The Star Ocean series has a history that spans almost 20 years, features a vast range of games, and has a very loyal fanbase across the world. We’re now set to receive Star Ocean: The Second Story R, a remake of The Second Story with a gorgeous 2.5D aesthetic, new battle mechanics, and a re-arranged soundtrack that’s an absolute treat for the ears. But is this a good entry for new players, and what do these fresh features bring to the game?
Well, we took the opportunity to speak with Star Ocean: The Second Story R’s development producer and director, Yuichiro Kitao, art director, Yukinori Masuda, and producer, Kei Komaki, to learn more about the fresh ideas they brought to the game and the stunning 2.5D style. They even let me know which Star Ocean game I should play next if I love The Second Story R.
I’ve always felt fascinated by Star Ocean, but I’m yet to try out any of the games in the series, partly due to not knowing where to start, so I asked the team if someone like me could start with The Second Story R, or if I should play a different game first to get the full story? Yuichiro Kitao jumped right in and let me know “If you’re new to the series, it’s completely okay for you to start playing with The Second Story. In fact, I would say that we would recommend this as an entry point or a first game to play if you’re new to the Star Ocean series.”
That’s absolute music to my ears, then Kitao sweetens the deal, “Having said that, if you’re someone who’s played other games in the Star Ocean series, or even if you’ve played this game in its original form on the PS1 or PSP, we’ve made a lot of tweaks to make it feel fresh to those players as well”. As a perfect entry for both new fans and old, I’m more than excited to take my first plunge into this series, but now I know it’s a suitable first entry, I can’t help but consider some other aspects of the remake.
I’ve seen that the game features a dual protagonist system that allows you to play through the story as either a young lad named Claude or a girl named Rena. But does this mean I need to play the game twice to get the full story? Or is this more of a Pokémon ‘are you a boy/girl?’ scenario? Kitao lets me know that, “By playing it twice you will get more of an insight into the story and how the characters are feeling at any one time.” He continues, “You’ll get to know things in a little bit more depth if you play it twice, but you don’t have to.”
This is convenient for those of you who have an interest in one protagonist over the other, but I can see myself doing even more than two playthroughs to get the full story and unlock the various endings the game offers. Now, I can’t let you longtime fans miss out on the juicy details, so I asked Kitao what exactly existing players can expect from this remake, “For fans of the Star Ocean series or of JRPGs in general, I think there’s a lot that they can look forward to in The Second Story R”
He continues, “in terms of battles, the difficulty has been tweaked a little bit, so they’re quite challenging, there’s a lot of action gameplay elements that we’ve brought into it that the player has at their disposal”, I can’t comment on the original games difficulty, but an extra challenge is always welcome to me. Kitao also let me know that they’ve “completely redone all of the battle animations and effects to be at modern standards. The battles also have lots of really unique systems in them, the assault action, the bonus gauges, the break system, so there’s a lot there to really sort of experiment and play with.”
But does the game lose any of its pizazz and the things that make it great in this process? Kitao says “the original is well-regarded. It’s a really good game. And it’s a great experience, even if you play it in the modern day. So we absolutely didn’t want to detract from that in any way at all. We considered long and hard about what kind of elements it was okay to add.” This obviously comes with challenges, you don’t want to alienate your existing fanbase, and it seems the team is well aware of that. “There were certain times where we tried something out and then we decided no, this isn’t adding what we want to let’s roll that back,” Kitao said.
In my opinion, many modern remakes take things too far and can detract from the elements fans love. In this instance, though, it seems The Second Story R is a labor of love, with every new element considered thoroughly by the team. “One of the things that we did introduce was this assault attack system, where the party characters who aren’t in your main party can hop into battle and help out with an attack or two. And you know, at the end of the day, RPGs are about going on an adventure with your party. So we really wanted to bring them into the game in a more you know, into the battles in a more central way”, Kitao said.
Small tweaks that elevate the battle system and allow you to connect with your party more deeply are very welcome changes, and I’d love to see more classics remade with this sort of love and care (Final Fantasy 9 remake I’m looking at you…).
I’m personally a big fan of retro JRPGs and really appreciate unique art styles and worlds that, despite not looking photorealistic, still manage to enthrall the audience, and it sounds like The Second Story R does just that. Kitao has a unique perspective on the game’s world; “I think you know, as a player, it almost feels like you yourself have become a little sprite, a little pixel in this world running around and exploring things from that perspective, which I think is something that’s really unique in terms of the graphic style of this game and something that people can enjoy hopefully.”
Then Yukinori Masuda jumps in, “We have this contrast between the more photorealistic backgrounds and the pixel sprites of the characters. And we wanted to have the sense of nostalgia with the pixel sprites of characters.”
He continues, “to have the pixel sprites stand out and capture that sort of retro nostalgic feeling, we haven’t blurred them, they’re quite sharp. But then they were perhaps standing out too much. So we achieved more of a balance by using shading, giving them more of a 3D feel at the same time as being 2D pixels with the use of lighting and shadows from other objects falling on the characters. I think that balance and those adjustments were one of the more difficult challenges and part of the art style”
Despite never dabbling in these games myself, I’ve always been aware of the visual style of Star Ocean, and how the games have always maintained a beautiful balance between stunning fantasy-esque environments and futuristic space-themed elements. With such a striking style, I was interested to hear how these elements were brought forward into 2.5D.
“I think that you’re likely to have seen a lot of the more sort of fantasy-inspired backgrounds and environments thus far in this game.” Masuda says, “But there are more sort of space-focused places that will appear. I think, when compared to the original, you’ll also see that these areas now feel more sort of detail-rich, more realistic. So we have tried to achieve a balance between the science fiction and the fantasy elements by building on that idea”
So we’ve gone over the new battle mechanics, the vibrant pixelated characters, and the detail-rich world… But there must be a fancy new soundtrack to accompany that, right? Well, not only is there a re-arranged soundtrack, but a brand new voice track as well. Don’t worry if you’re a purist though, as Kitao let me know, “This game includes both the updated soundtrack and the original soundtrack. Players can switch between either at any time they like, the same is true for the voice track”
He also went into what he believes this fresh music brings to the game. “The live orchestration means that it has a richer sound to it,” he said.“When it comes to the event scenes, Sakuraba went back in and really looked at matching the music and timing and everything perfectly. And sort of tweaked things overall just to give it that extra bit of polish. […] I do think the new soundtrack is wonderful”
To me, it sounds like the whole team is so passionate about this project, and everything they do comes together in a gorgeous, neat little package. I’m very excited to make my first foray into the Star Ocean universe. But once I’ve had my first taste, I can’t help but think I’ll need more, and worry I’ll get in a rut again and not know where to go from The Second Story R, so I got the details right from the horse’s mouth and asked which Star Ocean game I should play next?
This got a quick chuckle out of the team before Kitao jumped in to tell me to just play Second Story R again! “You mentioned the dual protagonist system earlier. So if people finish their first playthrough and they’re excited to play more Star Ocean, then I’d recommend another playthrough! We can’t simply separate them out into the science fiction hero and the fantasy hero. But they do have a different approach to how they see the world and there are different discoveries in terms of the story and in terms of the characters.”
Okay, okay, but then what? “If people have played both stories and they still want more, which is great, then we’d love them to try picking up the latest installment in the Star Ocean series, Star Ocean 6 for example.”
It was very clear by speaking to the team that a lot of love went into The Second Story R, and I hope all of the folks out there like me who are yet to experience this world finally take the plunge. I want to express a big thank you to Yuichiro Kitao, Yukinori Masuda, and Kei Komaki for their time, and good luck with the launch!