The magic and music of STAR OCEAN THE SECOND STORY R

How do you make a classic game even better? STAR OCEAN THE SECOND STORY R Development Producer and Director Yuichiro Kitao and Composer Motoi Sakuraba explain in this new interview.
By Duncan Heaney

STAR OCEAN THE SECOND STORY is among the greatest RPGs of the PS1 era thanks to its compelling story, exciting gameplay and stellar soundtrack by composer Motoi Sakuraba. Now it's back as STAR OCEAN THE SECOND STORY R - a full remake that somehow makes all these elements even better!

The new game is out now for Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4 and PC via Steam. It features a bold new 2.5D art style, snappier combat with new mechanics, full voice acting for story sequences, loads of quality of life features including fast travel, and so much more.

Excitingly, composer Sakuraba has also returned to rearrange the entire soundtrack and even compose some new tracks. Suffice to say his work is out of this world (pun fully intended).

To mark the game's release, we spoke to both Sakuraba-san and the game’s Development Producer and Director Yuichiro Kitao about what to expect from the upcoming RPG remake - and what it's like for Sakuraba-san to revisit his own work more than two decades later!

Hello Katao-san. Many fans consider STAR OCEAN THE SECOND STORY a crown jewel of the series. Why do you think that is?

Yuichiro Kitao (Development Producer and Director): I think the game - STAR OCEAN in general really - was unusual because it was a science fiction-focused Japanese RPG. These days there are more games treading that ground, but back in the day, RPGs were really focused on that fantasy setting. STAR OCEAN was a breath of fresh air, and something that people found really appealing.

The other reason is that if you look at the series, it evolved over time in line with modern development. That’s in terms of graphics, and it’s got this wonderful soundtrack - really great music in there. And the combat systems have always stayed fresh and interesting.

So, they’re games that are great fun to play both in terms of story and gameplay. That’s something that applies to the series as a whole, and particularly STAR OCEAN THE SECOND STORY, which I suppose is one of the reasons it’s so loved.

Sakuraba-san - how did it feel to revisit a game that you worked on 25 years ago?

Motoi Sakuraba (Composer): It wasn’t like remembering something - it was almost like a new discovery to me to go back to that work. It was, like, ‘oh, is this what I was doing 25 years ago?’ (laughs). So, there was a lot there that felt almost new to me.

But I’ve worked on the STAR OCEAN series regularly since then - for example, I recently composed music for STAR OCEAN THE DIVINE FORCE. So, coming back to THE SECOND STORY felt a bit like coming back to the starting point, or coming home.

As the main composer on the STAR OCEAN series, what do you think defines the sound and style of the game?

Sakuraba-san: Hmm… that’s something I get asked quite often, but it’s tricky to answer.

I think because the world of STAR OCEAN is quite science fiction-focused, when I immerse myself in it I naturally find my way to the right sound for it. It’s quite a natural process. I’m not sure how exactly I switch over, or even where that switch is - it’s just something that seems to happen.

It’s not a specific process and I’m not the kind of person who composes music from a logical standpoint. It’s just about capturing the atmosphere and the vibe of the game.

How did you approach the challenge of reinterpreting STAR OCEAN THE SECOND STORY for this remake?

Kitao-san: When we talk about STAR OCEAN THE SECOND STORY, there are a couple of versions out there - the original PlayStation 1 version and the PlayStation Portable version. So, we went back and looked at what it was about both those games that really worked.

Of course, this wasn’t something I just did myself - the whole team played all the game through to the end and did a lot of research into the series as a whole.

One thing we really wanted was to capture were the feelings that people had when they played the original game. So, when we looked at the new elements we could bring for STAR OCEAN THE SECOND STORY R, it was always with a mind to how to do that in a way that wouldn’t damage that emotional journey that players had originally gone on.

For example, when it came to the graphics, we did a lot of testing around the sprites, the pixel art of characters, and the 3D backgrounds to find a balance between them that would really work for people. That was pretty tough, to be honest, but I think in the end, we’ve made something that was worth all the effort!

Was the soundtrack equally challenging to rework for this game?

Sakuraba-san: As with the rest of the game, what I really wanted to do was preserve the feeling and style that the original game had.

That means that the first thing I had to do was to look for the original files - that was pretty difficult because they were made more than 20 years ago and file types have changed completely!

