Somewhere in one of the various W.B. Mason boxes I got stacked around the house are a bunch of Prima videogame strategy guides from the PlayStation 1 era that I just couldn’t bring myself to sell at a yard sale or toss. Also, I haven’t bought a gaming guide since my teenage days, mostly because…well, the Internet. Though I still occasionally glance at them in stores and could probably see myself picking up some of the ones for my favorite games, like Fallout 3, for collecting purposes only, but I’d rather buy the game itself, play until I can’t, and look up a walkthrough online to help me past that roadblock. I mention all of this because I know, without a doubt, that I still have my guide for Star Ocean: The Second Story, though I definitely no longer have the game itself.
And Star Ocean: The Second Story was a pretty cool RPG, one that sticks out in my mind mostly for making the extra effort to bring its towns to life by giving each and every shop a unique name. For example, there’s The Hopping Penguin, Red Dragon Manor, Munchies, Counterpunch, Budabing Budaboom, Salesman in the Snow, Pellen Nor, The Grasping Hand, and so on. One would later see the same attention to world-building in games like Radiata Stories (not a surprise, since it is another tri-Ace joint) and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I vaguely remember the combat being chaotic and hard to follow, the pacing a bit off and super slow in the early hours, and the strangeness that was battle sound clips being saved to the Memory Card for later listening, but whatever. Every store felt real, blueprints, employee schedules, and all, because once you give something a name, it exists more than ever before, which is why children living on farms should never grow attached to pigs. No more generic nameless store selling the same wares as the generic nameless store three towns over; truly, it was refreshing.
The story, as far as I remember, goes like this: Claude C. Kenny and Rena Lanford, a young girl living on the planet Expel, are destined to meet. After being officially made an Ensign in the Earth Federation, Claude is given his first mission under his father’s supervision, which is to survey the planet Milocinia, where a mysterious energy field appears. Claude quickly discovers a mysterious device and, despite being told to stay away, examines it more closely. Unfortunately, something happens, and he’s teleported to Expel. Here, Claude meets Rena, who mistakes him for the legendary “Hero of Light.” She takes him back to her village, Arlia, to confer with others about what to do next. That’s all I really remember story-wise, though the two eventually leave Arlia to go to some big, fancy city called Cross, and along the way add others to their party in the search for answers and a way to get Claude back home.
What’s pretty neat in Star Ocean: The Second Story is that players have the choice of controlling Rena or Claude, and the journey will evolve differently depending on certain choices each character makes. Another mechanic I’m fond of was “Private Actions,” which allowed the player to influence relations between the cast of characters. Basically, during one of these moments, the party temporarily splits up when visiting a town, each character going their own way to shop, visit friends and family, or otherwise relax. Pretty similar to Final Fantasy IX‘s “Active Time Events,” really–which I loved. Claude or Rena can then interact with their friends, generally leading to actions that will either get these people to like them more or less. This can have a major effect in battle—if Claude’s new best friend falls, he can receive a major combat bonus for a short time—but also determines what ending the player will see. Evidently, there are over 80 possible endings–take that, Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.
Unfortunately, not all shimmered and shined, and I absolutely hated the game’s combat. Which, for an RPG, is a big slice of its pie. Chalk it up as one of my least favorite battle systems ever right next to Unlimited SaGa‘s wheel of chance, and you can mostly blame badly AI-controlled party members for all the heartache. Combat can be played on three settings–Standard, Semi-active, or Full-Active. You can customize your party members to fight in a specific manner, but can’t really do much else after that except pray they heal when they need to heal and they attack when the moment is right. This may or may not happen–it was always hard to see battles unfolding, as their chaotic nature took over, with a dozen actions happening at once, and you left running around like a headless chicken.
Also, apparently there was a whole item creation and skill system–you could become a baker!–brimming with options and customization that I simply can’t remember anything about. But knowing what I later experienced in games like Rogue Galaxy and Dragon Quest IX, I know I’d absolutely eat that stuff up these days. I mean, really–who doesn’t love taking one thing, adding it to another, and walking away with something greater than the sum of its parts? Nobody–that’s who.
Star Ocean: The Second Story is most definitely a “game I regret trading in,” so if you have an extra copy laying around collecting dust, please think of me. I will gladly take it off your hands, at least to visit some of those named shops that, in my mind, are still operating today, having sales and events and being real.
GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.