Reviews

Star Ocean The Second Story R review – A classic reborn

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Star Ocean The Second Story R Featured 4
Image: Square Enix

Star Ocean has always been a franchise I’ve looked in from the outside thinking to myself how seemingly cool it is. From various mechanics that allow you to essentially say goodbye to the game’s balancing, to absolutely incredible soundtracks and fun combat.

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I played a bit of Star Ocean First Departure R before the release of Star Ocean The Second Story R, and knowing it was, as far as I know, a remake of the first game in the Star Ocean 2 engine, made me incredibly excited for The Second Story R. I was right to be excited because after playing Star Ocean The Second Story R early and finishing it to completion, it’s a fantastic game with only a thing or two holding it back from being one of my favorite games in recent memory.

The most mechanically dense video game in existence

Star Ocean has a reputation for its specialty and item creation systems, and having played this game, I can easily see why. It’s pretty much the main focus of the game outside of the gameplay, and it took up a majority of my hours with Star Ocean The Second Story R. I honestly have zero notes on these systems except that they’re pretty much perfect. 

Star Ocean The Second Story R Super Specialty
Screenshot: PC Invasion

There are multiple different facets of this system, such as the Contraband super specialty, which allows you to create various items that can pretty much make character progression and some in-game things free. For example, you can get a Counterfeit Medal from doing Contraband, and this item grants the character you use it on enough EXP that they only need one point to level up, meaning when you finish your next battle, you’ll have an easy level. This particular trick for leveling, combined with the bodyguard super specialty, which takes down enemies from the world map if they’re weak enough in correlation to the main cast, makes world map battles an optional thing you can partake in if you want to. 

If you don’t want to break the game in that way though, that’s fine, because using this is entirely up to you. Truthfully, it takes a lot of learning the systems to get to the point where that is something you can do at any time, and I didn’t even mention using replication to replicate the medals so you don’t lose friendship points for using Contraband. So there’s a lot to learn here, but even at the basic level with these systems, such as just making new weapons or food to heal yourself with, is so rewarding that it makes the effort you put in to learn these systems worthwhile. 

Singing together in harmony

The item creation and specialty systems shine on their own, but when you combine the absurd things you can do in those systems with the rest of the game, it feels like a match made in heaven. The combat in Star Ocean The Second Story R is generally pretty great too. You have a standard melee attack combo paired with special moves you can assign to two buttons, later unlocking the ability to chain them together if you cancel. This differs from character to character, but as I was playing with Claude for most of the game, that was how I experienced combat. If you’re a caster like Celine, it will be different, for example.

Star Ocean The Second Story R Featured 1
Image: Square Enix

The reason I was playing as Claude for most of the game wasn’t because I chose Claude as my protagonist at the beginning, but because about 20% of the way into the game after the Armory Contest, thanks to the item creation systems and a weapon you can get, you can make yourself Claude’s best base game weapon – Aeterna. 

It takes a bit of effort to get, thanks to needing Mithril, but it’s genuinely so fun to have a weapon so powerful in the early game thanks to just taking advantage of the systems on offer and making them work together in perfect harmony. 

An audiovisual masterclass

Star Ocean The Second Story R is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen, and I think this might be the perfect blend of 2D-pixel art and 3D graphics that exists right now. I really want more games to look like this, and as someone who really appreciates pixel art, the way it’s seamlessly integrated into the lighting system that lines up with the 3D assets is honestly jaw-droppingly gorgeous in certain areas. For example, the forest where you start Star Ocean The Second Story R is probably one of my favorite areas in gaming in terms of visuals. It’s just beautiful. 

Star Ocean The Second Story R Forest
Screenshot: PC Invasion

The added perspectives in towns when you walk around that showcase the 3D environments are also great, and fixing the camera in one location instead of letting you move it really lets them make absolutely stunning areas in this world, and make exploring it a delight on the eyes.

The new musical arrangements are also great too, with the main battle theme being an absolute banger for the entire run. Dungeon themes are also a standout too, and the ability to switch between the old and new soundtracks at any point is also nice if you ever want to compare and contrast the different versions of the tracks. A few times during my playthrough I would listen to the new and old versions of the soundtracks and then decide that both of them are incredible and that both of them belong in my game music playlist.

A story with great ideas

The only thing in Star Ocean The Second Story R that didn’t land for me was the story. Now that’s not to say the story isn’t good, far from it actually, the story that’s here is actually pretty great. Especially the stuff surrounding Rena, and the sci-fi elements of Star Ocean are always a highlight for me, especially when they intertwine with the underdeveloped planets you so often find yourself on in this series. My issue is that there isn’t really enough of that great story during the runtime of the game. 

Star Ocean The Second Story R Welch 2
Screenshot: PC Invasion

To elaborate on that, I think the climax of the first half of the game is genuinely peak fiction, and the ensuing fallout from that is fantastic, but there just isn’t that much to the story before or past that until we get into the lead up to the climactic parts of the game. In general, Star Ocean The Second Story R has an engaging story that is pretty spaced out, meaning some chunks can feel as if there’s not much happening at any given moment. Luckily, Private Actions do account for a lot of that downtime, so the character moments I would want during this downtime between major story beats are sort of accounted for, but if the main narrative and villains were a bit more consistently present during the game, it would probably be a frontrunner for my Game of the Year.

Wrapping things up

Star Ocean The Second Story R is a fantastic game that has some of the most satisfying mechanics in gaming, with a gorgeous presentation that makes it one of the most beautiful games this year. While the story is a bit sparse, it’s generally a pretty good one, and Private Actions are as fun as ever in filling the downtime. I really hope Star Ocean 7, and more remakes or games in general, are made in this style because this game is seriously up there for one of my favorite art styles in gaming. 

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Star Ocean The Second Story R

8.5

Star Ocean The Second Story R is a fantastic remake with a gorgeous visual style. The specialty and item creation systems create a beautiful harmony with the gameplay to make this one of the most satisfying gaming experiences of the year.

Jack Salter
About The Author
Jack has been a Contributing Writer for PC Invasion since January 2023. He is an avid enjoyer of the medium of video games, particularly JRPGs and platformers, but mostly anything he thinks looks cool. When he's not talking about Trails, Xenoblade, Pokémon, or Zelda, he enjoys spending his time watching anime that usually involve either mechs, music, or anything with great emotional character writing, like Gundam, Love Live, and Kaguya-sama: Love is War. He also enjoys listening to music of most genres and types, and is always on the search for media that combines his love for music with other mediums and genres, like Symphogear. Jack is also trying (and failing) to finish his ever-growing backlog.