Saying that the unique PlayStation was a treasure trove of RPGs is a little bit of an understatement. However even with that assertion, Star Ocean: The Second Story stays a standout to many RPG followers. Its mix of sci-fi and traditional fantasy, motion fight, and crunchy synth tunes hit a specific chord again within the late ‘90s. This was the West’s first publicity to the Star Ocean collection – and for a lot of, the collection has by no means reached these highs from 1998.
However Star Ocean is a collection that began manner again on the Tremendous Famicom. Regardless of its Nintendo origins, Star Ocean has usually remained adrift from Nintendo platforms. 2001’s Blue Sphere – a Sport Boy Shade spin-off and sequel to The Second Story – and Star Ocean: First Departure R, a remaster of a PSP title, stay the one two different video games within the collection to launch on a Nintendo console.
The unique PlayStation title might be the preferred entry within the venerable collection, and that explains why Star Ocean: The Second Story R‘s preliminary reveal was so nicely obtained. It is a remake of a PlayStation favorite, and it launches on 2nd November 2023, simply months after the sport’s twenty fifth anniversary in Japan (thirtieth July, 1998). There’s no higher time to launch a remake in our thoughts, and that’s what the builders appear to assume, too.
“We obtained a request from Sq. Enix to do one thing memorable” Gemdrops CEO and director and producer of the remake Yuichiro Kitao informed us in a current video name. “With the discharge of Star Ocean 6 [The Divine Force] final 12 months, we have been capable of get newcomers into the collection, however we additionally needed them to grasp what the Star Ocean collection is.”
Kitao-san was joined by Motoi Sakuraba, the collection’ composer, who says that the collection “means so much” to him. It’s clear that this remake is one constructed from ardour – to present the followers what they need, but in addition reintroduce a traditional to the world and make it extra accessible.
A Sea of Stars
With the discharge of Star Ocean 6 final 12 months, we have been capable of get newcomers into the collection, however we additionally needed them to grasp what the Star Ocean collection is.”
The collection’ historical past is necessary to understanding simply why The Second Story is held in excessive regard amongst RPG followers. Star Ocean on the Tremendous Famicom is notable for being tri-Ace’s very first online game. The studio was fashioned by former Wolf Staff employees who labored on one other franchise-starting motion RPG on the Tremendous Famicom – Tales of Phantasia – and equally, the sport broke many visible and audio boundaries. Its intensive visuals demanded the usage of a particular compression chip, the S-DD1, plus it used voice appearing and real-time fight (or as real-time because the Tremendous Famicom may deal with).
The unique Tremendous Famicom recreation by no means got here out within the West as a result of Enix America stopped publishing video games in 1995 resulting from poor gross sales. As a substitute, anybody who needed to attempt the primary Star Ocean recreation had to take action by way of emulation and a fan translation from DeJap Translations, who additionally created the favored fan translation for Tales of Phantasia. We’d have to attend till the PSP remake to get an official style of the collection’ origins.
What makes Star Ocean so distinctive in comparison with many different RPG franchises is the way it handles characters and character interactions. Personal Actions are further scenes that will let you spend extra time with supporting characters in your celebration, and construct up an affection meter that may have an effect on the endings. For the sooner titles within the collection, relying on the alternatives you make and the characters you recruit to your celebration, you could be locked out of getting sure characters in your playthrough, or you will have to recruit them a lot later. A completionist’s nightmare for positive, nevertheless it makes selections and actions really feel consequential and encourages a number of playthroughs.
All of this was current in Star Ocean: The Second Story on PlayStation, which ended up being most individuals’s introduction to the collection. A reasonably in-depth crafting system was added – which finally ends up being very important to getting via the later parts of the sport – and also you had the choice of selecting between two protagonists: Claude C. Kenny, an Ensign of the Pangalactic Federation and son of Ronyx J. Kenny from the primary recreation, and Rena Lanford, a younger woman who lives on the underdeveloped planet of Expel.
What’s a JRPG?
Star Ocean: The Second Story R takes the beloved traditional and turns it into one thing that feels each nostalgic and new. It’s not a port or rerelease of the PSP remake Star Ocean: Second Evolution in the identical manner that Star Ocean: First Departure R was for the primary entry. It retains the essence of the unique pixel-art motion RPG whereas making fashionable enhancements to the visuals and gameplay – however not sufficient to stray from its roots.
