Before I was a journalist, I wanted to be a literature professor. In order to do that, you need to have read a shitload of books. But despite actually having read a shitload of books, I can barely remember most of them.
Games are different. To me, anyway. I’ve played Star Ocean: The Second Story exactly once before, on the original PlayStation. This was probably more than 20 years ago, given that it launched in North America in 1999. But picking up the enhanced version on Nintendo Switch, which came out this past November, I was struck by just how easy it was to revisit. You’ve probably already heard that it looks fantastic. And the story, while not exactly deep, is an enticing mashup of space opera and fantasy that’s uncommon among RPGs of this era.
But the biggest draw of Star Ocean: The Second Story R is its absurdly compelling Specialty system. In every battle, you’ll earn skill points that you can use to unlock abilities like Writing, Herbology, and Determination. (Each of those also provides an immediate stat boost, so you can steer characters toward magic or melee builds.) Certain duos or trios of abilities will unlock useful Specialties like Cooking or Crafting. These skills flower among your party, into what is known as Super Specialties, which grant super-useful stat boosts and increase your odds of crafting powerful items and equipment.
The first time I played Star Ocean 2 I found this system overwhelming until the very late game, because I’d invested in skills in a scattershot way. (It’s a lot! It’s probably too much!) But somehow, decades later, I’ve remembered all the tricks. The most important one? You want to invest in Determination for every party member first, because it lowers the number of points you’ll need to upgrade any other skill. Once you do that, you can make your party so dang powerful so dang fast, it feels like you’re cheating. In a good way. — Jen Glennon
Plenty of stars for everyone
Star Ocean: The Second Story R has a downloadable demo on PlayStation, Steam, and Switch. With a PlayStation Plus Extra subscription, you can play Star Ocean The Divine Force and Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. A PS Plus Premium sub also gets you Star Ocean First Departure R, Star Ocean Till The End Of Time, and the remaster of Star Ocean: The Last Hope. What’s the expected hour count for playing all those? Second thought, don’t tell me.