We’re trapped in an endless cycle of remakes and remasters and that’s bad for the industry for some reason! Despair! Okay, now that you’re done despairing, let’s think about this in a more rational way – sometimes it’s just fine to take a classic game and spice it up for a contemporary landscape. Something like Square Enix’s Live A Live is a great example of exactly this.
And that’s certainly the case with Star Ocean: The Second Story R, a remake of a previously-remade PlayStation JRPG classic that’s packed with enough magic, sci-fi and adventure to put the modern greats to shame.
When an expedition on an unexplored planet goes wrong, Claude finds himself transported to the medieval world of Expel. There, he meets Rena, an Expelian unaware of his nature as a starfarer but harboring secrets of her own. Together, the two go on a quest to uncover a threat befalling both Expel and the galaxy writ large, assembling a team of adventurers to help them save the day. They’ll also do a lot of cooking and maybe publish a few novels while they’re at it. You know what they say about all work and no play, after all.
This is a remake of a remake of a game from the 1990s! That means it’s going to have something of a different feel from more modern RPGs. You can choose to play as Claude or Rena, though the differences are frankly pretty minor – one playable character each, a few story segments here and there, and that’s about it. Along with the two protagonists, you can assemble a party of up to six others, with several of your options being mutually exclusive. This encourages multiple playthroughs of this surprisingly lengthy game, since there’s absolutely going to be characters and scenes you aren’t able to see in a given run.
That’s a surprisingly gutsy move, and it’s one I love to see in games. There’s a level of courage involved in creating content that you’re fully aware many of your players will never see, and in Star Ocean: The Second Story R’s case, that’s more common than you might think. At least two of the playable characters are well-hidden, but if discovered they’ll join early enough that they provide a whole range of new scenes throughout the remainder of the game. Those scenes – called Private Actions – are another of the game’s standout features; they’re Tales-style skits offering humorous interactions and character growth, but it’s possible to completely ignore them if one so chooses.
While we’re on the subject of completely optional content, there’s an absurdly detailed crafting system called Item Creation that makes up a significant portion of extracurricular activities. You can use it to create new weapons, armor, accessories, healing food, deadly poisons, novels you can sell to a publishing house for royalties…or you can just kind of ignore it all without missing a bit of the game’s main story. Along with creating new items, there’s Specialty skills that enable the party to play buffing music, call a mount and more. There’s hours of futzing about ahead of you if you so choose, but at no point does the game insist on any of it.
As for what you’ll do with the characters you recruit and the stuff you gear them with, Star Ocean: The Second Story R’s got plenty of monsters to bash in standard action-RPG style. Your heroes are split into fighters and mages, with the former utilizing special moves and the latter slinging spells, and you’ll go into combat with a party of four. Your options are fairly limited; this is a classic game, after all, so you’re lucky to get two special moves and a basic combo attack per fighter. The mages just have their spells!
Battles are interesting early in the game, as you learn how each of your characters fights and strive to find their best moves and equipment, but later on things turn into something of a mess as flashy skills and spells go off all over the place against fast-moving enemies. At a certain point, you’ll get more out of ensuring you properly prepared your team before fights rather than actually controlling them in the heat of the moment, which is sure to hold varying appeal to different players. I’d never say that combat here is bad, but it’s certainly not the most cerebral affair.
At least one of the updates provided in this remake-remake is to make enemies visible on the map. There’s many similar improvements, in fact, and that makes Star Ocean: The Second Story R one of the better remakes around. Item creation is much faster, grinding for levels is much easier when you feel the need to do so, and the graphics are fantastic, providing a combination of classic pre-rendered goodness and modern technology that results in a style all this game’s own. There’s even numerous choices when it comes to your soundtrack and voice acting, including a fantastic new Japanese voice track that includes voicing many of the Private Action skits.
Indeed, taking a fantastic base and using contemporary advances to make it even better ought to be the heart and soul of modern remakes. That this is so uncommon is both a bit of a bummer and a great recommendation for Star Ocean: The Second Story R, a true classic JRPG brought into the modern age with uncommon style and panache. Regardless if you’re a long-time fan or a newcomer to the series, there’s no question this is one adventure worth taking. Or retaking.