Having spent hours from my teenage years going through the PSP remakes for the first two Star Ocean titles, I was more than thrilled to review Star Ocean The Second Story R, the further-enhanced remake of the title released for the PS1 back in 1998.
Remaking and updating a game to modern standards while keeping the unique aspects that made it special would be no easy endeavor. But Gemdrops took the task upon themselves, and I’d say they did a pretty damn good job on that by delivering us the best way yet to enjoy this classic space opera story.
A Whole New Galaxy to Behold
With its dual-protagonist system, the adventure follows the story of either Claude or Rena. The events unfolded will be mostly the same, with only a few portions differing according to which one you pick. Both characters have their personal journeys, and the stars hold all the answers they’re seeking. This is the second title in the series, but it shares little connection to its predecessor and can be fully enjoyed as a stand-alone adventure.
Star Ocean was one of the many RPG series published by Enix (before they merged with Squaresoft) back in the 90s. The second title’s PSP remake is the basis for Second Story R, and you’ll quickly find yourself at home if you played it back in the day, with a few very welcoming additions found along the way.
The first major difference is in its completely remade looks. The promotion from 2D to 2.5D-styled graphics represents both an engine upgrade and the game’s own goal of settling itself as a “modern classic” that embraces both tradition and modernity. The game looks better than ever did, and having cooler new ambient visuals and character portraits help immensely with that.
There are also many impactful changes, such as introducing fast travel (the game would be borderline impossible without it, to be honest), revamping the combat system, and adding extra features like fishing and a collection of Unique Spots. The game looks and feels retro, but introduces all of these modern changes that turn it into an exceptionally enjoyable experience.
Despite the looks, combat is action-based instead of turn-based. But complexity has been added with the introduction of a new dodge button. Enemies (and the party) now also have a “Break” bar, and depleting it renders the target stunned for a bit. Special Arts and Spells were rebalanced to specifically target an enemy’s HP bar, Break bar, or both, and almost all abilities were remade to accompany these changes. Also, no more pausing during spell casts!
These changes make combat way more interactive than the usual “spam strong Spell/Art to win.” Mages are better now thanks to a higher damage ceiling, and that old stigma that melee fighters are always better is fortunately gone. Enemies have also adapted to this reality, so be ready.
A completely new VA cast breathes life into the extensive main cast. But only if you’re playing with Japanese audio, of course. English voice acting and script are exactly the same as the PSP version. Like, literally the same. You can see it by yourself by comparing scenes on YouTube. Fortunately, localization still slaps even after all these years, so it’s not that much of a bummer.
While this technically spoils the (absence of) new story content, there are still new activities that weren’t present in any of the game’s previous incarnations, as well as new unlockable weapons and challenges. Don’t expect much extra voice acting, though.
Octopath Traveler fans may enjoy it for the similar art style, and the game might also appeal to those who recently played the similarly-named Sea of Stars. And one of the main similarities between all of these titles is found in their character-driven narratives.
Where Did All These People Come From?
The story is as JRPG-ey as it can get. Claude gets isekai’ed into a new planet and meets Rena, a girl who doesn’t know her real parents and possesses remarkable healing powers that no one has seen before. The duo’s journey across Expel (and beyond) searching for answers is packed with chance encounters with unique figures from all across the universe.
One of Star Ocean’s main quirks is crafting your own party as you wish. Claude and Rena are the only mandatory characters, while the 11 other possible members are entirely optional and sometimes require specific sidequests to be recruited. You can only have up to 8 characters simultaneously (including the protag duo), so that’s another point for replayability.
While the story revolves around the mandatory duo, throwing new characters into the blender has significant repercussions. You get to experience side stories that add context to future scenes, and some scenarios might be vastly different depending on who’s present. Characters are actively changing the world around you and are often more interesting than the main plot itself.
This is where Second Story R thrives, as mixing up your party compositions in each playthrough unlocks different scenarios between the cast. The main story isn’t bad, but character interactions are the selling point here, especially with so many diverse individuals constantly clashing their worldviews with each other. Two playthroughs with completely different characters wouldn’t be enough to see all possible events.
Events are found in the form of Private Actions, or PAs for short. They can be triggered in cities and might get you some exclusive items while also providing more characterization for the cast, as well as altering friendship values between the characters. These values affect the special “endings” you get, another staple in the franchise.
PAs range from having a massive impact on the story to just being some heartwarming, slice-of-life scenes between the cast. You have somber events like a kid grieving their parent’s death to some really out-of-pocket moments when characters get more self-aware than they should.
You only use four characters at once, but benched team members also receive experience and can partake in battle through the new Assault system. They might do better in your team as an occasional summon instead of an active combatant. This guarantees that everyone gets a vital role in your party, even if it’s just as support.