We requested Kitao about what sort of expertise he dropped at the desk for this remake, having labored as battle programmer on Star Ocean: Until the Finish of Time and program supervisor on I Am Setsuna, two very completely different RPGs. “After we developed this recreation, we checked out loads of completely different qualities that followers and gamers appreciated about JRPGs,” he informed us. “Whenever you say JRPG, they’re not all the identical recreation. There’s a JRPG recreation that has real-time fight, however there’s additionally JRPG video games which have command-based or turn-based fight too. So JRPG is not all only one blanket form of recreation, if that is sensible.”
It’s an attention-grabbing dialog to have months after Remaining Fantasy XIV director and producer and Remaining Fantasy XVI producer Naoki Yoshida’s ideas on the JRPG time period. To Kitao, JRPG isn’t only one factor, neither is it about the place the video games are made – it’s a mess of various issues, which Star Ocean: The Second Story R slots into but in addition borrows from, in a number of alternative ways. Kitao’s expertise engaged on different RPGs helped him perceive the way to method reintroducing Star Ocean: The Second Story to the world. It wasn’t nearly bringing again a traditional – it was about respecting the style and taking “benefit of our previous experiences with the developments of quite a few JRPG titles.”
JRPG is not all only one blanket form of recreation, if that is sensible.
Having spent a while with the demo – which dropped on Change shortly after the September 2023 Nintendo Direct – we will really feel the historical past and expertise that has gone into this remake. When you’ve performed the unique PlayStation model, you’ll slip proper into The Second Story R, however you’ll discover these minor modifications and particulars that make the sport really feel smoother. There’s nonetheless a world map, however now enemy encounters seem on the map fairly than being random, and visually, the mix of pixel artwork and 3D backgrounds – not fairly pre-rendered however they really feel pre-rendered – is beautiful, notably on an OLED mannequin Change.
A Second Evolution
“We checked out loads of completely different genres or sub-genres from these RPG video games and carried out loads of the great elements of the 2 completely different sorts of fight, so just like the real-time fight and the turn-based fight,” Kitao informed us, once more utilizing that have from engaged on Resonance of Destiny (lead programmer), CRYSTAR (director), and even Valkyrie Profile (battle programmer). No two RPGs that Kitao has labored on have fairly been the identical, and that reveals right here.
The fight in The Second Story R isn’t that completely different from the unique PlayStation launch, and even from Star Ocean: First Departure R. It’s an motion RPG the place you management one character in real-time whereas the opposite three are managed by AI, decided by techniques which you’ll assign within the menu. You possibly can hop right into a menu to make use of gadgets and pause move if wanted, however in any other case, the 3D area is yours to run round in.
Within the remake, there are a number of new bells and whistles that assist make fight really feel snappier than it was on the PlayStation. We bought that sense virtually instantly, and easily working round and combating enemies on the world map was a pleasure. Expertise appear to proc a lot sooner, and motion feels a lot smoother. However a number of the new additions definitely assist with that.
For one, there’s now a backstep which you should utilize to keep away from enemy assaults, counter, and regain MP – much like aspect steps and backsteps in later Star Ocean titles. You can too stun an enemy by breaking their defend, which will provide you with a chance to unleash tons of injury.
We have been capable of give you this new system of achievements [in the remake] and in addition retain the higher elements – the enjoyable elements – of the achievement system in Star Ocean 3.
Battle Trophies have additionally been added to Second Story R, one other function that’s current in later Star Ocean video games. That is an achievement system that was launched in Til the Finish of Time, rewarding you with little trophy gadgets for finishing challenges. Generally you’d have to beat a boss inside a sure time restrict, whereas different occasions you are required to kill an enemy with a selected talent.
“There are numerous methods to get entangled, not simply in battle, however with issues that the participant does on the sphere, too. We have been capable of give you this new system of achievements [in the remake] and in addition retain the higher elements – the enjoyable elements – of the achievement system in Star Ocean 3.”
This fusion between the previous of the collection and the current seems like a very pretty technique to acknowledge the franchise’s successes and use them to retroactively improve and refresh an older expertise. It additionally offers a simple segue for many who have solely performed later entries. It bleeds via each single asset of the remake, proper right down to the music, the place collection composer Sakuraba returns as soon as once more.
