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 selected 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 Colour 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 acquired. 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 acquired 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 latest video name. “With the discharge of Star Ocean 6 [The Divine Force] final 12 months, we have been in a position to get newcomers into the collection, however we additionally wished them to know what the Star Ocean collection is.”
Kitao-san was joined by Motoi Sakuraba, the collection’ composer, who says that the collection “means quite a bit” to him. It’s clear that this remake is one constructed from ardour – to present the followers what they need, but additionally 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 in a position to get newcomers into the collection, however we additionally wished them to know what the Star Ocean collection is.”
The collection’ historical past is vital 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 Workforce workers 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 might 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 because of poor gross sales. As a substitute, anybody who wished to attempt the primary Star Ocean recreation had to take action through 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 extra scenes that assist you to spend extra time with supporting characters in your social gathering, 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 social gathering, you might be locked out of getting sure characters in your playthrough, or you might have to recruit them a lot later. A completionist’s nightmare for positive, nevertheless it makes decisions 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 fairly in-depth crafting system was added – which finally ends up being 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 lady 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 delivered to 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 totally different RPGs. “Once we developed this recreation, we checked out quite a lot of totally different qualities that followers and gamers preferred about JRPGs,” he informed us. “If 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 type of recreation, if that is sensible.”
It’s an fascinating dialog to have months after Ultimate Fantasy XIV director and producer and Ultimate 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 additionally borrows from, in a number of other ways. Kitao’s expertise engaged on different RPGs helped him perceive the way to strategy 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 type 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. For those who’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 moderately 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 quite a lot of totally different genres or sub-genres from these RPG video games and carried out quite a lot of the great elements of the 2 totally 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 totally 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 be able to assign within the menu. You’ll be able to hop right into a menu to make use of objects and pause stream 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 obtained that sense nearly instantly, and easily operating round and combating enemies on the world map was a pleasure. Abilities appear to proc a lot quicker, and motion feels a lot smoother. However among 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 too can stun an enemy by breaking their protect, which gives you a chance to unleash tons of harm.
We have been in a position to provide you with 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 objects for finishing challenges. Generally you’d must 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 in a position to provide you with 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 looks like a very beautiful solution to acknowledge the franchise’s successes and use them to retroactively improve and refresh an older expertise. It additionally gives a simple segue for many who have solely performed later entries. It bleeds via each single asset of the remake, proper all the way 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 moderately than simply remastering the music from the unique PlayStation launch, and even simply reusing it (although the unique songs are included and you may swap between them at any level), Sakuraba has rearranged the complete iconic soundtrack.
“We tried to guarantee that the tune’s style was not damaged”, Sakuraba informed us. “The principle focus was so as to add new components to the compositions whereas retaining the core ideas that have been established again then. By way of my strategy 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, surprised at how totally different but acquainted these iconic tracks sounded. ‘The venerable forest’, a predominantly flute and synth monitor within the authentic recreation, now sends chills down our spines with lovely violins, a choir, and plucked string devices. It’s moderately totally different, however it’s nonetheless very a lot the identical tune. The identical may be stated for the sport’s iconic battle monitor, ‘Stab the sword of justice’, an lively synth monitor 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 “wished to guarantee that the unique qualities have been being stored 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 monitor 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 outdated sound that’s unmistakable however recent, trustworthy 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 expertise that was unimaginable when Star Ocean 2 was launched, however is now doable.” 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 type. On the time of the sport’s reveal, many (together with us) in contrast it to Octopath’s HD-2D type, with the combination of pixel artwork characters, 3D backgrounds, and powerful lighting. And it seems, even with a remake, the brand new visible type is essential to shaping the music.
“After I write music, I ensure that the music is in sync with the body price, the general motion of the video,” Sakuraba says. “So I even have the group share the cutscenes with me previous to composing these tracks and I am going by the body price of those cutscenes and guarantee that the tracks are aligned body by body with the general construction of the footage.” It’s an interesting strategy to composing music for a online game – notably a 25-year-old title which is being remade in a pixel artwork type. It feels old fashioned, 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 to be like and looks like one of many purest remakes we’ve skilled. It respects the supply materials by embracing the unique artwork type, but modernising it simply sufficient. It rebalances the sport to make it extra accessible for newcomers, but additionally extra rewarding and difficult for returning followers.
What impresses us most about Star Ocean: The Second Story R, at the very least 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 stability the outdated and the brand new to attraction to either side of the galaxy. The dialogue is a bit of 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 expertise assembly with underdeveloped (medieval-style) planets – all of it comes collectively to create an interesting remake, one which we will’t wait to see via to the tip.
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’ll be able to 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.