It may not be a triple-A title in the very sense of the word, but many fans of the game and the series will agree that the upcoming release of Star Ocean The Second Story R is a highly anticipated remake that’s been a long time coming.
In the lead-up to the release of the game in November, I got to sit down with select media from Southeast Asia to pick the brain of Yuichiro Kitao, CEO and Studio Director of Gemdrops and also the producer and director of Star Ocean The Second Story R.
Kitao, no stranger to the scene, has been sharing his talents with the world ever since the era of the iconic PlayStation, working on titles such as I Am Setsuna (Program Manager), Valkyrie Profile (Battle Programmer), and many more JRPG classics from his stints at Nippon Ichi Software and Tri-Ace.
In this interview, Kitao shares valuable insight into the pressures the team faced in remaking what is widely considered the best game in the series, along with the importance of getting the original team members like Motoi Sakuraba back for this effort. Also in attendance was Square Enix producer Kei Komaki, who talked about the new features and his thoughts on the upcoming game.
*Some parts of this Star Ocean The Second Story R interview have been slightly edited for brevity and readability.
Media (M): Motoi Sakuraba is back and has rearranged the full soundtrack for the game. How crucial was it for the team to bring the original composer back for the remake? Was it a case of “No Sakuraba, No Remake?” and were there any other non-negotiables for the remake?
Yuichiro Kitao (YK): Sakuraba has handled the composition for all titles in the series, so you can definitely say that he’s an essential piece for this. It was great to hear that Sakuraba graciously accepted to return to handle the compositions for this title, and I can definitely say that the new tracks and the arrangements of the existing tracks are all great.
One thing that was non-negotiable for me and the development team was to respect the source material, keeping the good qualities but also adding new elements to it without breaking the original game. Finding a good balance between those two was a big challenge and a difficult part of the development, but the end product, we believe, is a very good game.
We also wanted to make sure to create a game where newcomers or even players who are playing this for the second time will experience something enjoyable.
M: The game doesn’t look like a full HD-2D remake and seems to look more 3D in terms of the backgrounds while retaining some of the pixelated-style assets in some parts. Can you talk about designing this style for the remake?
YK: When we first started developing Star Ocean The Second Story R, we wanted to focus on how the old players who had played the original game would feel and how they would remember these elements. The biggest challenge in terms of graphics was finding the balance between how much of the new elements we would put in and how much nostalgia we wanted the old players to feel.
The visuals of Star Ocean The Second Story R are new and different. The characters are visualized in 2D pixel style, but we also utilized a specific shader just for this game. For the 3D environments, we created and tested a lot of different types of environments to see how well they fit the characters. Our goal for the environment was to create a fantasy-heavy but realistic feel at the same time, so it wouldn’t feel weird from a player’s perspective even if they saw a 2D character in a 3D environment.
Another thing we wanted the players to feel was that they’d turned themselves into these pixelated characters while being inside these realistic 3D cities, forests, or fields in the game. The goal was to create a visual where it felt natural for these pixel characters to exist in this realistic environment.
M: The combat system of Star Ocean The Second Story R has some differences from the original one. Can you talk about the reasons and inspirations for changing the combat system to a more fast-paced one compared to the original?
YK: The priority of the team was to retain the feel and the good qualities of the original combat system and make sure it felt similar. In terms of visual effects, we polished and refined these in both the normal and symbology attacks, along with making sure the battles don’t drag on for too long.
We also implemented new systems such as the assault actions and the break systems, both of which are very useful if used correctly. Through these new systems, the old players will feel that the game has improved even more, and the new users will feel that the game doesn’t feel outdated and doesn’t feel like it was reused from a game that was released years ago.
M: Returning to the art style, the original game featured a mix of in-game action and anime cutscenes. Because Star Ocean The Second Story R features more polished visuals, did the team face any difficulty blending these styles?
YK: For Star Ocean The Second Story R, when characters are conversing, you can see that there are static images of these characters, and these designs were handled by Yukihiro Kajimoto (Character Designer). These designs are based on his re-interpretation and are new designs that are also newly illustrated, and to make it feel like the characters weren’t “old” but also feel very “Star Ocean.”
For the cutscenes, we wanted to ensure that the quality of the 3D CG scenes was not too different from the actual cutscenes. We wanted to make sure that the players didn’t notice any difference in quality to make them stay immersed and feel like they lived in the world, and make it feel natural for them.
M: Star Ocean The Second Story was known for its multiple endings. Are these endings going to be in Star Ocean The Second Story R and do you have any particular ending that you like?
YK: Star Ocean The Second Story R will also have multiple endings, so rest assured, we kept that feature from the original game. In terms of a favorite ending or the one that I liked, it would be the one where Claude ends up being alone (laughs).
For Star Ocean The Second Story R, we rebuilt the private action system in a way where it’s easier for players to switch between modes. A lot of players will want to focus on the ending that they want to go for, so we also adjusted the system so that it is easier for players to understand and be aware of how close they are to these characters and know which endings they would likely end up with.
We would love it if the players tried to find out these different endings.
M: Star Ocean The Second Story is widely considered to be one of if not the best, games in the series. Did the team feel any pressure from bringing this installment in the series back to life in a way that fans and newcomers will appreciate?