I actually didn't manage to find all of them. For those ones, I had to listen to them and transcribe each one by ear, note by note!

Then, obviously, I had to update the tracks because a lot of sound used back then doesn't really sound quite in line with modern instrumentation. It was quite difficult to capture that original feeling as a result - a very tricky balancing act!

How does this difference in sound quality affect composition compared to when you worked on the original game?

Sakuraba-san: For one thing, you have live instruments and performance, which of course sounds a lot more real!

I think one of the biggest differences between working now and then is that in the old days, you wouldn't necessarily be able to check the music as you were going along. So, you'd make something and then listen to it once it was in its complete form. If something wasn't quite right, you'd have to go back into the file and start switching things around.

That's not the case if you're using live instruments, which is much more in the moment.

The game also features some new music tracks too! Why did you add these to the game?

Kitao-san: Allow me to hop in to answer this! In this game, there are new scenes and we came to the conclusion that we needed new songs for them.

For example, one of these scenes comes at quite an intense part of the game and is a bit of a climax. When we discussed the idea for scene with Sakuraba-san and the development team, everyone really got behind it and said: "Well, this should have a really good cutscene alongside it, as well as a new music track so it can really feel momentous!"

But even the arrangements of pre-existing tracks had an enormous amount of work put into them, almost as if they were new tracks. That's really apparent when you listen to the battle theme for example. I really hope that's something that players enjoy discovering and exploring in the full game!

Is there a particular track that you're particularly proud of?

Sakuraba-san: The battle and combat-related songs are where I feel like my style is most on display. So, I have affection for the battle theme, the boss themes - those sorts of tracks.

In this game in particular though, I personally really like the ending song as well. It's quite a quiet track, but very passionate as well. I'm really pleased with it.

Kitao-san: The thing about battle is that it's a matter of life and death, so the music has to have that excitement and heightened emotional state that makes you feel like you're really fighting. But also, for all kinds of battle themes, you're going to hear them dozens, hundreds or even thousands of times.

One of the things that always impresses me is that Sakuraba-san's battle themes never get boring. You don't get tired of them and they're wonderful no matter how many times you hear them. I'm incredibly grateful for that!

Sakuraba-san also mentioned the ending song there, and I completely agree. It's a quiet track, but it has these ups and downs, and emotional swells that means there's a real passion to it. It is also fantastically aligned to the ending of the game itself, and the movie that plays there.

As we were working on that scene, it made us extremely emotional as well, because it's just so perfectly in step.

That's something we really want players to experience for themselves once they complete the game. The gameplay, cutscenes and music all come together so well and build to this emotional crescendo - it really instils feelings that this is the end and brings the whole experience together.

Finally, what was the most challenging thing about creating STAR OCEAN THE SECOND STORY R?

Kitao-san: We had plenty of challenges! For example, the battle system was already great in the original game, so how could we improve it for this remake (laughs)?

But I suppose one of the major challenges was the graphics. There's this very fine balancing act between wanting to make the graphics really great, but also not wanting to take away from the original - and what made it so good.

What we initially decided to do was keep the sprites and the pixel art for the characters as people remembered, as well as the prerendered style of the environments like in the original game.

But while we were working on preserving both these elements, we decided to take them one step further and evolve both these aspects.

So, for the pixel art, we have a dedicated shader that really brings the light and shadow onto those character sprites. We approached the backgrounds by considering what the player would see if they were one of the little sprites in the game themselves.

We wanted these 3D backgrounds to look like places that modern players who are likely used to playing lots of other RPGs would go: "Wow, I want to go there. I want to explore that land."

Many thanks to Kitao-san and Sakuraba-san for their insight. You can play (and hear!) STAR OCEAN THE SECOND STORY R for yourselves now on Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4 and PC via Steam.

The following early purchase bonuses are also available:

  • Sunrise Ring
  • Set of recovery items (Mixed berries x20 + Resurrection Potion x20)

*Customers who purchase the game on Steam by 16:59 and 23:59 on other platforms on November 16th, 2023 are eligible to acquire the early purchase bonuses.

To get the game, follow the links below:

A free demo is also available to download now. It lets you play the game for three hours or until you make your way to the exit of Krosse Cave - whichever comes first. Progress carries over to the full game too! Find out more in our blog:

Finally, to stay up to date with news and information about the game, be sure to follow STAR OCEAN on social media: