A lot can change in 25 years. Back in 1998, Star Ocean: The Second Story bewitched players with masterfully-crafted music and innovative gameplay elements that were new to the genre, presenting gamers a 2D, pixel-art aesthetic.
While game-building technology got more sophisticated, so did the visuals but for some, the old-school charm still remains a winner, which is why the upcoming Star Ocean The Second Story R remake will continue to honour its retro trappings. Unlike Final Fantasy VII Remake’s complete visual overhaul, this remake of the tri-Ace’s Japanese role playing game (JPRG) is more similar in spirit to Square Enix’s Triangle Strategy and Octopath Traveler, sporting a 2.5D look that fuses 2D pixel characters and 3D environments.
“When we first started developing this remake, we wanted to focus on how longtime fans would feel, and how they would remember the original elements,” said game director and producer Yuichiro Kitao, who also serves as CEO and director of co-developer studio Gemdrops Inc, in an interview with regional media.
Highlighting the team’s “focus on respecting the original source material,” he added, “Incorporating elements that follow and replicate the elements and features from the original game into the remake was essential, [because] we wanted to make sure that we captured the old fans”, referring not only to the 1998 community, but the PlayStation Portable (PSP) crowd as well. The classic title received an enhanced remaster, Star Ocean: Second Evolution on the handheld platform in 2008, and later, on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and PS3 in 2015 but this was never released outside of Japan.
Indeed, there are plenty of familiar elements in store for returning enthusiasts. The upcoming title features the same story, choose-your-protagonist structure, supporting characters, and multiple endings, with the promise that there’ll be “a number of elements and structures that fans who’ve played the previous games would recognise.” All of these play well into nostalgia, but therein lies another concern: newcomers.
As much as Star Ocean The Second Story R is a trip down the memory lane, it also keeps the door open for franchise greenhorns. This gear shift necessitated the need for a modern touch, in which novelty and familiarity collide, but that’s always easier said than done. For the team at Square Enix and Gemdrops, finding the in-between was the most challenging part of the process.
“The biggest challenge in developing this game and in terms of the graphics was how much of the new elements we’re going to put in, and how much nostalgia we wanted the old players to feel,” Kitao explained. The main approach for environmental design, then, was to marry realism with fantasy-heavy elements and create a world where it “feels natural for these pixel characters to exist”.
Then, there are the gameplay mechanics. While the core experience will remain largely the same as before, some improvements and new features have been added to the mix, such as Assault Action and Break, designed for faster combat. The sound effects and music were also newly-recorded to complement the fresh visuals, with live instruments used for impactful scenes, and bold, epic battles.
“The focus for the team was to retain the better qualities of the original battle system, and to ensure the playing field is similar to how users back then felt,” expressed the director. “On top of that, we wanted to make sure that players feel the enjoyment of effectively and quickly battling these enemies and defeating them.”
But just like in the original game, the characters are the heart of the story. Star Ocean The Second Story R places a stronger emphasis on its cast, introducing more character moments and dialogues to strengthen the emotional connection between players and Claude, Rena, Celine, Ashton, Dias, or Precis. As such, the Private Actions system has been adjusted for easier tracking and understanding of affection levels, so individuals can know which endings they are likely to end up with.
It helps that the upcoming JRPG will feature both Japanese and English voices. Where both the 1998 and 2008 versions also roped in voice actors to breathe life into the characters, this remake will be fully-voiced with new lines, offering more immersion and animated characterisations.
To top off the polish, the characters now have a different look to them, serving as a reinterpretation of their classic designs. According to Kitao, character designer Yukihiro Kajimoto made sure to focus on an aesthetic that doesn’t feel outdated and retains the franchise’s artistic flair at the same time.
Series veteran or not, Star Ocean The Second Story R seeks to win over the player’s heart in the same way the original did. While niche, the PS1 classic garnered a dedicated following over the years, and is now considered to be a cult favourite.
“For returning players, we wanted to present this as a newer experience of the Star Ocean game. As for first-timers, we wanted to present it as something that might seem a bit of an older game, but also delivers a modern experience. By combining these two elements together, we’re keeping both old and new fans happy,” the 47-year-old iterated.
Star Ocean The Second Story R releases on the Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, and PC on 2 November. A prologue demo for the game is available right now.