Sakuraba is a veteran composer within the RPG style, having labored on the Tales of collection, Baten Kaitos, Valkyrie Profile, Darkish Souls, and Golden Solar soundtracks (amongst many, many others). However his work on the unique Star Ocean: The Second Story stays a favorite.
However fairly than simply remastering the music from the unique PlayStation launch, and even simply reusing it (although the unique songs are included and you’ll swap between them at any level), Sakuraba has rearranged your complete iconic soundtrack.
“We tried to ensure that the track’s style was not damaged”, Sakuraba informed us. “The primary focus was so as to add new parts to the compositions whereas retaining the core ideas that have been established again then. When it comes to my method to the composition course of, I ensured to not alter the vibes of the unique tracks.”
We have been truly shocked when listening to the music within the demo, shocked at how completely different but acquainted these iconic tracks sounded. ‘The venerable forest’, a predominantly flute and synth observe within the authentic recreation, now sends chills down our spines with stunning violins, a choir, and plucked string devices. It’s fairly completely different, however it’s nonetheless very a lot the identical track. The identical will be mentioned for the sport’s iconic battle observe, ‘Stab the sword of justice’, an lively synth observe that at all times pumped us up earlier than battle. The Second Story R’s model is all eclectic guitar, violin, viola, and heavy drums, which Sakuraba was eager to incorporate with these now-live orchestra rearrangements.
On the subject of that reside orchestra, Sakuraba says that he “needed to ensure that the unique qualities have been being saved in these new preparations,” whereas additionally contemplating that “for newer gamers, they could really feel like some issues could also be missing in the event that they hear the unique observe as is, or in the event that they hear one thing that intently resembles the unique tracks an excessive amount of.”
I ensured to not alter the vibes of the unique tracks
It’s an replace to an previous sound that’s unmistakable however contemporary, devoted however modernised, and Sakuraba used modern-day tech and devices to create that feeling of nostalgia. “We added reside strings and drums. This was a know-how that was unattainable when Star Ocean 2 was launched, however is now potential.” It’s extra synth-y than a contemporary retro-style RPG like Sq. Enix’s Octopath Traveler, nevertheless it evokes that very same cosy, old-school feeling.
Pitch (and Pixel) Excellent
The brand new preparations pair properly with the sport’s new visible model. On the time of the sport’s reveal, many (together with us) in contrast it to Octopath’s HD-2D model, with the combo of pixel artwork characters, 3D backgrounds, and powerful lighting. And it seems, even with a remake, the brand new visible model is essential to shaping the music.
“Once I write music, I make certain the music is in sync with the body fee, the general motion of the video,” Sakuraba says. “So I even have the workforce share the cutscenes with me previous to composing these tracks and I am going by the body fee of those cutscenes and ensure that the tracks are aligned body by body with the general construction of the footage.” It’s a captivating method to composing music for a online game – notably a 25-year-old title which is being remade in a pixel artwork model. It feels old skool, which is maybe why it really works so nicely and feels so good when enjoying the demo.
From the three-hour demo alone, Star Ocean: The Second Story R appears and seems like one of many purest remakes we’ve skilled. It respects the supply materials by embracing the unique artwork model, but modernising it simply sufficient. It rebalances the sport to make it extra accessible for newcomers, but in addition extra rewarding and difficult for returning followers.
What impresses us most about Star Ocean: The Second Story R, a minimum of these preliminary three hours, is the way it respects not solely the franchise’s historical past and what adopted the unique PlayStation recreation however the way it manages to deftly steadiness the previous and the brand new to enchantment to either side of the galaxy. The dialogue is somewhat tacky (the voices and script are the identical because the PSP launch), and it begins off equally to any old-school-style RPG. However in the identical manner because the tradition clashes of the Star Ocean video games – futuristic know-how assembly with underdeveloped (medieval-style) planets – all of it comes collectively to create a captivating remake, one which we will’t wait to see via to the top.
This interview has been edited flippantly for readability.
Thanks to Kitao-san, Sakuraba-san, Sq. Enix, and Gemdrops for making the time to talk to us. Star Ocean: The Second Story R launches on Change and different platforms on 2nd November 2023.
You possibly can obtain a free demo — which lets you play the primary three hours and carry over your save knowledge to the complete recreation — proper now on Change eShop.