Star Ocean: The Second Story R review for PlayStation, Switch, PC

Platform: PS5
Also On: PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Gemdrops
Medium: Digital/Disc/Cart
Players: 1
Online: No

Star Ocean is a long and storied series by Square Enix, and while most of the games are very good a couple of them not so much. As the name suggests, Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a remaster of the second game in the series. The first game was also released as a remaster as Star Ocean: First Departure R to average reviews. How does this one compare? Gemdrops/Square Enix kindly provided us with a copy of the game to see for ourselves!

Tri-Ace has made some very good games. Back in the heyday of the first two PlayStation systems, Japanese RPGs were huge. Tri-Ace had a few during that time including two Valkyrie Profile games, and Radiata Stories, all of which were very good. Star Ocean: The Second Story was released on PlayStation in 1998 and it had been remastered before as Star Ocean: Second Evolution, and now Gemdrops has remade it as Second Story R.

At the beginning of the game, you are asked to choose between characters Calude and Rena.  Depending on the character picked, it alters the beginning of the game and changes the characters that can be recruited during the game. Once the character is picked, you can swap between the two, once they team up. Claude is a member of the Earth Federation, much like Star Trek, and Rena is an inhabitant of a planet named Expel. After what seems like an accident Claude is transported to Expel and has no idea what he is doing there. Rena does what anyone would do in her position — mistake him for a hero of light when he uses is “laser gun” to protect her.

After the opening cinematic players will take control of the character they picked. Right away you will notice the juxtaposition of old vs new looking graphics. Characters and monsters are cleaned up sprites, environments and battle backgrounds are in beautiful high definition. If a game like Octopath Traveler is 2.5D then this is 2.75D, and as strange as it sounds in writing, it very much works.

The original soundtrack to the game was very good, and the arranged version is great. They made some great changes to the music such as the battle victory fanfare which changed from a synth trumpet to electric guitar. Music can be swapped between arranged and original and this can be done almost any time in the game through the options menu.

Fighting is done in real time and as you explore the world monsters appear as clouds on the map. Touch one and a fight breaks out. If you sneak up on a foe you begin the battle with the enemies stunned and vice versa if they catch you from behind.  If you engage in a battle and multiple enemy groups are near one another, it starts a consecutive battle — meaning once you finish the first you start another and another until all the monsters are defeated, each one is harder than the last. At the end of the fight, there are greater rewards for finishing.

When a fight starts, characters appear on the right side of the screen, enemies on the left. Using your controls, you have access to an attack, dodge, a couple of buttons for special attacks and a couple of buttons for targeting and switching characters. Above the enemies’ health bar and a set of shields are displayed, and as damage is dealt the shields deplete and when they do the enemy is stunned.  Some attacks do more to stun enemies then actual damage dealt, and after a fight is finished our heroes regenerate a small amount of hit and magic points. Balancing magic and regular attacks is important as spamming spells will result in you running out of magic pretty fast.

Battles are fast paced and fun. It is very easy to lose track of your character with everything going on especially when your party of four is full. Enemies will blink red before they attack so that gives you an opportunity to dodge their attack. Dodging is a good way to get magic back, but be warned, if you mis-time a dodge, you can be stunned easily. Other ways you can get your MP back is by using items and leveling up, and when you level up, your HP and MP are restored.

New to the game are Assault Actions and these work a lot like character assists infighting games. When certain conditions are met, you can press a direction on the D-pad and call in an assist by a character not in your current party. You can also find other characters to use in Assault Actions that include finding characters from other Star Ocean games you can call upon to help you fight.

There are a couple of noteworthy quality-of-life improvements found inStar Ocean: The Second Story R. The first is the mini-map which shows where your next story destination is. So, if you haven’t played in a while, and you are just coming back into the game, it’s easy to figure out where the next place to go for is in the story. The other is you can fast travel to different locations you have previously visited.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a fantastic remaster of a game from the golden era of JRPGs. The newly arranged music is great and the voice acting is good as well, and the improvements to the battle system from the original to this one is leaps and bounds better. The graphical choices made in this remaster is spot on with a nod to the original sprite graphics mixed in with more modern environments. Anyone looking for a classic-style JRPG to play should pick this one up.

Note: Square Enix provided us with a PlayStation code for review purposes.

Grade: A-