Archives by Day

December 2023

Star Ocean The Second Story R

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Nov. 2, 2023


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PS5 Review - 'Star Ocean: The Second Story R'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 9, 2023 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Star Ocean The Second Story R returns as a 2.5D remake of the classic 1998 RPG.

Buy Star Ocean: The Second Story R

Most of the recent Star Ocean games have felt rather weak, and almost all of my fondness for the franchise is tied to Star Ocean: The Second Story, a classic PS1 title that defined the franchise. I wasn't sure that the remake, Star Ocean: The Second Story R, would be able to capture the feel of what made the franchise special, but thankfully, it knocks it out of the park.

Star Ocean: The Second Story has two protagonists, but they spend most of the game together. Claude is a member of a spacefaring civilization, and he's been assigned to his father's spaceship as an ensign. During a routine mission, a machine zaps him across space and time to the medieval fantasy world of Expel, where he meets Rena, a girl with the power to heal. The two set off together to investigate the Sorcery Globe, a meteorite that fell to the planet and caused anything nearby to mutate into a monster. It might hold the key to Claude finding a way home and Rena discovering the secret of her past.

The plot is decidedly old-school but not necessarily in a bad way. Characters are straightforward and occasionally simplistic, many plot beats are told in short skits, and the writing tends to be repetitive. Despite that, it's a charming game with a diverse cast and a ton of secrets. You'll have to pick between characters, and replaying the game as the other protagonist can still feel fresh since different choices can lead to an almost entirely new cast of playable characters. The story doesn't set the world on fire, but it's a good, solid and enjoyable old-school adventure.

The combat system in The Second Story R is almost an entirely different beast from the original game. While it follows the same action-RPG combat as the original, it has received so many adjustments, updates and fixes that it's difficult to imagine returning to the original. A lot of these are relatively minor, but there are a few major ones. Perhaps the most significant is that casting magic no longer stops combat, which is a tremendous boost to the usability and power of magic-wielding characters.

The new Break system means that enemies have defensive shields that reduce the damage they take when you attack. Break the enemy's shields, and they enter a Break status, where they are stunned and take significantly more damage. Attacks are divided into HP-focused, Break-focused or Balanced, and you're rewarded for focusing on breaking foes to deal the most possible damage.

Defensive options have also been upgraded. Originally, you only had the option to tank damage or move around to avoid enemy attacks that homed in on you. You can now manually execute a dodge. If you press dodge immediately before an enemy is about to attack, signaled by a red glow around the foe, you'll execute a Perfect Dodge. It causes your character to teleport behind the enemy, nullify all damage, and damage the enemy's shields — all in one go. However, this is a two-way street. Enemies in the game hit a lot harder than in the original, and you take more damage if you're caught in the middle of attacking. Mistime a dodge, and it's even worse because you enter a Break state where you're just as vulnerable as an enemy and almost certainly destined to die.

Also new to the combat is the bonus orb. Defeating and Breaking enemies earns points that are stored in the bonus orb, which yields passive bonuses. The bonuses depend on the party formation and can include increased EXP, cash gain, stat boosts, and outfitting your party with super armor. The bonus orb is fragile and will break if you mistime a dodge or your character goes down, at which point you must start refilling the orb.

I adore how the various systems interact. It discourages button-mashing, since you want to make sure you're attacking when it's safe, or you risk taking on a bucketload of damage. It makes you think about the risks of what you're doing. It feels great to execute a string of Perfect Dodges against a boss, and although it's painful to lose the bonus orb, there are enough ways to get it back that it doesn't feel too terrible.

Also new is the Assault system, which allows characters who aren't currently in your party to be summoned to perform an attack or support spell on a cooldown. This is a pretty great way to use extra party members despite the four-person limit. You can also find and unlock cameo characters (based on the protagonists of the older Star Ocean games) who can't be used directly in combat but can be summoned to perform special assault attacks.

The result is a combat system that is a lot more engaging than the original. The changes make higher-end challenges more appealing and fun, and the addition of a new, harder difficulty mode encourages players to master the systems. Combat is more involved and more dangerous, and that helps to keep players focused on the fight. It's possible to shatter the game's difficulty curve by finding rare and powerful gear.

