Star Ocean has taken over PS Plus — what to play before Second Story R

Star Ocean on PS Plus is great news for fans tempted by the recent release of Star Ocean The Second Story R on PS5 and PS4 — here's why.

Star Ocean has taken over PS Plus — what to play before Second Story R
Lee Brady

Lee Brady

Published

Jumping into a series as big and as storied as Star Ocean can be pretty daunting. Yet, it can also be very tempting to do so while the internet is a-buzz with interest in those newly-released Star Ocean The Second Story R trophies! Luckily, with the full mainline Star Ocean series available on PS Plus, you can check out some of the best PS5 RPGs around before making a call. Plus, if you have no idea what the series is even about, we've broken it all down for you in the article below!

You can play five Star Ocean games via PS Plus Premium

Announced as part of the new PS Plus Extra and Premium games for September 2023, the Star Ocean series arrived with five of its six mainline console entries all in one place. If you want access to all five games, you'll need a PS Plus Premium subscription, as a PS Plus Extra subscription will only net you access to two Star Ocean titles on PS5 and PS4.
You might have guessed from the name, but Star Ocean is a sci-fi fantasy series — one that takes place across the Milky Way galaxy. Being sci-fi fantasy, that means there's plenty of spaceships and futuristic weaponry involved, but that doesn't stop people from largely fighting each other with swords and space magic. While the creators envisioned the series to be more like Star Trek, it definitely falls on the Star Wars side of things, with Sega's Phantasy Star series probably being the closest comparison in gaming.

Each Star Ocean game occurs in the same consistent universe, which might surprise you given that the cast rotates game-to-game like a Final Fantasy game. The stories usually take place hundreds of years (that's time) and countless lightyears (that's distance) from each other. Still, there's still a lot of connectivity between the six core titles.
For example, the lore of Symbology (also known as Heraldry) — the aforementioned space magic — grows little by little with each title. There are also organizations like the Pangalactic Federation which, much like Star Trek's Federation, nebulously exists over the course of the series, occasionally driving certain characters or steering the plot one way or another.

These little touches help make it easy to become a fan of the series, as the more Star Ocean games you play, the more nuggets of lore you walk away with. That said, with the stories all kept rather separate from one another, that also means you can jump into the series at the game that appeals to you most, and you don't have to play them in order. The games themselves are not even linear order — the fourth game, Star Ocean The Last Hope, is chronologically the earliest in the series — so it's almost like the series encourages you to jump in wherever you feel most comfortable.

What is Star Ocean's gameplay like and what makes the series special?

In terms of gameplay, the Star Ocean games are action RPGs, meaning combat happens in real-time as opposed to a traditional turn-based JRPG. For a more popular example of the style of gameplay on offer here, you'll find a similar frantic action RPG vibe in the series Star Ocean technically spun out off — the Tales series. In combat, you'll spend half your time in-game whaling on the attack button, and the other half dropping into menus to mess with party formations, skill trees, and pausing to cast the odd healing spell.

The divide between action gameplay and RPG menu navigation varies from game to game. In earlier titles like Star Ocean First Departure R, there's a greater emphasis on the RPG elements, with that game giving you lots of systems and customization options to mess around with. Meanwhile, recent games like Star Ocean The Divine Force feel far more action-focused, letting you push through the story faster by just bashing your way through waves of enemies.
Star Ocean is also well-known for having helped pioneer a number of important RPG mechanics. One example is the 'Affinity' system, which essentially tracks the relationship level between each of your game's characters. There's also 'Private Actions,' which are special scenes that unlock between characters when certain conditions are met. If these sound familiar, you've probably seen something similar RPG mechanics in later games like Mass Effect, Hades, and perhaps most vitally in the Persona series.

These mechanics also play heavily into one of the series' most exciting traditions: multiple endings. Each game in the series reacts to certain decisions made by the player, usually getting tied in pretty closely with the aforementioned 'Private Actions' and 'Affinity' systems. While the number of endings and the variety they offer vary considerably from game to game (as a general rule of thumb, the earlier games have more endings), it's a unique selling point that makes Star Ocean stand out next to other action RPG series.

