Square Enix have shown a lot of love to their back catalogue of RPGs over the years, whether that’s with the likes of the refined Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster titles, the SaGa series seeing a wider western release, or Live A Live taking on a whole new form with a stunning HD-2D remake. Star Ocean: The Second Story R is the latest RPG to get a new lease of life, with the game not only receiving a beautiful new look made up of 2D sprites and 3D environments, but also seeing refinements and additions made to the gameplay to ensure it stands out as a must-play RPG.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Star Ocean: The Second Story R takes place many years after the first game, with it once again embracing a dual protagonist storyline as players choose to take on the role of either Claude or Rena. Claude is a member of the Earth Federation, who finds himself transported to a new planet following an interaction with a peculiar alien object when on a mission. Rena is from that planet and finds herself encountering Claude during his arrival, with her people believing that Claude is a prophesised hero that will protect them from the deadly creatures brought forth by a mysterious meteor that has struck their planet.

What follows is an engrossing tale that blends together sci-fi and fantasy in a satisfying manner that those familiar with the series would’ve appreciated across countless entries. One of my favourite aspects of the Star Ocean series is the disparity in technology between planets and people, and that’s evident here too, with the technological advancements of Claude seeming almost alien to those that he now seeks to protect. And sure, the game can start to embrace plenty of RPG tropes the further you progress through the story as the lines between sci-fi and fantasy begin to fade, but it’s always entertaining and brings with it enough interesting characters and peculiar turns to keep players invested until the very end.

One thing that’s immediately obvious is that Star Ocean: The Second Story R looks absolutely fantastic. This is a remake rather than a remastered release, with the visuals re-built from the ground up to look both modern and nostalgic with its blend of 2D character sprites and 3D backgrounds. On first glance alone, it might seem a little jarring, but in motion? It gives the game this strikingly unique style that never failed to wow me when playing. I can’t even say that there’s anything overly impressive about the 3D backgrounds, but the way that they blend with the 2D sprites to create a nostalgic yet refreshing aesthetic is really, really impressive. I have no doubt that this new look won’t be for everyone, but along with HD-2D, I hope it’s something Square Enix utilise in future RPG remakes.

“Some events are unique to each character too, so you’ll have to play through the game at least twice if you want to see EVERYTHING. But hey, with Star Ocean: The Second Story R proving a blast to play, you won’t see me complaining about taking that second leap into its gripping adventure.”

Combat follows the same action-orientated approach seen in other titles in the series, with battles taking place on a 3D-plane where players will mash out combos, unleash abilities upon their foes, and carefully time defensive manoeuvres to keep safe. It’s pretty simple at its core, but there are new mechanics at play that ensure showdowns can be intense and strategic affairs. For one, each enemy has a Break meter which will decrease as you attack them, leaving them momentarily staggered when fully depleted. This gives players the chance to focus their attacks on specific enemies to make them vulnerable, which can make a big difference in trickier encounters. You can also use the Assault Action system to call in inactive party members to give a helping hand in battle, whether that’s by providing a buff to allies or dealing some damage to enemies. These can be particularly effective in boss encounters that are drawn out, especially since there’s a cooldown period in place between their use.

The way you enter combat has also been revised, with random encounters replaced by enemies actually roaming the overworld. This brings with it two main benefits: one, you can avoid combat when required, and two, you can chain together combat encounters by drawing enemy groups together into Enemy Links. This gives a boost in rewards earned at the end of the encounter, but also sees players facing more groups of enemies in one battle instance. It’s a modernised approach to combat that gets rid of the dreaded random encounters and replaces them with something that doesn’t only save on unnecessary battling but can also be strategically embraced.

I loved the combat of the game, with the revisions complementing the fast-paced action players would’ve already associated with the original release. It’s fun and frantic, whilst there’s plenty of room for strategic action in boss encounters that require a slightly different approach from players outside of simply mashing attacks. It is worth noting that it can be VERY easy though, so much so that I didn’t suffer a single ‘game over’ during my playthrough (nor did I even get close). I played on the standard difficulty, so if you want a more balanced experience that isn’t a cakewalk, you might want to switch to the hardest option.

Check out some screenshots down below:

As characters level up, they’ll earn skill points which can be spent to develop specialities, giving them more refined capabilities that won’t just increase stats but also apply to other tasks in the game. Some might level up your cooking abilities to make meals that apply buffs, some will make you more skilled at crafting items, one will allow you to learn the ability to fish, one lets you summon a bunny ally out in the overworld, and so forth. There’s a LOT to dive into, and with certain characters able to unlock talents that tie into these specialties, there’s plenty of fun to be had simply toying around to see what they all do. With the crafting and cooking elements of the game in particular offering a satisfying amount of depth, it can be really rewarding to develop your skills and strengthen your party in a variety of ways outside of simply increasing their stats. Oh, and that fishing that I mentioned? It’s a brand-new feature that doesn’t only bring with it a variety of rewards, but that is also very addictive. Man… I just can’t resist fishing in an RPG and catching EVERY fish there is to find…

There are plenty of other intuitive new features too, such as fast travel, new side quests, better map markers to track events and quests, and full voice acting. Admittedly, it has been a while since I played the game in its original form so there’s a lot I’ve probably forgotten, but there were PLENTY of moments where I experienced something fresh in-game that instantly stood out. And, of course, the core RPG progression is as rewarding as ever, with plenty of unique sights to be seen and interesting scenarios to face as you adventure across the world. Some events are unique to each character too, so you’ll have to play through the game at least twice if you want to see EVERYTHING. But hey, with Star Ocean: The Second Story R proving a blast to play, you won’t see me complaining about taking that second leap into its gripping adventure.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R Review

Star Ocean: The Second Story R is an excellent remake that introduces plenty of new ideas whilst embracing the nostalgic charm of the game’s original release. I loved the unique visual style that blends 2D sprites and 3D environments wonderfully, the combat was more satisfying than ever thanks to its intuitive new mechanics, whilst the countless other additions such as fishing, quest markers, and voice acting go a long way in making Star Ocean: The Second Story R stand out as a VERY impressive release that deserves the attention of all RPG fans.

Developer: Gemstones
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Website: https://starocean2r.square-enix-games.com/