For those who don’t listen to the Nintendo Entertainment Podcast, you should know that the Star Ocean franchise has a unique place in my gaming heart. Before playing the game for this review, I had only played Star Ocean Til The End of Time on PS2. It’s a game I still love dearly because of its story, gameplay, and more. I even maintain that it was one of the games that led me to go to college for video game development. And now, my Star Ocean The Second Story R Review will highlight how I enjoyed another title in this series.
Game Name: Star Ocean The Second Story R
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4, Steam, PC
Publisher(s): Square Enix
Developer(s): Square Enix
Release Date: November 2nd, 2023
Price: $49.99 | Square Enix
To start this review, I must remind you that this is a remake of the PS1 classic. It was ported to the PSP, but the version I’m reviewing, which I played on the Nintendo Switch, got the full 2.5HD treatment alongside some gameplay boosts. All of this made it a great experience for the most part and set the tone for all future 2.5HD titles, both original and remake.
In fact, that’s the first thing I want to talk about! If you look at the picture above and the ones below, you’ll see that this game got a serious visual overhaul. I even looked up the PSP port for some context on certain endings (via YouTube) and saw how things looked there, and it’s not even close. The detail in the 2D art and sprites is impressive, and when you mix that with the 3D-modeled world, the cities and areas you’re in truly come to life. I’ve enjoyed other games in this visual style, including the Octopath Traveler titles and Live A Live (another game I enjoyed and reviewed), but this one takes the cake.
The way you can move around the world, rotate the camera in the open-world sections, and beyond helps add more depth to this kind of visual style. I’m serious in saying that this is the new visual standard that Square Enix should shoot for. It’s beautiful to look at, and I’m sure they can find ways to improve it even more!
Plus, there were incredible cutscenes using the 3D models that really popped, and I wonder what they could do with other titles now that they know they can push things this far.
Going to the plot, another thing I must clarify for my Star Ocean The Second Story R Review is that this story has two protagonists you can play as. You can be the Pangalactic Federation Officer Claude C. Kenny or the young magic user Rena from a medieval world. Outside of certain scenes, you can only view the other character, and certain party members join you depending on who you pick. I picked Claude, and I know generally what happened in Rena’s run. But that inherently makes it a game you can replay multiple times as you try to get the other party members and see things from the other person’s perspective.
Like other games in this series, the plot begins with Claude stranded in an “undeveloped world” where he’s forced to partake in certain events to try and save its people. He soon learns he’s a “hero of destiny” and must help figure out the truth behind the mysterious object, the “Sorcery Globe.” Said globe is causing havoc all over the realm, including leveling a city you’re in at one point!
In truth, it’s a very “RPG-style” story where you’ll be in a fantasy world most of the time, recruiting many characters. Then, you’ll head to the sci-fi part of the game, where you visit other worlds and learn about the game’s true villains.
Don’t get me wrong, while it is “standard” in some ways, it’s still a fun story. There were some genuine plot twists that I didn’t see coming, and I enjoyed learning the backstories of certain characters, seeing the fantasy and sci-fi elements coming together, and more. Plus, you’ll REALLY hate the villains when they emerge because of a truly heinous act they do just to jump-start their plan to destroy the universe. The Ten Wise Men are interesting villains, and they’re a pain in the butt to defeat at times. Speaking of which…
The gameplay of the title is something that is fast, frenetic, and easy to get lost in (for better AND for worse.) Once you get enough party members, you’ll make a four-person squad to fight against numerous monsters on the battlefield. You can choose what character can be the “Leader” (as in, the one you play as at the battle’s start), you can guide characters on what to do, and even switch between characters on the fly.
With numerous characters to recruit, each with their own styles, spells, and abilities, you’ll have fun working out which to use. For me, my party was Claude, Rena, Celine and Ashton. I had a nice balance between physical prowess and magical ability, and it worked…most of the time. This is another area where the game shines because the battlefields can be quite beautiful to behold between the monsters, characters, and their attacks, especially for certain spells that require cutscenes to “summon.”
Plus, the battle system has numerous ways to upgrade your characters via equipment, making combos of their abilities, leveling up those abilities, and even giving them “inherent skills” that will passively activate at random times during the fight. I’ve won and lost battles because of those random skills, so you’ll want to pay attention to them.
One thing I definitely appreciated later on in the game was being able to have “chain battles” where I’d fight foes one after another, drastically increasing the money and EXP I got in the process. When you do it, right? You can easily jump a level or two by the end of that chain, which can be a godsend by the time you reach the final bosses.
