You would be forgiven for not knowing about the Star Ocean series. In the pantheon of Japanese role-playing games, Star Ocean sits well below the likes of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest despite all of them being published by the same company—Square Enix. Today, I’d like to talk about one of the Star Ocean games because unlike many other classic RPGs for the original PlayStation, the particular game I’m going to talk about has not been made available to purchase on the PlayStation Store.
Star Ocean games all have the same initial premise, more or less:
A person or persons from a civilization capable of space travel arrives on a planet with technology equivalent to, say, the Middle Ages or the Renaissance.
What happens after that differs by game, but the series uses that setup to have a typical, swords-and-magic RPG experience in the middle of a sci-fi story.
The first Star Ocean released only in Japan back in 1996 for the Super Famicom. Its sequel did release in North America, this time for the original PlayStation, under the title: Star Ocean: The Second Story.
The subtitle “Second Story” has a double meaning. It refers to the fact that this is the second Star Ocean title and that the game allows you to play two stories.
Star Ocean: The Second Story gives you the option of picking one of two heroes to lead your party. Both characters join your team regardless of who is chosen, but you get to see the game’s events from your chosen character’s unique perspective. This also allows you to see exclusive story scenes whenever the two get split up in various circumstances.
First, there is Claude, a young man from Earth who finds himself stranded on an underdeveloped planet called Expel. He wields a sword so he doesn’t stand out too much. Unfortunately, he makes the decision to do that too late, as he decides to save a person being attacked by a monster using his military-issue “phase gun.”
The person he saves is the other main character, Rena. Rena is seemingly a native of Expel, but she has different physical characteristics than the planets other inhabitants. (Mainly her ears). In addition, she is capable of using magic to heal others. Though magic is common on Expel, Rena herself is considered miraculous as she is the only known person who can heal with it.
After Rena witnesses the futuristic technology that Claude wields, she believes he’s a “hero of light” already prophesied to arrive. Cliché as this sounds, the scope of the plot expands quite a lot, given the nature of the setting.
The real selling point is the gameplay.
Star Ocean always provides exciting combat that allows the party and enemies to move freely on the battlefield as they attack. Different techniques can be strung together to create combos and certain over-the-top spells can hit every single enemy in battle. Some characters can fight both up-close and from a distance. Rena, for example, can cast spells from afar or run up for quick punches. Other characters, like Claude, are forced to be in the middle of the fight with their limited-range attacks.
Throughout the game, different party members can be recruited and several of them are optional. The three major downsides to this are that some are quite difficult to locate, can be missed entirely, and that the recruitment of a few will bar you from recruiting others. These issues could have been part of a devious ploy to increase replay value and to push sales of strategy guides, but that is only my theory.
The variety of party members at your disposal does not just affect your options in battle. Star Ocean: The Second Story allows you to split the party in various towns and cities so that you can speak to them one-on-one. These conversations can reveal new story details and influence what ending scenes you will see once you beat the game.
The original Star Ocean for Super Famicom and Second Story were later remade for the PlayStation Portable as Star Ocean: First Departure and Star Ocean: Second Evolution, respectively. Both games use Second Story’s engine, making Second Evolution more of an “enhanced re-release” than a fully-fledged remake.
At one time, I swore that these two games were available on the PlayStation Store, but if that is the case they have since been de-listed for North American users. This is not only a shame, but is confusingly inconsistent since other Star Ocean games are currently available for purchase in the region. It is clear that publisher Square Enix and developer tri-Ace are interested in keeping the series going, given new Star Ocean releases in 2016 and 2018 in addition to the availability of other titles.
Star Ocean: The Second Story is one of my favorite RPGs of all time and it is disappointing that you cannot find it on any digital storefront. Physical copies of the game are not exceptionally expensive compared to other retro games if you look online, but make sure you’re getting both discs if you do this. I saw a few sellers on eBay trying to sell only the first disc, so be careful.
Though it has not aged well in terms of gameplay and presentation, I highly recommend checking the game out if you ever get a chance.
Thanks for reading.