My only complaint is that the AI is still pretty bad. In some fights, you spend a lot of time picking allies off the ground, and sometimes, the most sensible thing to do was to shelve most of my party and rely on Assault attacks and the character that I was controlling. This isn't an uncommon problem in these kinds of games, but it is sad that the rest of the game is so polished that it still runs into this issue.

One of the most distinctive features of The Second Story was its crafting system, and The Second Story R retains that in all of its delightful glory. It makes it even more accessible by giving free access to most of your skills from the outset, so you can start building characters right away. It provides a pretty good head start on crafting and allows players to start making and creating their own items early on.

Crafting in Star Ocean is unusual. You have a long list of innate talents that you level up, including knowledge of biology and a strong poker face. Combinations of those talents grant access to usable skills that range from standard things, like upgrading weapons, to the more esoteric, such as being able to train a pet to sell or buy items for you. When multiple party members have skills, you can combine them into super skills, which grant absurd abilities like the power to summon a giant, rideable rabbit.

All of the various gimmicks come together to allow players to do some truly ridiculous stuff. You can have a party member become a writer who pumps out books for the other party members to improve their skills. You can create counterfeit stock bonds that grant passive income but risk creating bounced checks, which provide negative income. You can build machines that improve other skills or pump out high-end damage bombs. You can stack bonuses to get absurd amounts of bonus EXP. Not all of it is necessary, but the options are available.

Even weapon crafting and upgrading have been given a shot in the arm with the addition of Factors, which are passive bonuses that appear on upgraded or crafted items. These have the potential to make ridiculous gear even better and are important if you decide to go for the hardest challenges, which already encourage you to reach level 255 and have weaponry with absurdly powerful stats. It isn't very complex (and suffers a tad from RNG), but the sheer number of available tools makes it a delight.

The only change that I am iffy about is the new Challenge Missions. These are challenges (sort of like achievements) that you complete by completing tasks, such as fighting a certain number of foes or mastering certain kinds of crafting. Each task has a reward for completion. In theory, I love this idea, as it encourages doing different things, but in practice, a lot of the rewards for basic challenges shower you in rare loot, money and experience points. As an example, early on, you can get a Goodie Box, which was a rare item in the original game that used to require save-scumming and specific planning to obtain. It can break the game wide open if you let it. The new difficulty mode and somewhat more lethal combat somewhat offset this, but the prizes from the Challenge Missions can take some fun out of figuring out how to work the game's systems.

The overall user interface has also seen a ton of wonderful upgrades and makes it much easier to keep track of things. Clearly marked on a map are side-quests and Private Actions, which are minievents that can change character friendships, unlock quests, or even guide you to new playable characters. There's even an indicator of whether the events are time-limited. You also have access to a fast-travel option, so it's easier to return to earlier areas to see new PAs or complete side-quests. In some ways, it devalues some of the game's options, but that's almost always in the interest of making it more fun to play.

Of course, The Second Story R looks beautiful. It aims for an interesting mid-point, where it doesn't completely redo the aesthetic but updates it with a lovely HD-2D style. The environments are completely redone to be larger and more expansive, the camera is more detailed, and the character sprites have been updated but are still adorable little squished SD people. I'm very fond of how it looks because it captures how The Second Story looked in my memory, and it's a master class in how to visually update a game. There is brand-new artwork for every character, and it looks incredible. You can really see it because the game allows you to look at the original artwork — as well as the awful new artwork for the previous The Second Story remake.

The soundtrack is also fantastic, featuring a number of remixed songs that hit all of the nostalgia buttons while sounding great on their own. For the most part, the voice actors are a good choice for their roles, but they're often read like they have no context for their lines. It leads to strange situations where characters sound chipper when they should be sullen, or they sound loud when they should be soft. It's a sadly disappointing element to an otherwise absurdly polished remake.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a master class in how to update an old game while retaining its original feeling. It has a ton of adjustments, changes, fixes and features that completely change how the game plays, while managing to retain the same feeling of playing the game when it originally came out. It looks better, sounds better, plays better, and in general, it's the absolute optimal way to experience Star Ocean: The Second Story.

Score: 8.5/10

More articles about Star Ocean The Second Story R
blog comments powered by Disqus