Star Ocean: The Second Story R Review – Space Force

Star Ocean: The Second Story R Review - Space Force

Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, PS5

No matter which way you slice it, Star Ocean, as a franchise, has long been one of the underappreciated franchises in the Square-Enix stable of IP. Both fans and Square-Enix themselves have been culprits in failing to give the IP some of the TLC that it truly deserves, and this has led to some less-than-stellar recent entries. As we all often fall victim to judgment based upon the here and now, what gets lost as a result is that some of the earliest games in the franchise were absolute masterpieces. The original title, Star Ocean: First Departure was remastered for modern consoles in 2019, but it is with the sequel, Star Ocean: The Second Story, where Square-Enix has given the Star Ocean franchise the love that is deserves. The Second Story, as well as being arguably the best entry in the franchise, is also now the recipient of an exceptional remake. 

Star Ocean has long been a fascinating IP because it straddles the line between both fantasy and science-fiction. Obviously some entries haven’t landed as well as others but the plot of Star Ocean: The Second Story is a riveting one, and Square-Enix have wisely opted not to tinker with a golden formula. Players assume the roles of either Claude of Rena, Claude a space farer who has been sent out on a mission by his father that goes wrong, leading him to be mysteriously transported to Rena’s planet of residence, Expel. The pair instantly form a connection as Rena has long felt like she doesn’t belong, and Claude absolutely knows that he’s out of his depth as well. In Rena’s quest to explore her own identity and Claude’s endeavour to go home, the pair encounter a wide range of potential party-members who, dependent upon player choice, may become a part of your squad as you journey proceeds. Regardless of who accompanies you, a far greater plot unspools that tethers Claude and Rena’s fates together with that of Expel, Claude’s father’s ship, a new planet, Energy Nede, and the mysterious “Ten Wise Men.” Decades removed and the intrigue of the Second Story R’s plot continues to capture player interest, for players both new and returning.

It’s on a gameplay front where the first traces of change become apparent. Although the core combat systems of the original version of the game remain present, there are numerous quality of life aspects that make this new package much more appealing than the decades on model that wasn’t as well received in the 2019 remastered title. Star Ocean was always ahead of the curb as an action-RPG, but new systems stemming from more recent games have helped improve what was already a great model in 2023. The ability to break opponents, execute perfect counters are among the two most obvious changes, but there are numerous balancing changes, timing alterations, and more that make the remake even more palatable in the current setting. As for exploration, random-encounters are no longer with opponents visible on the map as you traverse the world, fast travel has been added, while several much smaller additions all add up to a Star Ocean: The Second Story R playing experience that will feel fresh for players both old and new. 

What should not be lost sight of are the excellent skill point systems of The Second Story R. With SP being more plentiful in this remake, players have more options to choose from in terms of how they spec out their party, while the addition of BP allows players to separately power-up their battle skills and arts. For those keen on an old-fashioned grind, Star Ocean: The Second Story R gives you plenty to keep chasing with those aforementioned skill point systems giving you vast amounts to try out, but for players looking for a tighter experience, they can still push on without needing to commit an excessive amount of time to their levelling. Star Ocean: The Second Story R adds raid enemies to the world map too, which are hyper-powerful foes that will test the mettle of even the best players, and might perhaps coax out a few more hours of grinding of those enthused by the challenge. 

It’s widely considered that Square-Enix is onto a great thing with it’s HD-2D engine, with it having spat out some extraordinary titles, from Octopath Traveler and it’s 2023 sequel, to Triangle Strategy, LIve A Live Remake, and more, but in the development process of Star Ocean: The Second Story R, they chased something else – HD-2D in 3D. The visuals are certainly one of the primary selling points of this remake, with the game retaining (but still polishing) the 2D sprites of yesteryear, both in terms of protagonists and antagonists, but at the same time, players are thrust into a crisp, beautiful, 3D rendered world. On paper it doesn’t sound like these styles should gel, but in reality, the styles complement each other perfectly well. Characters are more expressive than ever, though the English dub isn’t fantastic with many characters sliding into those anime-inspired voice-acting troupes at times. The sound design itself though is fantastic, with a lot of love having been provided to revitalising the music of the past, allowing it to shine in the modern-day. The final throes of the game are hampered by performance issues that largely impact framemate which leaves a small sour taste in the mouth, which is unfortunate, but only a very small segment of what makes up the 20+ hour experience.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R is not going to be commanding awards at the end of the year, simply due to some of its older systems still not being in vogue now like they once were, however, Square-Enix have provided this franchise the love that it has long deserved with a truly astounding remake. Gemdrops Inc. and Square-Enix have taken what Tri-Ace nailed decades ago, honed in rightly on areas for updating but have been incredibly respectful to the elements it has retained, meaning that we again have a classic RPG that must be replayed in 2023.

Star Ocean The Second Story R was reviewed on PS5 with a code kindly provided by Bandai-Namco Australia

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