Disclaimer: Review code for Star Ocean The Second Story R was provided to Nova Crystallis by the publisher Square Enix before launch.
Star Ocean 2 is a game that’s sort of in an interesting situation. It certainly feels like the one game that Square Enix likes to bring back around now and again – what with the PSP remaster in 2007 and now a brand-new release in the way of Star Ocean The Second Story R. The R of course, stands for remake and is not to be confused with the former release. Certainly, at first I was somewhat perplexed as to why this game needed another redo, but here we are with a proper remake all the way down to its very core.
Because Star Ocean The Second Story R not only has a visual overhaul well beyond that of a simple remaster, it’s got some new systems too and they stack up in a way that adds a lot of contemporary design to its gameplay.
As someone who never really dabbled in the original PlayStation release or the PSP remaster, suffice to say that the streamlined nature of Star Ocean The Second Story R surprised me. In some ways I feel like the 2.5D pixel visuals are a little deceptive because of this – they’re evocative of their original era, and that’s fine. Fans have eaten up this visual style and Square Enix seems keen to continue using it with other projects.
Their application to the 3D world doesn’t look out of place, however. They’re colorful and the world is too in a way that doesn’t invite clashing styles even if that could have been the case. Star Ocean The Second Story R looks great, runs great and all of this is in place to further its interesting take on narrative progression.
The story props up two central protagonists: Claude C. Kenny and Rena Lanford – either of which you’ll have the opportunity to choose who you’ll be following from the start. This is important because each character has their own part to play, and with all that goes on, there’s more than enough room for multiple playthroughs here.
The gist of Star Ocean The Second Story R centers around this pair as Claude is sent off to investigate a mysterious object on a faraway planet. Without going into direct spoilers, various things happen and Claude is transported to an unknown location where he encounters and saves Rena. Claude gets mistaken for a mythical hero and gets railroaded into that role to kick off a grand adventure with all the fantasy and science fiction one could ask for.
It’s not the most original story by many measures, but the dual nature of the protagonists puts on a unique spin on classic RPG tropes, and this is further bolstered by a fun cast of characters. I found myself invested in their adventures even if the plot was fairly basic – a lot shines through in the character scenes known as Private Actions.
Private Actions are basically special scenes between specific characters, marked on the Guide Map, and can impact how intimate they are with you or otherwise. Some Private Actions can change the overall plot, which shows itself when making another playthrough. They’re optional, but clearly worth doing to see what will happen and your choices on who you interact with.
On the gameplay side, Star Ocean The Second Story R boasts a real-time action combat system that puts an emphasis on strategy as well as specific mechanics. For example. Using the Break actions allows you to stun enemies by pushing your attack. There’s also the Assault Action, which lets you select an ally outside of your current party to assist.
Battles themselves are fast paced with spells tooled to be more convenient than anything. There’s a lot of animations going off and can be skipped through if you’re tired of seeing them over and over again.
Other RPG elements including item creation, cooking and of course fishing. There’s a lot to do and as a lot of it is purely optional, I never felt too overwhelmed by it. After all, Star Ocean The Second Story R is a game rebuild on a lot of old elements from the past, so it’s expected that they’d be kept around for appearances sake if anything.
All of these things come together as you travel around to different locations with a lot of attention focused on the unique background styles. The presentation is taken up a notch with a dynamic soundtrack that interacts depending on how you approach the world map and enemy encounters.
Did Star Ocean The Second Story R need a remake? That I can’t really tell you, but for new fans this seems to be the way to go in terms of “If I wanted to play Star Ocean 2, where do I start?”
There’s a lot of classic RPG elements between the story and gameplay here, but also attention to modernization that made diving into the remake feel like it wasn’t an encumbrance. The 2.5D sprites are crisp and cute and look quite at place with the 3D backgrounds. The fast-paced gameplay is a blast to play, and even if the story isn’t pushing any boundaries, the colorful cast of characters is at least enjoyable to watch. Star Ocean The Second Story R might not be the biggest game this year, but it’s a solid entry with plenty of love for RPG fans new or old.