Tonight on Nostalgia Week Matthew talks about his, arguable, favourite game of all time.
More after the break.
Way back in the early mists of time, I decided to go the store with my pocket money and buy a video game magazine. I could never get the money together for a subscription, so I had to settle with buying one every few months. I would read them, re-read them, cut out the posters, show them to my folks (who thought I was crazy) and generally enjoy them ’til they fell apart.
In one particular issue of PlayStation Magazine, there was a three or four page article by an author who I can’t remember and who probably doesn’t even remember writing the piece on a, still, little known game called Star Ocean: The Second Story.
Most of you are probably familiar with Star Ocean: Till the End of Time on PS2 and the Star Ocean: The Last Hope (which is a prequel) on PS3 and Xbox 360. Both are mediocre, and are not representative of the franchise as a whole. More so with Last Hope which was abysmal at best.
Regardless, I recall sitting on the bus on my way to school. I couldn’t have been more than 12 or 13 at the time. I know I was still in public school, and hadn’t yet reached high school as I was playing this game on PS1 which had, by and large, been phased out by the ninth grade for me.
Star Ocean: The Second Story is a wonderful space adventure that takes your player character, of which there are two (Claude and Rena), on a whirlwind journey that spans planets, space and time. The game is also slightly different based on which PC the player chooses to start the game with. There are times, for example, where the party splits up or Claude and Rena have an argument/lovers quarrel and who you are playing as locks out the experience of the other character.
i.e. If you’re Claude, you won’t see what Rena’s up to in the Mars Forest near the start of the game. The opposite is also true.
It also has a deep rich story, endearing and lovable characters who I remember to this day, and a combat system that was, largely, ahead of its time. A combination of turn-based and real-time that would become industry standard by the time of the Xbox and PS2. (See Knights of the Old Republic for an example.)
One other portion of the game that I considered to be revolutionary at the time, and pioneering now, was the ability to have your characters get to know each other. The could learn, talk and interact. This would then, as in a lot of games today, directly influence the final ending of the game as well as character reactions during events and combat throughout the course of the quest.
This is accomplished via the Private Action system. A game system where, upon approaching a town, you can press the square button, and the party will disperse, allowing the player character to interact with party members on a private basis.
This can be in the form of a scripted event, or an event that allows the player to choose the outcome via their own actions and the words they decide to use in conversation. Gifts can be exchanged and friendships can be formed. Even romances.
One thing about this system that struck me in particular was the sheer number of pairings that were possible.
After the end credits rolled, your characters would be paired off via their friendship and romance scores. This would give you your outcomes based on how the numbers lined up. It was possible, though insanely difficult, to even split the protagonists up. I never managed to do this….it takes dedicated work from the very first meeting of the two, and missing one or two opportunities to drive a wedge in between them will snooker you.
Speaking of the possibilities, there are even multiple endings for each couple based on how the scores play out.
If Claude’s Romance for Rena is higher than hers is for him but they are still a couple, she goes back to Earth with him, becomes pregnant and she raises their child while he continues his career in the Earth military.
If hers is higher, then Claude chooses to live in her home town on her home-world.
If they are equal, then Rena also joins the military and they go off on another grand adventure. This, I’ve discovered, is also what Square/Enix considers to be their canonical ending.
All in all, I love this game still. In fact, it’s the only PS1 game I still own and I can see it from where I’m sitting. It’s also been remade for the PSP, so if you haven’t played it, I highly suggest picking it up. It defined what would become staples in our games. From how stories are told, to character interaction to one of the most detailed crafting systems in a single-player game. (Note: make sure you get Claude’s unique sword half way through the game. If you don’t, you won’t be able to make his best sword.)
This is the only game on my list where I will say you owe it to yourself to play it.
Thanks for reading, and take care.