This week for the Retro Corner I reminisce about one of my favourite RPGs on the PlayStation, Star Ocean: The Second Story. Developed by tri-Ace and published by Enix in 1998 in Japan and 1999 in the US, and by SCEE in 2000 in Europe the game was received positively and gave gamers a different take on the JRPG.
At the time of release Final Fantasy games were hugely popular in the west, so it was often hard for other franchises to get noticed. Star Ocean brought an action element in to the gameplay, while keeping parties along with the tried and tested RPG format that people expect. It boasts seven different characters to add to the four person party and a staggering eighty-seven different endings! There are plenty of plot twists and storyline to engage players and keep them playing till the end.
The player is first asked to choose from who’s perspective the story is the be told, Claude’s or Renas. The basic beginning of the story involves Claude being out on a mission to survey a planet. He finds an ancient ruin and a device within. Of course, people don’t just walk away from suspicious devices, so Claude ends up getting teleported to a forest on the planet of Expel, just in time to save Rena from some attacking beasts. Expel is a much less advanced planet to what Claude was used to, and his garb and weapons prompt the people to believe he is a warrior from a prophecy. At first glance the story doesn’t seem that interesting but it really takes some great directions along the way that won’t leave people disappointed.
As always, gameplay is key in an action RPG (and of course, most games) and Star Ocean: The Second Story delivers on this. Battles are played out in real time, and players can position themselves however they so wish. The other party members are controlled by AI, however their behaviour can be set by the player and also be switched to during battle. For instance, you might want to tell one of the casters to conserve their MP. Abilities come in the form of Special Arts and Symbology with Symbology being the Star Ocean equivalent of magic. There is also a robust item creation system with characters being able to learn specialities that depend on the skills and talents of each character. Talents were randomly assigned upon recruitment, although hidden talents could be unlocked by use of certain skills. Minigames were also present and players could visit Fun City (original!) to participate in the Bunny Races, Battle Arena and my personal favourite, Cooking Master.
The soundtrack of the game was composed by Motoi Sakuraba, who has a pretty impressive CV it has to be said. Sakuraba composed the music for the other Star Ocean games as well as many of the Tales games, Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, Bravely Default, Eternal Sonata, many other games and a host of animes. The soundtrack to Star Ocean: The Second Story contains one of my favourite pieces of game music as part of it’s 88 tracks included on the original discs. There’s a playlist of the original scores that can be watched below.
Looking back at how enjoyable the game was, the depth of gameplay, characters and item creation as well as the 40+ hours of game play it gave people, it’s no wonder the game is remembered as the best in the series. The remasters can still be bought on PS4 and Vita and they’re definitely worth picking up if you can. There was positive news recently with the reveal of the fifth installment in to the Star Ocean franchise with talk of the game getting back to it’s roots. Here’s hoping it’s a great as The Second Story!