Pretty much everyone who loves video games is at the very least aware of classic RPG series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, but there are loads of classic JRPG series that are far too often forgotten. One such series is Star Ocean, which debuted back in 1996 on the Super Famicom and has since released five more main entries in the series and all manner of spinoffs and remakes. Despite this clear mark of success, very few people I know would call themselves a Star Ocean fan, which is a real shame because there are some great Star Ocean games. Perhaps a remake of one of the more popular games could do something to change that, in the form of Star Ocean: The Second Story R.
Star Ocean: The Second Story originally released on the PS1, and was the first in the series to be brought to the west back in 1999. Similarly to a series like Final Fantasy the Star Ocean games aren’t direct sequels and don’t really feature the same characters for the most part, so because of that and the fact it’s a great RPG it was really well received. Since then the game has already had two other remakes, one on the PSP and another on the PS4 and Vita, which begs the question why would you need a third remake of this game. The answer is pretty simple, HD-2D graphics.
Star Ocean: The Second Story R has been fully remade with that gorgeous HD-2D art style we all know and love, and my word does it look incredible. With 2D pixel art characters and 3D environments the world of Star Ocean has never looked so good, and alongside this all the music and voice acting has been rerecorded and rearranged to the highest of standards. It cannot be overstated how much of an improvement this is over the original game and the other remakes, and it left me wanting all manner of classic RPGs to get the same treatment.
If you haven’t played this sci-fi RPG before though, you probably want to know what you’re getting yourself into. Featuring two protagonists, Star Ocean: The Second Story R tells the story of Claude and Rena. Claude is a federation officer who is mysteriously teleported to a less advanced world and is desperately trying to find a way home, whereas Rena is a young girl with magic powers who wants to help keep the village she lives in safe from the growing hordes of monsters. A chance encounter brings these two together, and sets them off an adventure full of magical mind altering crystals and a whole lot of scrapping. The story is a little bit hokey and dated, but for what it is it’s very charming.
The action combat in Star Ocean: The Second Story R is fast paced for a game as old as this. In battle you control a member of your party and have the ability to perform an attack combo, jump and perform all sorts of special moves. Don’t expect to manage this without taking a few hits though, unless you master the particularly tricky block timing.
The battles are fun enough, but a lot of the issue with combat comes from the block. This is because you have a combo meter that by filling gives you stat buffs that last between fights. If you get hit the meter goes down a bit, but if you time a block incorrectly you lose the lot. It’s so ridiculously punishing and when it’s attached to something that requires such precision timing feels downright unfair. I played through the game pretty much ignoring the option to block and just took the hits, which worked but wasn’t exactly how I wanted to play.
Because Star Ocean is an RPG, you’d better believe you’ll be doing a lot of levelling up. This means all the usual raising of stats and learning new skills, but also means getting skill points you can invest in a variety of things. Some options offer somewhat random stats boosts mid battle, some reduce casting time, and you can also upgrade spells to higher levels. It’s as compelling as any retro RPG progression, and means it always feels good to level up.
A lot of this probably doesn’t sound particularly unique to the genre (especially in 2023) but there is one thing that Star Ocean does that still feels hugely impressive even now. In each playthrough of the game you can only recruit a set amount of party members, and others are entirely unavailable to use. This means there are some seriously significant reasons to play this chunky RPG over and over again if you love it, and many have over the years.
There’s no doubt that Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a great RPG, but it’s also undeniably a fairly dated one. Things like the massive world map were clearly added to show off the power of the original PlayStation, but actually exploring this mostly barren landscape is rather dull. If you’re a fan of retro RPGs you’ll find a lot to love here, but don’t go expecting too much modernisation outside of the audio and visuals.
Star Ocean: The Second Story R is one of the best examples of a top to bottom remake I’ve played in some time, and will be a huge hit with nostalgic fans of the series. It’s understandably a bit clunky by modern standards, but don’t let that stop you from jumping into this gorgeous reimagining of a sci-fi RPG classic.
Still a great game over twenty years later
The HD 2D visuals are stunning
The voice acting and remastered music is fantastic
Is seriously replayable for die hards
Has a few clunky mechanics that feel dated
The story is a bit hokey