles:
The battle system retains its real-time action-based combat, with up to four party members in play. In a similar vein to Final Fantasy XVI, you control one character while the AI manages the others. The battles are dynamic and visually engaging, featuring particle effects and magical spells. The addition of the Break and Assault Action systems adds a modern touch, encouraging strategic diversity and including inactive characters in support roles.
Flaws in Combat:
While the battle system excels, a flimsy dodge mechanic detracts from the overall experience. Correctly timing dodges is crucial, but the narrow window and potential consequences make it less appealing. However, the Battle Bonus system, introduced in later entries, enhances engagement by providing passive bonuses after battles.
Character Progression and Item Creation:
After battles, characters earn battle points to enhance stats, skills, and abilities. This customization allows players to tailor characters to their preferred playstyle. The return of the Item Creation mechanic introduces depth, where combining ingredients produces a range of weapons, items, and gear. While not essential for a regular playthrough, it becomes valuable in higher difficulties and post-game content.
Visuals, Voice Acting, and Music:
The 2.5D graphical approach, combining 2D pixel art characters with modern 3D environments, sets the game apart. The character sprites, while maintaining a nostalgic charm, might seem out of place against the detailed backgrounds. Full English and Japanese voice acting, alongside Motoi Sakuraba’s newly arranged soundtrack, elevate the overall presentation, showcasing the evolution of voice acting quality.
Replayability and Endings:
“Second Story R” excels in replayability, offering New Game Plus with perks like carrying over levels and equipment. The variability in party compositions results in 99 different character endings, encouraging multiple playthroughs. The post-game dungeon, Maze of Tribulations, adds a substantial challenge for those seeking tougher fights.
“Star Ocean: The Second Story R” strikes a delicate balance between honoring the original and embracing modern enhancements. The revitalized aesthetics and music blend nostalgia with a touch of contemporary flair. While the battle system maintains its core, new features make it more dynamic and enjoyable. Packed with content and offering numerous endings, this remake is a treasure trove for Japanese RPG enthusiasts, providing hours of satisfying gameplay.