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Star Ocean: The Second Story

Star Ocean: The Second Story was released in 1999. It was published by Enix (who is now merged with Square) and developed by Tri-Ace. The studio is known for making unique battle systems like the one featured in Valkyrie Profile. The PlayStation game Star Ocean: The Second Story is no different. It features unique gameplay, great music, and an engaging story. Unfortunately, the game was overshadowed by the mega popular Final Fantasy VII from Square.

You start by selecting from two main characters: Claude Kenni, who is a Space Ensign from the Earth’s Federation of Planets, or Rena Lanford, a mysterious girl from the planet, Expel. The character you chose will be played by their viewpoint. Both of them will have the same events happen to them in the story. Playing with each character will help you appreciate the story more. The main focus of the story is when Claude is accidentally teleported to the planet Expel. Compared to Earth, this planet is primitive in nature. Just after getting a sense of what happened, he finds a girl being attacked by a monster. The girls name is Rena from the village of Arlia. Claude uses what’s left of his phaser and defeats it. This leads to a journey to save the planet from a device called, the sorcery globe. It is causing the planet to increase the population of monsters and natural disasters. The story is interesting because of the different views and backgrounds both characters have.

Now, the best part of Star Ocean is the gameplay. It is one of the most fun and complex battle systems since Valkyrie Profile for the PlayStation. The battles are played in real time. You have the ability to manually move one character at a time. You can attack, use spells, skills and items during gameplay. The battles also get strategic due to the ability of movement. Some fights will be up close, others far away. You’ll also have to choose how to approach different situations. Do you want to attack or heal? Should I defend or use a spell. These are fun things that will make every battle engaging and varied.

You only can control one character at a time. The rest of the team will be controlled by the AI. While you’re not moving, you can enter a command for the character. The action will stop as an icon appears on top of you. This is where you choose what you want to do. You can select actions such as attack, defend, escape, items, and skills. Overall, the game is challenging and you’ll want to take your time to understand the nuances in the gameplay.

There are still some unique elements that make the game unique. You can choose to initiate Private Actions when you’re close to a town. If you choose to, you’ll enter the town by yourself instead of the party. Different things can occur in this mode that wouldn’t happen otherwise. You might learn more about a party member or have a request from someone in the town. Some other gameplay additions are developing skills, the ability to cook, create items, and a relations system. There is a lot to do in this game and it will keep you busy. You can unlock difficulty levels, find various characters to join your party, fight in a secret dungeon, level up to 255 instead of the standard 99, and amass a voice collection. Did I mention the 80 different endings? Most of them are small variations of the ending but some are different.

The graphics during exploration and walking in towns are all pre-rendered. They all look really nice and usually have small animations in the background. For example, you might see water falling in the background, the breeze interacting with objects, and rivers flowing. There are also small in-game FMV’s that are integrated with the backgrounds. They happen during an important event such as an opening a sealed gate, activating an old item too, or exploding rocks and walls. Some other nice touches for the graphics are the 2D character portraits and 3D models in the item menu. During battles you will have 2D sprites fighting against a 3D background. The battle animations are smooth and the spells look great.  You might see a little pixelization in the characters and enemies. It doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Overall, the graphics make the game feel like your actually exploring an undeveloped primitive planet.

Pros: Gameplay, replay value, difficulty, atmosphere

Cons: Voice samples, takes an hour or two to get into the game.

Score: 9.0

VGM: “Cuddle”

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