A little over twenty-five years ago, Square Enix released the relatively popular . Now this November, Square Enix will release a remake and it’s just as fun as it was all those years ago.
The Star Ocean series isn’t the best-known Square Enix franchise, but it has its fans. With the first game released in 1996, there have been numerous sequels and a handful of ports. While my last foray into the franchise was the 2007 PSP port of Star Ocean, seeing a remake of at the Tokyo Game Show 2023 piqued my interest in the series again. Square Enix released a demo on the PlayStation Network, but the demo at the convention allowed players to experience a later point in the story. In my case, the end of the dungeon features part of the character Ashton Anchors’ story. At first glance, it appeared as if not much has changed with the game, but digging deeper there are some new elements within it.
Looking at the familiar first, much of the gameplay, menus, and story beats retain their original format. This makes the game approachable for people who’ve stepped away from the franchise for a hot minute. But it also makes it a bit stale from a gameplay perspective. Especially considering all the changes made to JRPG systems over the years. For instance, with Ashton’s story in the Tokyo Game Show demo, we see him dealing with a boss related to his “curse.” It’s not all that different from the original release, even down to the post-boss dialog scene. While I prefer the story to be the same, a new presentation of the scene seems warranted.
However, one welcome unchanged item from The Second Story R is the character sprites. With the game running on more powerful engines, one would expect new or sharper character models and official character portraits. But no, the characters retained their sprite models from the original release. And it’s not just limited to the main characters. Even the non-playable characters and the enemies retain sprite models. This makes the game visually nostalgic and charming at the same time.
Although it appears there aren’t many changes to The Second Story R, two things stood out immediately. First are the characters’ voices. Initially, I wasn’t sure if the main characters retained their original voice actors. But upon asking staff and fiddling around with the audio setting I found the voice actors have changed. A bit disappointing to be sure, but a simple change in the settings allows players to switch to the original voice actors. It’s very similar to many of the Nippon Ichi Software games where players have the option to play with Japanese or English audio. So, two playthroughs are warranted at the very least: once with the new voices and once with the old voices.
The second change to the game is a clear background graphical overhaul. It’s a bit jarring when paired with the character sprites, but choppy background graphics in the original release are now clear and detailed. Although not to the level of Square Enix‘s more popular Final Fantasy series, the backgrounds of The Second Story R have a science-fantasy charm seen in the early Star Ocean games.
Looking at the Tokyo Game Show 2023 demo of R makes the game seem like an enigma. It plays like a port of the game, like the 2008 PSP port of the original game, but has some visual elements fit for the new generation of consoles and PCs. Still, it scratches that itch for anyone who is a fan of , be it the original game, manga, or anime.