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Review | Star Ocean: The Second Story R

"How often do we play remakes of the games we used and still love? I would say quite often – this year and the recent gaming history shows that remakes and remasters are flooding the market. But this one is simply brilliant!"

by Foggy, 14-11-2023, Edited by: No one (yet!)

My most favourite Star Ocean game is this one. Back in year 2000 it came out on the PS1. It was one of many JRPG gems in that period. Voice acting, multiple characters, dynamic storytelling… It was all there, and it was damn good. 9 years later the ported PSP version came out, but I never experienced it. I’ve played the first game in the series on the PSP, and I wanted to play this one on PS4 or PS5. When they announced a remake, I was really happy. Many years have passed, it was time for replaying on of my favourite games.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and Microsoft Windows; from November 2, 2023. There is no excuse to skip it now, especially when this is in my opinion the best version of the game (although not the hardest, but we will get to that).

It's as good as I remember it! To be honest, even better. Claude is not Cloud, but he can wield that sword and talk about nonsense. The world is livelier than ever. I prefer his playthrough.

When we talk the “remake” language, we can say a few positive things. This is not a full remake in terms of graphics and such. The character models are intentionally the same as in the previous versions (with new menu art and English dubs), while the backgrounds received a modern pixel-art remake treatment that simply looks stunning. The visuals are eye-candy. They look gorgeous on 4K televisions. Maybe this kind of remake is my favourite one – don’t touch what ain’t broken but fix what got on our nerves in the past. And they did exactly that – upscaled and remade the graphics while keeping the soul and the flow of the original game.

The game offers 2 protagonists – Claude and Rena. Playing with Claude starts his adventure. They differ, but not too much. Still, it’s enough to keep you interested if you want to play both storylines. I’m a much bigger fan of Claude than Rena, but Rena can recruit better characters. There are some split story moments when Rena runs of, and Claude follows the other path – on such occasions you play different parts of the game depending on your starting choice. They game also offers a variety of optional characters you can recruit on your journey – mostly all can be recruited by playing with both characters, but 2 are tied to Claude or Rena. All the scenes you witness will have somewhat different lines depending on which 8 (up to 8) characters you recruit. You can also finish the game solo, but I’m not such a hardcore fan to try that. The choices you made for your party is what makes your playthrough unique, and that is one of the best aspects of the game.

What would you do if you got teleported to another planet? I would level up, buy skills and find party members. That is exactly what they are doing! Yeah, the journey is a regular one, but in space. Don't forget about the music, it simply stands out.

In terms of story, I’m satisfied. Even though I’m not 19 years old as Claude is, I still find the story and the characters interesting enough. Maybe the main plot is not mind-blowing, but I simply enjoyed the scenes and private actions you can witness. Private actions are like bonding events with characters you have in the party, and this time you can fast-travel to previously visited locations, while the game shows icons for events and these actions when they become available. I think this is a good improvement as it shows the player when something gets available. It’s better than missing out on many missable events. If you watch private action events with a character, you raise either friendship or relationship points in between you and that character, or any other that is in the scene. That affects the endings (there are 99 different endings!). Don’t worry, unlocking a different ending can be setup by using books that you can craft, so you can watch many endings by simply beating the final boss again and again in the post-game events.

Other QOL improvements are in the skills area, specialties, the mentioned fast-travel (I love that one), new weapons, new items, fishing, assault actions in battles… Nothing much, but it just works. All of these made the game a bit easier, but still, beating the optional boss fights is not an easy task and requires a lot of preparation. I’m sad that there aren’t more sidequests, more new optional dungeons and such stuff. It’s like 1-1 like the original with a few fixes and enhancements.

Honestly, if all PS1 games are remade like this one, I would be more happier than with FF7R. This keeps the soul of the games, it doesn't change the "aftertaste". By completing the game I feel satisfied and on track with what I remember from the PS1.

English dub is good. I prefer older dub in the PS1 version, but this one is also good. A lot of scenes are voiced. You can set them on “auto” mode to sit back and watch them without having to press buttons. The game is improved for you to enjoy. I know I did.

When it comes to RPG elements; the progression and skills – this is where the game shines. There is so much to grasp, but ultimately, it’s not that complicated. There are battle skills that will improve your blocking, dodge or speed, or specialties that raise your attributes and unlocks specialties like crafting, cooking and many more. Using them can unlock awesome equipment earlier, and of course it's here to craft the best equipment much later. You can also cook, replicate, play music… So much to enjoy. I don’t want to spoil it, just spend your points to make yourself stronger.

I mentioned Assault actions. You can unlock special SO characters and bind them to D-pad buttons with usage cooldown in between. Using an assault action is like calling a party member from the reserve to attack with set skill. This means you can bind some party member from reserve to heal or do something else, while having 4 other party members in the active team. Alongside of that you can set a certain formation that activates different bonuses when you chain battles without dying – there is one that raises 100% Exp and defence. These are the perks of this remake, and I welcome them. Without them the game is harder, but honestly, I just wanted to enjoy and play while feeling fresh in terms of already completed game, and this is exactly that.

You will have to endure some boss fights to survive. Some fights you will have to run away from. But then, in some, you will masacre everyone in 5 seconds. Combat is simple but fun, especially when you start preparing for the ultimate post-game challenges.

You can either fight or dodge enemies on the map. This also works decently, maybe you want to avoid battles, so you simply run past enemies. There are special skills like Bodyguard which can win battles without entering them. If you’re higher level than the enemy, having this skill activated will kill these enemies and grant exp. They added everything you need to remind yourself how great this game is.

The downside of the battles is the enemy variety, and maybe the lack of some new challenges. There are Raid Battles – something like elite enemies; but I really wish there was more. They just feel like re-skin of optional dungeon boss fights. Nevertheless, I had my share of fun. Maybe the combat is something the most of you out there will find lacking – it all comes down to mashing some combination, mostly attack if you go with multiple hit accessories.

Maybe the best thing are the challenges. You can’t buy skills anymore; you need to finish Guild challenges or Missions. Missions comes in 4 categories, and they are something like “kill 100 enemies” or similar. Guild missions are alike, but there is only 60+. You can exchange completed missions for rewards, new skills etc. It makes the RPG part even more fun.

The return of the world map fills my heart. I love it, so much. Fishing is also a valid addition. And of course, romancing your party members. Rena is my sweetheart, but others are my lovers!

Overall, I think this is one of the best remakes that I’ve played. I struggle to find a downside. All the improvements made the game fresh and replaying it 2 times was really great if you ask me. I would suggest this one to all genre enthusiasts out there.

Maybe the story written for 19 years old protagonists are not your thing, but as I said, good characters is what matters in that process. If you like Octopath Traveler games, this one was better/is better. Maybe the world map exploration feels a bit lacking, but I'm just glad it's here. This is where I stop - if I mention all there is, this review would go on and on. Instead of that, buy the game and enjoy what most consider to be the best in the series. And the music… Oh my God, the soundtrack kicks so much ass!

"One of the best remakes out there. Simply keeping the spirit of the first version with slight improvements and better graphics is all we really need in games we once loved/still love."
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