Couch Soup Previews: Star Ocean: The Second Story R

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| October 19, 2023

Going into PAX Aus 2023, Star Ocean: The Second Story R wasn’t on my radar. I remember seeing it announced in a Nintendo Direct earlier in the year, but I hadn’t considered it much. That is until I walked through the Nintendo booth at PAX and noticed someone playing the game. I was immediately curious because the combat wasn’t turn-based, and the backgrounds looked incredible. I knew I had to try this game out, and I did just that on the event’s final day (cutting it close, I know). And to my surprise, it quickly became one of my most anticipated games for this holiday season.

Real-Time Pixel Action

Yeah, smack that bird! (Square-Enix)

When I first saw the Star Ocean trailer, I assumed the game had a turn-based combat system (think older Final Fantasy games). It didn’t seem special, but I was immediately curious when I saw the gameplay in passing at PAX. The 2D sprites running around and causing crazy attacks left me wanting more. And when I tried the game for myself, my jaw was on the floor. This combat system is visually pleasing and addictive, with each attack causing particles to explode all over the screen. You have your standard attack and two special attacks on each shoulder button. You can combine these attacks to deal massive damage. You can also switch characters mid-fight, a feature I wish a certain other game had (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy XVI). You can also press left or right on the D-pad to have one of your party members unleash a super powerful screen nuke, which I never got tired of using.

Outside of combat, the exploration is similar to most other old RPGs. You’ll be running around,  earning XP from enemies, and finding the odd chest or two. I didn’t get to explore much in the demo,  however, I hope the full game emphasises exploration (I love clearing a map of icons). The menu was the other aspect of the gameplay I could mess around with. I know that doesn’t sound exciting, but if you’re into D&D, you’ll want to pay attention. Stats in Star Ocean aren’t like other RPGs, as in you don’t get automatic stat increases as you level up (make them numbers big, baby). Instead, you allocate your stat points similarly to a D&D character sheet. This allows you to fully customise how your party grows, and you can tailor them to fit your playstyle (I just went with double attack in my demo).

Just a 2D Boy Living in a 3D World

It looks so pretty. (Square-Enix)

The game’s art style is magnificent and will take your breath away. The game combines the 2D pixel characters and places them in a fully 3D world. You can move in all directions while exploring and in combat. This decision’s level of freedom is astounding, mainly because I only thought of having 2D sprites in a 2D world. It also helps that the 3D environments are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I only had the opportunity to play through a mountain area in the demo, and even that left me in awe at how pretty these environments are. They also make the 2D sprites stand out more, and the result is one of the most visually pleasing games I’ve played in recent years.

I’m also a big fan of the aesthetic Star Ocean is going for. Combining technology, such as space travel, with alien magic and creatures is something I’ll always find neat. I also enjoy the combination of magic and technology, as it allows for fun combos in combat. I’m also just a sucker for the anime art style when the characters talk, or you flick through the menu. Maybe it’s the anime fan in me, but a character’s design instantly goes up by at least one if the in-game image is a hand-drawn anime illustration.

An Exciting Surprise

Castle of the birds. (Square-Enix)

Star Ocean: The Second Story R was the biggest surprise of the show for me. I did not expect to get this invested into a series I never touched within a 15-minute demo. I love the gameplay, the visuals, and the party build customisation. Everything works together so well and creates such an enjoyable experience. I haven’t even mentioned the snippet of the story in the demo, which also piqued my interest. There wasn’t much, but what was there got me excited. A party member is taken over by two dragon heads and a giant bird that seems to know them. Then there’s the question about how this world came to be and how magic and technology coexist; it’s all so exciting. I have a lot of ideas of what may or may not happen, but I’ll wait until I can get my hands on the full game before jumping to any conclusions.

So many characters that I’ve lost track. (Square-Enix)

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Star Ocean: The Second Story R and can’t wait to play more. Luckily, we don’t have to wait long because the game launches on November 2nd for Switch, PS4, PS5, and PC. Keep it locked to Couch Soup for more coverage on Star Ocean and even more gameplay previews from PAX Aus 2023.

Have you seen Star Ocean: The Second Story R? Are you interested in the game? Do you like the art style? Let us know in the comments where we can talk about our favorite RPGs.

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