Star Ocean 2 Remake Devs Wanted Players to Feel ‘Like They’d Turned Into a Pixel Character’
Breathing new life into a classic.
Across Star Ocean’s more than 25-year history, Star Ocean: The Second Story stands out as the overwhelming fan favorite. Even the Square Enix franchise’s most recent entry, The Divine Force, draws heavy inspiration from Second Story in its use of two playable protagonists with different paths.
But the game’s influence extends beyond its own series. Released in 1998 for the original PlayStation, Star Ocean: The Second Story is one of the most influential RPGs ever made, particularly due to its deep and complex character system. Choices you make can change the makeup of your party (encouraging multiple playthroughs), while the game’s “Private Action” system provides a wealth of intimate character moments amid the dramatic main story. Between its story structure and action combat, Second Story essentially created the blueprint Star Ocean would use for the next two decades.
With that in mind, it’s little surprise Square Enix is serving up a full-fledged remake. And the team behind Star Ocean The Second Story R tells Inverse they put a great deal of thought into how to update a pixel-based title for the modern era. After plenty of experimentation, they landed on a creative solution: placing pixelated characters into a lush, 3D environment.
“The goal was to have the players feel they've turned into a pixel character themselves,” says Yuichiro Kitao, the director at Gemdrops Inc, which produced the new remake. “Have them feel what it would be like if they were a 2D character in a 3D world.”
Kitao worked at Star Ocean series developer Tri-Ace for nearly 17 years and served as battle planner on Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. In 2013, he left the company to launch Gemdrops. Now, he’s coming full circle with Second Story.
Inverse spoke to Kitao and character designer Yukihiro Kajimoto to reveal the immense amount of work that’s gone into The Second Story R — and their hopes for the future of the series.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Inverse: How influential were the HD-2D games on this remake?
Kitao: First and foremost, Star Ocean Second Story R is not an HD-2D title. Of course, we were aware of these titles and their success, but in order to recreate Star Ocean 2 in the modern age, we wanted to make sure the visuals were new. To achieve that, we wanted a complete fusion of the 2D and 3D visual elements. We wanted to do our own thing.
Did you consider making any story changes for this remake, or did you always know you wanted it to be more faithful to the original?
Kitao: This is an overall response from the dev team. But to answer your question, the team never had the intention to make huge or significant changes to the story. Our main focus was to deliver this game to as big an audience as possible and deliver an experience enjoyed by various users. With that considered, we decided we didn't want to change the core of the story.
There are smaller changes to the overall narrative, such as featuring more characters and giving them more dialogue, allowing the players to do a deeper dive and understand the characters more.
How did you update the aesthetic of the game but still make sure it felt faithful to the original?
Kitao: For the 2D part of the visuals, we have the pixel characters from the original release. But we didn't want to just do a pixel character and put them in as is, so we also developed a specific shader for pixel characters that makes them match the environment of the game.
And we wanted the old-school players, who went through the original 25 years ago, to see the places they visited during their adventure and have them discover how it looks in 3D graphics. The goal was to make these environments more detailed and implement more of a fantasy element.
What was the process behind making the new character designs? Did you look to recent entries, like The Divine Force, for inspiration?
Kajimoto: It definitely was a process with some challenges on my end. When the original release of Star Ocean Second Story came out, I was a student playing it as a gamer myself, and I really enjoyed it. So when I approached the designs for these characters for Second Story R, I tried to reminisce or remember how I felt back when I played this game as a student.
I was trying to think back on what kinds of characters Claude and Rena are. And when I designed them, the intention wasn't to brush up or polish the original designs, it was for me to reinterpret who these characters are.
Another thing I wanted to focus on was looking at the elements of these characters, their personalities and core, and reinterpret these elements to figure out what they would look like in a remake.
For Star Ocean: Second Story, in general, there are a lot of different entry points. We have the anime, there’s the original game, and there's the PSP version. Each player might have different interpretations or understandings of who Claude is, or what any other character looks like. I wanted to focus on the importance of the original images of these characters and design them in a way that all audiences and kinds of players can enjoy and like the designs.
After doing this remake, where would you like to see the Star Ocean series go from here?
Kitao: To preface, my response is a purely personal answer and doesn't represent Square Enix as a company. But yes, I would like to see a new numbered title for the Star Ocean series, and I do want to see another remake as well.
It would be great to see these titles developed and released and to see the series continue to succeed. That being said, it's not something I can decide by myself, it's a decision with a lot of people involved. So what I would like to ask is for the readers of this interview and the players across the world to show and voice their support to Square Enix, and then maybe we can go from there.
Kajimoto: I’m not a producer, so I can’t give a response for how the series is going to roll out in the future. But as a fan of the Star Ocean series, I do want to see more titles being released.