Star Ocean: The Second Story R launched in 1998 for the PS1 and has since garnered a loyal fanbase that considers it the pinnacle of the RPG series. Now, it's returned as an impressively faithful remake for the PS5. This advanced version of the game merges modern sci-fi technologies with nostalgic fantasies resulting in a new life breathed into a beloved classic.
The most noticeable aspect of this triumph can be seen in the game's revamped visuals which feature 3D environments illuminated by all-new light effects. However, the game's soul remains intact with the characters and monsters being represented by 2D sprites, blending harmoniously with the modern aesthetics. The updated graphics, while appreciated, doesn't overshadow the otherwise dated gameplay. Fortunately, core mechanics of The Second Story have certainly withstood the test of time and continue to provide quality entertainment.
The story follows a young interstellar adventurer who accidentally lands on an underdeveloped planet. Players have the option to choose between two protagonists - the courageous Claude of the Earth Federation, or Rena, a resident of Expel, the planet in question. Despite the narrative being largely unchanged, character-driven side stories are a welcome addition, further enhancing the immersive experience.
Upon arrival, Claude is in search of a way to connect with his spaceship, while Rena is preoccupied with the calamities plaguing her world due to a fallen meteor. Eventually, their aspirations merge, amid a storyline punctuated with predictable yet satisfying JRPG motifs. The real magic lies in the depth of the character development.
Developers deserve applause for the ingenious inclusion of optional side stories that illuminate the personalities of the colorful cast further. Players can disband their team temporarily upon arrival in a new city, interact with their partners, and explore their unique stories. The character interactions make every party member feel integral to the journey, despite multiple characters being optional recruits.
Players may easily overlook a number of key characters dispersed through the game. To avoid this, the remake features useful map markers and icons to highlight side quests, points of interest and party interactions. These guiding symbols represent a huge leap in convenience, eliminating the need for obscure instructions or player frustration.
The battle system receives a welcome overhaul with expanded mechanics that contribute to a more dynamic gaming experience. Party members who aren't part of the immediate four-member squad can now join battles, unleashing special moves or buffs. Of course, the chaotic and sometimes confusing combat videography remains unchanged, adding still to the charm of the classic RPG gameplay.
While the game is mostly a fun fair, it does come with its trials, particularly with a spike in difficulty at unexpected times. A balance yet remains to be struck between the overly swift standard battles and the boss fights where characters can be taken out in one shot. This indicates a trace of the dated PS1 game design which could have been improved for the remake.
These minor criticisms hardly mar the overall positive reception of the remake. The battles are thoroughly enjoyable as always, bolstered with exciting RPG character progression. The thrill of levelling up, the anticipation of unlocking new abilities, and the strategic element of distributing skill points to enhance passive perks combine to create an immersive experience that is likely to appeal to those already familiar with the franchise and to new players alike.
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