Star Ocean: The Second Story R combines both homage and innovation | GAME3A

Star Ocean: The Second Story R combines both homage and innovation

Star Ocean: The Second Story is one of the great jewels within the extensive JRPG catalog of the original PlayStation. Regardless of opinions regardin...

Levi Winslow Sept 15, 2023
Star Ocean: The Second Story R combines both homage and innovation

Star Ocean: The Second Story is one of the great jewels within the extensive JRPG catalog of the original PlayStation. Regardless of opinions regarding the first, third, fourth, fifth, or even last year's sixth main installment, there persists an enduring admiration, a reverence among a particular generation of RPG enthusiasts for the epic adventure featuring two protagonists: the galactic explorer Claude C. Kenny and the magically gifted village dweller Rena Lanford.

If there is one thing that Star Ocean 2 fans desire more than a remake, it is the assurance that a potential remake is in the right hands. After a recent video call with director and development producer Yuichiro Kitao, character designer Yukihiro Kajimoto, and producer Kei Komaki, I am convinced that the upcoming Star Ocean: The Second Story R - a subtle name change, but a significant one - is precisely where it should be.

"We want the players who have experienced the original to simultaneously have a new experience and revive their nostalgic journey," Yuichiro Kitao explains.

Star Ocean The Second Story R Blends Reverence And Innovation In Equal Measure

It is the overarching philosophy of the team behind the remake, and this approach is evident in Star Ocean: The Second Story R in many ways. It is the transformation from a predominant quasi-three-dimensional style in the original game to even more elaborate 3D towns and fields, while retaining the classic pixel-based character sprites. We see it in the new combat mechanics and additional quests, even as the overall difficulty of the opponents is slightly increased to accommodate the abundance of new actions. It is also apparent in the refreshed character portraits by Yukihiro Kajimoto, brimming with new details yet preserving the essence of the original aesthetics. Checks and balances are what come to the creators' minds—respecting the old while embracing the new.

"We haven't just made the game more challenging. We have added new side quests, introduced stronger enemies, and provided other ways for players to experience new content," Kitao continues. "Part of the reason for this is that compared to the PlayStation version, the overall pace and speed of battles in the remake have been significantly increased. Character progression through leveling has also been enhanced."

Star Ocean The Second Story R Blends Reverence And Innovation In Equal

There is also more to do, and that can lead skilled players to breeze through the game if left completely unchecked. Kitao mentions the ability to take a step back during a battle to restore MP. There are also new mechanics such as the Break and Assault Action Systems. All things considered, Star Ocean: The Second Story R would be an overall easier game. Therefore, rebalancing the existing content is of utmost importance.

The world of Star Ocean: The Second Story resides in that shared realm among the original PlayStation RPGs, where the backgrounds are not entirely 3D but no longer 2D either. They are 2.5D, featuring an inclined top-down perspective that functions instead of the camera angle typically employed in fully three-dimensional games, which is positioned behind the character.

However, in its most apparent overhaul, Star Ocean: The Second Story R has brought those backgrounds into the 3D realm - notably, though, without extending the same treatment to the character models. Your party members and the hundreds of NPCs that populate the world remain sprite-based, and the camera retains its classic top-down style. It is a peculiar-sounding approach, but it works well in practice, and naturally, I wanted to know what motivated the team to take this unexpected path.

Star Ocean The Second Story R Blends Reverence And Innovation In

"I will first talk about the fusion of sprites with the environment and backgrounds," Kitao responds. "The reason why I wanted to retain the pixel sprites for the characters is that people remember them that way. Players who originally played the game will have strong memories associated with them. I wanted to respect that. At the same time, it wouldn't bring anything new to simply use them as they were in the original. So, we developed a special shader that adds lighting, shadows, and that additional graphical touch."

And then, for the environments, they were also pre-rendered in the PS1 version, and what we did was that we approached it from the perspective of: 'How would it look if you were a pixel sprite in this world? How would it appear to you? How would the world look, how would the city look?'

That was something I had never considered, and I couldn't help but tell Kitao that I will be thinking about it the whole time while playing the game. As I refocused on the character sprites, I asked Yukihiro Kajimoto if he had a unified vision from the beginning to redesign classic heroes like Claude, Rena, and the others.

Star Ocean The Second Story R Blends Reverence And Innovation

"When I played the PS1 version of Star Ocean: The Second Story, I was still a student. I wasn't a creator myself at that time. When I was entrusted with this work, it was primarily an absolute honor. And I thought, 'Is it okay for me to do this?' I was a little unsure!" Kajimoto attributes the trust placed in him by the producers as the reason he was able to focus on the task and deliver the new designs.

Kei Komaki, an assistant producer for last year's Star Ocean: The Divine Force and a guiding force in The Second Story R, emphasizes to me where this trust comes from. "Personally, I really love [Kajimoto's] illustrations. But beyond that, he has been working on the Star Ocean series for so long that I truly believe the fans trust him. Another point was that I wanted to see how he would approach the character designs from a more realistic perspective. I asked him, 'Could you explore what it would look like if these character designs and illustrations from the 1998 game were modern people existing today?' The ideas he developed, in terms of clothing, small details, he just had so many ideas, so much he could bring to the table."

Star Ocean The Second Story R Blends Reverence And

I didn't want Kitao, Kajimoto, and Komaki to get away without asking them at least one nerdy question. After all, I'm a lifelong fan of Star Ocean 2. There's a recruitable character named Dias Flac who conforms to the stereotype of being incredibly powerful initially but weakens significantly towards the end of the game, to the point where it's generally not advisable to bring Dias along for the final battle.

Dias naturally has the entire look of a nervous anime swordsman down perfectly, so I would definitely still use him. But with all these mechanical changes that are happening on the way to the remake, I had to know if there's a better future for my blue-haired, sword-wielding hottie.

"First and foremost, I don't think what I'm about to talk about is specifically related to Dias," Kitao begins with a grin. "You have a four-player party that you take into battles, but you also have the Assault System where other party members can jump in, interrupt, and execute an attack. And because of this system, I think there will be far fewer characters that you wouldn't want to use by the end. Of course, they all have their strengths and weaknesses, but I don't believe there will be characters who are entirely useless throughout the entire game."

Star Ocean The Second Story R Blends Reverence

Komaki added a few more thoughts on the subject. "Don't worry. Dias is stronger." Well then! "We have adjusted the various abilities, and traditionally, the weapons in Star Ocean have been balanced quite dramatically." It's true that dedicated players could work hard with the extensive item creation systems of Star Ocean 2 and end up with weapons that far exceeded what was necessary for the game. This is the kind of equipment you want to have if you're planning to take on the challenge of post-game bosses. "You might be able to give Dias an absurdly powerful weapon now." Oh, I definitely will.

Some remakes strive to boldly reinvent a game to the point where you're essentially playing something entirely different. Others are so focused on preserving the essence of the original that they feel more like simple remasters. There are successes and failures in both areas, but Star Ocean: The Second Story R aims to have its RPG cake and eat it too by carefully balancing preservation and redesign. It's a monumental task, that's for sure, but I can recognize that the team has done their best to make it succeed.

We will soon experience it firsthand, as Star Ocean: The Second Story R will be released on November 2nd on PS4, PS5, Switch, and PC. A playable demo is now available for download.