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  • Writer's pictureFernando Da Costa

Afterpatch Review - Star Ocean: The Second Story R

Developer: tri-Ace, Square Enix, Gemdrops Inc.

Publisher: Square Enix

Available On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, PC

Review Console: Nintendo Switch


REMAKING HISTORY!


I’m not entirely positive about what exactly is happening in the industry lately, but bringing classics to a newer audience seems to be the current trend. I’m not complaining, though, because growing up, loads of titles missed my radar. There are various reasons as to why, like being too young to understand features. Yet, secretly, we all know it was my snobby attitude as a youth. See, while I exclusively messed with JRPGs, I was adamant it had to be turn-based or bust. I was a stupid kid who ignored gems like Star Ocean due to that. Thankfully, Square Enix has been on a kick of modernizing the bulk of their back catalog. Yeah, this review is late, but hopefully, going in-depth with an after-patch piece makes up for that.


Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a reimagining of a 1998 oldie but goodie. Throughout the years, I’ve heard plenty of praise for it. People have continuously hyped it up as a top-tier JRPG, and they’ve done a super job at the salesmanship because I now regret everything. Fortunately, those blue balls can be rectified with this remake. I’m coming in with lofty expectations but will the claims hold validity?



KICKING IT OLD-SCHOOL!


When it concerns the plot line, it’s fantastic. Firstly, it has that classic take on fantasy where we go on an epic adventure. Along the way, we’ll meet would-be companions who become lifelong friends. Hell, we may find ourselves fancying someone who accompanies us, and we do. I enjoyed watching their romantic feelings unravel. They unfold sweetly, too, being reminiscent of my days in elementary school. While it’s painfully obvious that an attraction does exist, both parties try to brush it away. In doing that, suspicions are only reinforced. An argument could be made that it’s generic, but it’s also incredibly charming. I can’t help but be riveted, a sentiment I hold firm when speaking about the encompassing literary work. 


Secondly, it’s as they say: there are two sides to a coin. What sets Star Ocean apart is that I get differing perspectives on the in-game events. It isn’t a gimmick I’ve often seen, and that’s a shame. Before beginning the journey, I must select whether I want to be the male or female Protagonist. Whatever my choice, it alters the cutscenes I see, incentivizing the replayability. I highly suggest trying the pair as context is lost otherwise, meaning the narrative is unfinished. Granted, I could still discern the general gist, but it won’t be the full picture. Without that missing nuance, I wasn’t as enthralled as I later became. The additional detail aided a lot in piecing this puzzle together.



Another reason you’d revisit is because of the 90+ endings. It’s mind-boggling to think that after 55+ hours, I haven’t remotely scratched the surface. Nevertheless, I’m curious to see how specific points change. It’s astounding how much freedom Star Ocean gives me, and despite having a canon ending, it’s nice to have the chance to decide what’s mine. I admit that It could just be my inner author fuelling this opinion, but being able to pick the conclusion that most resonates with me ensured I felt gratified by the credits. I also didn’t touch on how the gender of my avatar actually affects the combatants that I can recruit. That’s why I’m enthused about a New Game+ mode being inserted with the latest patch.


TALK TO ME, CLAUDE!


Since Star Ocean: The Second Story R originates from the 90’s, the dialogue will reflect that. As a Millennial, I’m chuffed. Expect there to be an abundance of sexual themes. Silent implications are utilized to hide the raunchiness from children’s eyes. I’d be lying if I said some don’t manage to slip through the cracks and are apparent, but it’s wielded as a sort of comic relief and never to be perverted for the sake of indulgence. It’s a tool for exhibiting emotion, too, like whenever someone’s face goes beet red with embarrassment. Their reaction gives them an air of tangibility, making it easier for players to cultivate a connection.



Another facet that makes a JRPG worth its weight in gold is the banter, and I thought the verbal jabs in Star Ocean were fun. It was difficult not to be gleeful as I read the dialogue, even going so far as to chuckle in plenty of instances. It’s clear that the script doesn’t always take itself seriously. In fact, it’ll lean into subjects such as puppy love. Those tiny crushes won’t last, however, transitioning quickly to a sibling dynamic. Watching those “little sister” antics amused me, adding levity to a dire situation. That’s when the charisma exploded and had me smiling like an absolute dork, which, in turn, made for a satisfying romp.