Plant Plus Rock Makes a Good Defibrillator
Another important aspect of Star Ocean is how deep its systems can get. Unlocking new Abilities with points obtained in battle can unlock Specialties, which can later help unlock Super Specialties that can also get a boost if your character has a certain Talent. They may be able to develop new Talents with enough effort.
Builds are simple at their core, but Specialties (the game’s “professions”) add a whole new layer to them. They’re unlocked by leveling particular Abilities, although the grind can be cut down by making items that instantly level them. Some characters have an easier time with certain Specialties than others, so everyone’s unique in a certain way.
Eventually, you’ll have enough points to max out everything, but most of your early game is learning how to balance Specialties between your cast. A melee physical fighter character is best suited for Cooking since it requires leveling the Knife ability, which increases STR, for example.
Those Specialties go a long way. Some will give you new ways of exploring the world, while others can give you various buffs or even create new items. But my favorite is Pickpocketing, which is exactly what its name suggests. No one is safe from your sticky fingers. Party members, royalty, elders or children, the whole world is your target. And mugging is actually one of the best ways to get good items early.
When it comes to item creation, space is the limit with a seemly infinite myriad of options in your hands. You’re free to create any overpowered weapon/armor piece at any moment in the game as long as you have the correct Specialties and items. Leveling certain abilities can get you random items, so it’s only a matter of save scumming to get what you need to assemble the perfect equipment.
You can easily break the game with some well-known combinations, but finding out new, crazier methods is where the real fun is. Specialties can give you some crazy RNG results by combining herbs with other seemingly random materials to get the best resurrecting items in the game or working metals so they can become the perfect accessories for your mages. Add a shiny rock to a regular sword, and you might get an incredible weapon that carries you for most of the game.
And surprisingly, dedicating some time to those side activities is more enjoyable than it should be. I had a great time filling my Fishing Log, for example, and all of those exquisite pieces of equipment I got along the way made it even better. It’s all another grind at the end of the day, but anything goes as long as you enjoy it.
The fact that you can simply ignore those systems during a whole playthrough is also interesting, as you can make the game as much of a challenge as you want. You can choose to do any of the many infinite money methods to gear up for the upcoming fights or avoid these altogether for a harsher, “purer” experience.
A Cozy Adventure Through New Lenses
The overall experience in this title makes it a great comfort title if you don’t feel like overthinking. Sure, you can spend hours planning your next steps and crafting the perfect items, but you can just say, “screw it,” and have some fun by mashing buttons and killing monsters with flashy skills. Combat is still relatively simple to pick up, except in the higher difficulties.
And this game is long. I mean really long. Maybe it drags for too long, but that’s also relative. But it highly incentivizes multiple playthroughs, so expect to be here for a good while if you’re really invested. An entire run can last from 60 to 80 hours, depending on your pace, so sit back and take your time exploring the galaxy. The game’s as beautiful as ever, so enjoy your ride.
This is more of a personal thing, but as a veteran of the previous remake, launching the game on my Steam Deck for the first time instantly unlocked memories of me playing on the PSP on numerous afternoons after school. My old 3010 model might not work anymore and has a stuffed battery, but it was my loyal companion for years and deserves a small shoutout.
How can I say it? Playing it on a portable device somehow felt like the “right” way to do it for me. I’d probably go for the Switch version if I didn’t have a PC or a Deck. Maybe it’s just nostalgia kicking in, but I enjoyed it much more on the smaller Deck screen than on my way bigger monitor, and if I were to guess, I’d say I’m not the only one who might feel like that.
Second Story R is the perfect example of an old game brought to a modern age where games are constantly fighting for your free time and money. It takes everything good from the PSP version and adapts it to the contemporary gaming scene, making it way more accessible for newcomers and enjoyable for veterans.
Progress is smooth and faster, but the game is still a classic RPG in its roots. You can still grind for hours and discover hundreds of hidden secrets on the run, but the wonky old systems and obnoxious restrictions are mostly gone, making it stand out as the definitive way of enjoying this story. Tryhards and casuals both will love to dump some hours here.
Be aware that repetition and grinding are always around, just like they usually are in those older titles. Don’t forget the unholy amount of dialogue, too. If that’s not your thing or you simply don’t have time for that anymore, there are plenty of other good titles out there, as this is merely a silly niche game. But it’s worth giving it a shot if you’re part of that silly niche public.
Second Story R isn’t the holy grail of RPGs, but letting you pull things like mugging your own party members, having them all hate you, and then giving them a book that makes them love you again is just priceless. Unique experiences come in many different ways, sometimes in the form of friendly robbery. All of that happening during an epic space odyssey.
Star Ocean The Second Story R
A timeless title that finally got the definitive version it deserves.
- Perfect RPG for newcomers and veterans alike.
- Many QoL changes and new features compared to other versions.
- Hours of side content and a huge replayability factor.
- You can steal candy from children.
- Story might feel sluggish at times.
- Some systems take some time to understand.
- People reprimand you for stealing from children.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PC.