Which Star Ocean games are available on PS Plus?

The three games coming to PS Plus Premium's Classics Catalog are, as you might expect, the three older games in the series. There's Star Ocean First Departure R, the 2019 remaster of the PSP port of the 1996 original Star Ocean. There's also Star Ocean Till the End of Time, the third game in the series and the first game to bring PS Plus Premium some new PS2 emulation since launch. Then there's Star Ocean The Last Hope, a PS4 port of the fourth game in the series.

On the PS Plus Extra side of things, you'll be able to play the two most recent games in the series. There's 2016's Star Ocean Integrity and Faithlessness — the fifth and perhaps most vocally disliked game in the entire series, largely on account of its evident low production values. The most recent mainline entry in the series, 2022's Star Ocean The Divine Force, is also available. Many fans consider it a decent step up from the previous title, although its more direct action focus still garners disapproval from long-time fans.
That just leaves the second game in the series, Star Ocean The Second Story, missing from PS Plus entirely. This one originally released on the PS1 and was the first game in the series to come to the West, so understandably its pretty beloved by fans. The good news is that the second game has been remade for PS5 and PS4 and was released as the Star Ocean The Second Story R on Thursday, November 2, 2023 to deafening praise. Here's hoping this one comes to PS Plus sometime in the future as well!

Which Star Ocean games should I play on PS Plus?

This will largely come down to personal preference, as even long-time Star Ocean fans are pretty divided on which games in the series they consider the best. Some prefer the variety of endings and combination of skills available in Star Ocean First Departure R and The Second Story, while others prefer the more linear approach the series has seen in titles like Star Ocean The Last Hope and Star Ocean The Divine Force.
Personally, I'm a fan of the older style of titles as I think the mechanical depth they offer feels the most rewarding. If you feel similarly, I heartily recommend checking out Star Ocean First Departure R first and foremost. Ideally, then I'd be recommending you play Star Ocean The Second Story, but seeing as its not on PS Plus — and probably isn't likely to join anytime soon — you'll just have to either skip this one or pick up a copy of The Second Story R for PS5 or PS4.

After First Departure R, if you've enjoyed yourself, I recommend playing the games in order from there. Indulge in the wild nonsense of Till the End of Time, then luxuriate in the slicker production of The Last Hope. After that, do your best to look past the hideous visuals of Integrity and Faithlessness — there are some cool concepts in this game and it doesn't play terribly, it's just a noticeable step down in quality for the series.
Finally, you should give The Divine Force a shot. It's certainly not up to the standards of modern action RPGs like Final Fantasy XVI or even its cousin Tales of Arise, so if you've played those titles you might find The Divine Force lacking. Still, the game offers another unique take on the Star Ocean formula, and it's undeniably fun to glide around levels, so it's certainly worth giving a shot.

If you're perhaps looking to play the series at its apex, maybe start your journey at the third game, Star Ocean Till the End of Time. It has the best balance of modern action RPG chaos while retaining a staggering scale of options and endings, some of which will absolutely floor you. Otherwise, The Last Hope has that flawed ambition factor that most JRPGs were rocking in the early PS3 era, so if you miss the overwrought vibes that brought us games like Final Fantasy XIII, check that one out.

Star OceanStar Ocean meets PS Plus.

Hopefully, this helped give you a little insight into Star Ocean — it's a wild and fascinating series of games, and you can now access them on PS Plus Extra and Premium as of Tuesday, September 19, 2023. If you try the series and find it isn't your cup of tea, maybe check out some of our other recommendations on our PS Plus best games list. Also let us know: which Star Ocean game would you recommend for newcomers? Shout it out in the comments below.
Written by Lee Brady
Staff Writer Lee keeps one eye on the future (Shadow x Sonic Generations), one eye on the past (PS Plus Premium games), and his secret third eye on junk he really likes (Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games). Then he uses his big mouth to blurt out long-winded opinions about video games.
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