For more silly interactions, there’s a mechanic known as Private Actions. It causes the party to disperse, letting you have conversations with everyone separately. While a lot are usually meant for laughs, they occasionally delve into real matters. Regardless of their direction, it retains the incredibly delightful aura. Boredom wasn’t ever a factor as I sat through tarot card readings and the group's women gossiping about the men. Sure, a subset of folks will deem this portion as stupid fluff, and to that, I say, you’re not wrong. It’s assuredly fluff, but that’s selling it short. It’s a showcase of personality. It’s the sprinkles of spice that add flavor, preventing it from going stale.



TAKE OUT YOUR WEAPON!


As my introduction established, the battle system won’t be turn-based, leaning into Action RPG. It would have had the younger me scuffing, and if I could travel to the past, I’d slap the spit from my mouth. I’ve no idea what the hell was stuck in my ass, but as an adult, I adore it. Yeah, when it’s stripped to the nitty-gritty, I’m button-mashing to inflict damage. Despite that being the case, it’s thanks to the impeccable balance and how strong I felt that it’s so pleasurable. Nothing beats the power trip that swallowed my body as numbers filled the screen. Seeing them going from the hundreds to the thousands had me reeling. I was having a blast, which is crucial considering how critical grinding is for Star Ocean.


In a rare addition, the level threshold isn’t 100, as is common in the majority of JRPGs. Nope, we’re striving for a slick 255, meaning it wants me to devote an hour or so to the ruthless murder of my enemies. While I’m guaranteed a certain sum of experience points, I can chain a string of consecutive encounters to gain bonuses. The amount is boosted; sometimes, it’ll be tripled, and when it is, I routinely got tougher. It became egregiously easy and wasn’t long before I surpassed the strength of my foes, well, unless it was a boss. They’re always going to pose a challenge. The gripe stemming from that is how it isn’t due to them packing a wallop. Sometimes, it’s because they’re a sponge.



Elevating my stats isn’t the only purpose of grinding since I’ll also gain SP and BP. These points are unlike EXP. The latter enhances the lethality of special moves or inserts an extra hit or two if it’s a combo. For techniques with an area of effect, I can expand it to target a broader range. Alternatively, I can spend BP on passives that grant nifty tricks like randomly raising my attack or defensive properties or slashing the charge time for spells - quite handy for when you’re in a pinch. The experimentation it promotes is astonishing, and in a way, it’s a pseudo take on building your character. I got giddy whenever I could improve my party, and to see the results of that labor pushed me on.


PUT THE SP IN SPECIAL!


As far as SP goes, the functionality gets more involved. I’ll try not to be wordy with my explanation but don’t hold your breath. Essentially, each member of the cast can learn traits that come with perks that are beneficial to progression. For example, I could transform iron into a precious gem that can then be forged into armor or a weapon. These are often stronger than any that can be bought. That’s why it’s imperative to, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, grind. I’m smitten by how well the elements turning the cogs of this machine work. It’s a pristine cycle of mechanics that flawlessly feeds into each other to make Star Ocean as quaint as it is.



If it wasn’t crystal clear, Star Ocean wants to make you a killing machine. Eventually, my companions can even dispatch the creatures that spawn on the field automatically. The EXP awarded with this method won’t be on par as if I manually fought, but if you want to progress the story with minimal grind, it’ll suffice. That’s why I don’t think redundancy will be a factor for the average person. I reckon it’ll make your year if you’ve got a fetish for digits. All of these quality-of-life insertions are amazing, and this is a 16-year-old journey. They prevent any semblance of monotony, and I hope that JRPGs of today pay close attention.  


Now, let’s chat about how skirmishes work. As I travel, I’ll stumble on floating balls of gas that represent a horde of monsters. If I’m diligent, I can dodge and weave. While it’s true that they can pop into existence suddenly, catching me off-guard, I still wouldn’t class it as being random. If my reflexes are oiled, I can avoid them. If, however, I want to decrease the interruptions, I can through the passives that I mentioned above. The spawn rate becomes so sporadic that I barely lift a finger. If I’m feeling frisky, I can make it so I’m gangbanged by a crowd. I’m not confident that this feature wasn’t in the 1998 edition, but if it was, that’s brilliant. Square Enix is reminding the world why they were once the undisputed champion of JRPGs.



WAIT, I CAN’T DO THAT?!