Moving to the characters, I did enjoy most of the ones I met, and I’ll admit I didn’t recruit all the ones possible in Claude’s run, which could get me to go back to it later on. The ones I did meet, like Celine, Ashton, Precis, Welch, Noel, and more, were all unique, and you could unlock special “Personal Actions” with them to incite special conversations or learn more about their characters. Part of the fun of the game was getting a new character and then jumping from one point of the map to another just to unlock more personal actions and events to see where they went. Sure, not all the characters are deep, but you’ll have fun with them, especially as you build your “perfect squad.”
Also, as any longtime Star Ocean fan knows, there’s a TON of depth within the game’s systems. I mentioned some of them, but there are certain “skills” that you can give to any character and then improve them to let them learn special abilities not used in battle that can help you in the long run. For example, you can have characters be master smiths so that they can build or forge items for you. Or you can be a writer to help improve your combat skills! Or perhaps you’ll learn medicine to give you healing items. All of that is on the table and more!
However, that’s sadly one of the down parts of the game.
There are numerous elements in my Star Ocean The Second Story R Review that I need to point out on the “downside,” and the first is that while the numerous systems to improve your character are great, they can be extremely overwhelming. At first, they start out slow, and then you get a BUNCH you can use. I understood, in general, how to use them, but using them PROPERLY was another story, and at times, I couldn’t tell what I was supposed to use them for!
Then, when things started to stack up, and I felt I could use the BP and SP to improve myself more, I struggled to wonder if I was powering up my characters properly. I thought I was! But I honestly don’t know, and I had to look up guides for certain things just to help myself out, as the game wasn’t as helpful as I would’ve liked with those systems.
That brings me back to the battle system. While I did enjoy it, and I did have fun using it by the end of the game, I had some serious frustration issues. Specifically, when you get to certain monsters and the Ten Wise Men, the fights are so broken that I was getting wiped out in two shots, even on the easiest difficulty. For context, there was one battle with two of the Ten Wise Men, and one of them had a fire attack that blanketed the whole field, and I couldn’t withstand it outside of luck. I was at level 86 or higher at the time, and I couldn’t withstand their attacks on the EASIEST mode!
Also, I had incredibly powerful weapons on my characters, including forging the strongest weapon in the game for Claude, and I STILL only beat them because of luck. Did I fail to utilize the other systems properly? Or did I not upgrade my characters enough? I seriously don’t know, and that’s frustrating, considering that not everyone will want to look up guides to go through the game; they’ll want to play things their way and see how far they get. So, there could be some serious rage quitting by the end of the title.
As for the characters, while I did enjoy many of them, some felt more…cookie-cutter than others, and I apparently missed the opportunity to recruit some for reasons I’m unsure about despite doing all the events presented to me. Plus…there was the “love story” that was…to be blunt…beaten over our heads.
In the game, certain “Personal Actions” you take, or who you use in combat, will influence who is “friendly” with one another and who can fall in love with whom. This influences the 99 ENDINGS that are in the game. No, that’s not a typo. They seriously have 99 endings in this game. However, the game makes it VERY clear that Claude and Rena are meant to be together, and they do various things to make that clear. For example, when Claude faints in battle, he’ll often cry out “Rena,” and then in certain cutscenes, they can’t stay away from one another and even admit that they “don’t know what they’d do without the other.”
This is odd for numerous reasons, not the least of which is that Precis, Welch, and likely some of the other ladies I didn’t meet make it clear that they’re into Claude. Moreover, I thought he and Celine would be a nice pairing and shot for that, I got the “indication” that this would happen, and then, RIGHT at the end of the game, it somehow got flipped to where Rena was his “partner” and not Celine…and I have no idea why.
Then, when I looked up the endings with Claude and the other female characters, some of the pairings had the most…basic…of endings, or ones that didn’t even indicate they were a couple, and then Rena’s was the only one where they showed they were in love…by having a baby. For a game about “options,” that pairing felt very restrictive.
Finally, while the game’s plot was fun overall and had some great cutscenes, the ending was incredibly rushed. They go from saving the universe to being back on the Planet Expel (where you play most of the game) and don’t explain what happens immediately afterward. So when you do get the ending cutscenes, you’re left confused about how you got to certain places. Such as how Claude ended up back with the Federation when his only “connection” to it was destroyed via his father’s ship.
But please, don’t let my Star Ocean The Second Story R Review make you think this game is bad because of what I pointed out. It really was fun, and I was always eager to see what happened next. With two protagonists, many party options, and numerous ways to build up the characters, you could easily do multiple playthroughs without getting bored. Isn’t that what a good RPG is all about?
Star Ocean The Second Story R Review
Star Ocean The Second Story R is a beautiful recreation of a wonderful RPG. It gives players plenty of options and multiple viewpoints to try the story out on. If you’re looking for a classic-style RPG to play, I recommend this one!