YK: To be completely honest, the pressure to create a remake for something so highly regarded was really immense. It was important that both fans and newcomers would enjoy Star Ocean The Second Story R so it was a huge challenge. There was indeed a lot of pressure.
Was it the right decision to create the remake the way we did? We can’t really determine if we took the correct approach or not since the game isn’t out yet, but I am very much looking forward to how the players will react to the game.
I do believe that we created something that both types of players will enjoy and so it was well worth the struggle.
M: Is there any new game plus in Star Ocean The Second Story R for replayability?
YK and Kei Komaki (KK): In terms of replayability, we prepared a lot of systems for Star Ocean The Second Story R, many of which will be recognized by those who have played previous Star Ocean titles. We also put a lot of effort into structuring the fields and areas for this game.
We can’t talk about too many details at this point in time, but we did put a lot of effort into putting replayability into exploring the fields and battling stronger enemies, so we’re looking forward to players experiencing these elements.
M: Star Ocean The Second Story R will feature two voice sets that you can switch between at any time. This is not a usual thing to include in most remakes. What led to the decision to include it?
(KK): The original PS1 release featured voices on characters, but the game wasn’t fully voiced, like in cutscenes and event scenes. Fans and players have expressed that they want to see those parts be voiced as well, so we were able to do that this time around.
Star Ocean Second Evolution, the PSP version, featured new voice actors for each of these characters. That said, we wanted to make sure that we were respecting the memory and nostalgia of players who have played the original and the PSP version.
M: Could you share any other improvements that the team made with regard to the audio of Star Ocean The Second Story R?
YK: We recorded some new voices and dialog for the game. The sound effects are mostly newly produced and recorded to align with the visuals of the game.
Sakuraba has also produced new tracks, and for more impactful moments, Sakuraba even used “raw” and live instruments so that it fits well with battles. The sound that comes off as a result is pretty big and impressive.
Also, as mentioned, players can not only switch between the voices of the PS1 and PSP versions but also switch the BGM to the PS1 version as well.
M: Will Star Ocean The Second Story R feature new quests, what can players expect from them, and are there any particular quests that you are excited to let fans experience?
YK: In terms of the main story, there isn’t any change. The main goal for Star Ocean The Second Story R was to deliver the same experience, so we didn’t change the main story.
For the side quests/private actions, there won’t be any changes as well, but there are some newly implemented features such as the characters talking while moving around the field, and the purpose of this is to have more moments where players can connect more with the characters.
It’s important to consider that the original game had an enormous amount of content available, so it was important to us that we deliver all of this, as close as we can to the original, to the players. At the same time, we also have to ensure that newcomers to the series can feel the same experience. We have new characters and new stories for these characters, so we want players to look forward to these additions.
M: Why did the team decide to remake this game instead of coming up with a new game?
YK: To be clear, it’s not that we’re not developing new titles at the moment. We were actually developing Star Ocean 6 and Star Ocean The Second Story R almost in parallel, so we were technically creating a new title.
There’s not much that we can tell you regarding a new title in the series at the moment, but we decided to remake this because this year marks the 25th anniversary since the original was released, so Star Ocean The Second Story R was meant to commemorate that. We also just came from developing a new mainline entry (Star Ocean 6).
Fans have also made a lot of requests to remake Star Ocean The Second Story for a long time, so that was one other reason why.
M: Now that we have Star Ocean The Second Story R, is there a possibility that other titles, like Star Ocean: Till The End of Time, will get a remake too? Maybe on the 30th anniversary?
YK: This is not going to be a fun answer to the question, but unfortunately we cannot talk about that right now and give a solid response. Releasing Star Ocean The Second Story R and getting these kinds of questions tells us that there are a lot of fans out there who are interested, so it is great to hear that.
But what we can say right now is that after releasing this remake and getting to hear the voices of the fans and the support from the community, it would be a great opportunity to see what they like and for us to reflect on that. We look forward to your responses!
M: Just a fun question, Who is your favorite character in the game and why?
YK: As someone from the development team, we made sure to develop these characters to make sure that they have uniqueness and individuality, so it’s really hard to pick favorites. If I were to pick one, I would say Precis. Personality-wise, she’s very fun, but in battle she also has a lot of skills, making her fun to play as well.
All of the other characters are unique, so we’re looking forward to players enjoying each one.
KK: I would say that my favorite design is Celine, who is a wizard that uses symbology attacks in battle. Kajimoto, the character designer, mentioned that he reached a new level of skill when designing this character, so I believe players will be able to understand what we mean when they see the character.
To end, the team also shared closing remarks.
YK: With the release of Star Ocean The Second Story R, this is the first time that the game is being released in the Asian regions. This is a beloved title and series from fans all over the world, so this release is very exciting.
It would be great for a lot of players to play Star Ocean The Second Story for the first time, but it would also be amazing if it leads to players trying out other titles in the series like Star Ocean 5 or 6. Despite being a 2D game, the exhilaration that the players will feel from the combat to exploration, we believe that it will be a fun and enjoyable game.
KK: We believe that Star Ocean The Second Story ended up being a great game, including the overall narrative, and it would be great to see the longtime fans try out the remake and have them enjoy the game, feel like what they felt back then, and share their positive experience with others. We want the new players to feel that this is their first Star Ocean game and serve as an entry point to other titles in the series, including the latest installments.