I’m loving this revival of a bygone era. It’s like receiving a nostalgic facial, but on every excellent facet, we’re obligated to the atrocious. Missable weapons, specifically when they’re the best of the best, are annoying. There’s no sugarcoating how terrible this practice is. Hell, there’s a reason why it has died a painful death and isn’t in newer JRPGS. To see how it wasn’t tweaked for this remake is disappointing. I admit that when all is said and done, it’s minor. In an odd way, it does allow me to relive my primitive years when I’d sit atop my bed; paper scattered with the necessary information outlined. That doesn’t negate how infuriating it is to be locked out of obtaining equipment, though.


You know, I believe a JRPG wouldn’t be a JRPG without side-quests, and surprise, Star Ocean has an abundance. They aren’t the standard one-and-done, however. They do exist, but some can only be beaten in a specific window. In other words, that’s the very definition of being missable, but the difference is that it isn’t aggravating. Unlike the armaments, it’s apparent where and when it will take place. By looking at the map, it’s depicted by a yellow exclamation point with an hourglass. If the location is miles away, don't sweat it. By selecting it from a list, I can instantly teleport without fuss. Thanks to that generous fast travel system, I was more likely to finish them all.



A FEAST FOR THE EYES!


I’ve seen morsels of the art style in Star Ocean ‘98, and undoubtedly, the graphics and character portraits have seen vast improvements with this iteration. If you truly don't, the crispness of the illustrations is glaring. The degree of detail is stunning. I could make out the wrinkles of a jacket and the strains of a character’s hair. It’s a visual buffet that deviates towards realism, a far departure from the cartoony aesthetic it had before. Preferences will vary, but I prefer the callback. It helps that it reminds me of Lunar, as well. Where I don’t foresee arguments is in agreeing that the 2D-HD pixelated goodness is gorgeous. It breathes a fresh coat of life into this classic.


A SMOOTH RIDE!


I experienced Star Ocean: The Second Story R on the Nintendo Switch, and given that fighting gets hectic, the performance comes into question. Well, shove aside those worries because the coveted peanut butter smoothness is intact. It isn’t like I didn’t put the console through its paces because I lit up the screen. Damage counters were soaring left and right while tornados or balls of fire zoomed across the battlefield. Combine that with the shadow effects, and I expected a stutter. I’m aware that it's been a handful of months since release, and it could have been a disaster at that juncture. What matters is it’s pristine now, and it benefits significantly from that.



RE-RECORDED BLISS!


If you’re clamouring for the midi musings of Star Ocean’s initial foray, you’ll be ecstatic to learn that they’re included. You can toggle between it and the orchestrated score. I did my due diligence and dedicated several hours to both. It’s why I can proudly proclaim that they knocked it out of the park with the reinvention. It won’t take long for the music to dig its claw into your brain. It’s catchy as hell, and I’d regularly find myself vibing. Actually, as I write this coverage, the docile whispers of the instrumentals are blaring in my head. I’m going to go out on a limb to say that Square Enix made a certifiable banger. Unfortunately, the sound design does struggle due to the voice acting.


It won’t be because it sucks, which it doesn’t, ranging from serviceable to slightly above average. It kind of enriched my session, making everyone feel distinct. Frankly, this misstep will probably only bother a handful of people. Be that as it may, the delivery of half the script is lackluster. In moments that demanded sarcasm, the tone just wasn’t where it needed to be. It was almost as if the actors were directed not to exaggerate their cadence. In times when I anticipated a burst of sass, I got a flat reply. Thankfully, as a package, I did come out feeling contentment. The blemishes weren’t enough to deter me. The spots of energy were adequate enough to convince me of a second go. There’s just a nagging feeling that it could have been more.



AND THE STARRY VERDICT IS…


Star Ocean: The Second Story R is as extraordinary as the critics have said. The whole cast is a treat, too. They frequently had me grinning, sometimes laughing, with their comments. The lore had me interested. As for the buttons, well, the responsiveness made the gameplay sublime. It had me thoroughly engaged. Yes, it’s simplistic, but it’s so damn addictive. It’s just as well since grinding is a massive proponent. I dare say that the bulk of the mechanics revolve around this ideology, and it thrives. Musically, the newly arranged OST is absolute magic. Out of the four 10s that I’ve given, 75% of that belongs to Square Enix. I debated on increasing that percentage but those voices held it back. Still, that won’t change how I unequivocally recommend you buy it.


STAR OCEAN: THE SECOND STORY R IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!


*A copy of Star Ocean: The Second Story R was provided by FortySevenPR on behalf of the publisher*


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