Star Ocean: The Second Story R review: Epic adventure elevated

Square Enix has reworked one of the most beloved entries in the Star Ocean series, but does it outshine the original?

Image via Square Enix

Star Ocean: The Second Story is RPG royalty as far as I’m concerned. It’s one of the best action-RPGs that the genre ever produced, refining and evolving a multitude of systems from franchises like Final Fantasy and Tales to create an awesome system with a rollercoaster of a story attached to it. With Star Ocean: The Second Story R, Square Enix sought to polish this gem with its 2DHD efforts alongside plenty of other sensible upgrades. The result, with only a few caveats, is the best way to play the best game in the Star Ocean franchise.

An unlikely encounter

Star Ocean: The Second Story R takes place in a far future where the human race has found the means to travel beyond Earth into the depths of space. A protagonist of the first Star Ocean game has become an admiral for his heroics and had a son, Claude Kenny. When Claude, his father, and their crew explore an unknown signal on a barren planet, the signal opens up a teleporter that grabs Claude and throws him across the universe to an unadvanced planet known as Expel. There, he meets Rena Lanford.

Rena mistakes Claude for the Hero of Light because Expel has been plagued by a mysterious meteorite known as the Sorcerer’s Globe, which has caused beings near it to turn into violent monsters. Legend says a Hero of Light will save the planet, but Claude just wants to find a way back to his home and family. He still agrees to join Rena in investigating how to stop the Sorcerer’s Globe. What follows is a journey of a sci-fi space explorer and a young girl imbued with mysterious powers across a vibrant adventure full of magic, monsters, and mysterious forces.

Traveling through Rena's hometown in Star Ocean: The Second Story R
Source: Square Enix

Star Ocean 2 has always had one of the most interesting settings, and its characters and worlds have been recrafted from the ground up to look more beautiful than ever. Returning players will notice right away that most of Star Ocean: The Second Story R is voiced, and many of the voice actors do a great job of delivering on their characters. It’s a long game and there are some humdrum line reads here and there, but it’s still a pretty dang well-voiced game. The voice acting comes alongside gorgeous new character art that bring out some of the best looks the entire cast has ever had. Ashton Anchors' new character design in particular, with his twin dragons fighting over his shoulders, is a treat, but even characters I previously thought were a bit boring like Bowman Jeane really pop in this art style.

Where many of the environments of the original were pre-rendered backgrounds, most locations in Star Ocean: The Second Story R have now been recreated in 3D and look drop-dead gorgeous. The soundtrack has also been upgraded with a beautiful new orchestral score (Although if you like the original music, that’s here, too, and can be switched to whenever you feel like it). The revamped music and visuals as Rena and Claude walked into Rena’s hometown for the first time had me a little misty-eyed. Even then, every familiar sight or sound I spotted or heard throughout the game was reasonably improved in Star Ocean: The Second Story R.

A ferocious flurry of fighting

Combat in Star Ocean: The Second Story R
Source: Square Enix

One of the coolest parts of Star Ocean: The Second Story has always been its battle system. When a battle begins, your party of up to four characters are brought to an arena with your enemies and you have free control over one character. With a melee-focused character, you can chase down enemies and barrage them with a mix of physical and special attacks while magic users sit back and cast spells to damage the enemy and assist frontline fighters. You can also issue commands to any character in the fight or take direct control of them at any point.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R instantly improves upon this formula with a number of upgrades that make its system all the more fun. Formations return, allowing you to position your party’s starting positions in battle based on your fighter and caster composition. However, now these formations have gauges that allow you to gain bonus effects if you do well in fights. One offers bonus experience and gold, another makes your spells hit harder and cast faster, and yet another offers defense boosts and status nullifying effects. You collect Formations as you progress through the game, so each one adds a neat new layer of strategy to your composition.

Opera using her Hyperlauncher attack in Star Ocean: The Second Story R.
Source: Square Enix

New features such as Counters, Assault Actions, and Break also add exciting new strategic options to combat. Break is easily the most important as it allows you to stun-lock your opponents and lay into them while they’re down, making breaking an opponent often just as important as defeating them.

Unfortunately, one thing that remains a bother in Star Ocean: The Second Story R is that it’s very grindy, just as the original was. You can offset the grind with a multitude of experience boosters in formations and character skills, but it doesn’t help that when new characters join your party, they’re often at a predetermined level well under your party, forcing you to take time to power them up a bit if you want to get them into fighting shape. There’s also no scaling for weaker party members. They don’t quite level up faster than stronger members, so it’s just a bit of a drag to run around the world map taking fight after fight. There’s also no good way to test if your battle strategies are successful outside of real combat, and it can be terribly chaotic to try out a new move or spell in a fight with your other party members chucking their attacks and spells about.

Ashton Anchors concerned about Dragons in Star Ocean: The Second Story R
Source: Square Enix

Fighting isn’t the only thing you do in Star Ocean: The Second Story R, though. Specialty skills return, allowing you to make your characters specialize in all sorts of helpful things. Fishing, cooking, musical composition, alchemy, and blacksmith skills all allow you to level and craft awesome new items and equipment for your party, and it feels like each job matters a bit more than they did in the original where you’ll want to have experts across all of the fields so you can get the most out of the game. The Train skill is the real star of the show here. This is a returning skill that allows you to reduce the damage a character does and increase the damage they take take in exchange for bonus experience per fight. This was a must-have for alleviating the earlier grind I talked about and I was thankful at all times to have it, especially for new party members.

Finally, social connections once again matter in Star Ocean 2 and throughout the game, you can learn more about your characters through Private Actions. This allows your party to split up in town and you can take your main character to visit with other party members, often resulting in unique dialogue and situations that lets you learn more about a character or allows two characters to become closer friends. If two characters develop a friendship, they will react and gain a temporary boost in stats when the other falls in battle. Not only are these Private Actions fun to explore storywise, but it makes two characters becoming closer functionally beneficial. With the new voiced cutscenes and art, they’re also that much more engaging.

Rising to a legend

Claude and Rena keyart in Star Ocean: The Second Story R
Source: Square Enix

I knew Star Ocean: The Second Story R would be able to rope me back in with little effort, but I was nonetheless amazed by just how much it improves on the original game. Every angle I looked at seemed reformed with care and consideration to make the visuals and sound more beautiful, the combat more tactically refined, and the side jobs rewarding. It’s a shame the level grind is still here, but at least there are also options to alleviate it. I also wish you could test your battle strategies in some sort of training battle mode. However, outside of these small complaints, I stand by my belief that Star Ocean: The Second Story remains the best setting of the franchise in story and combat. I’m also happy to say that The Second Story R is a nearly perfect way to experience or revisit everything it has to offer.

This review is based on a PlayStation 5 digital copy provided by the publisher. Star Ocean: The Second Story R comes out on PS4, PS5, Switch, and PC on November 2, 2023.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

  • Beautiful reconstruction of visuals and sound
  • Much of the game is voiced with good delivery
  • Character art is more gorgeous and vibrant than ever
  • Combat saw a large number of upgrades
  • Formations matter so much more in the remake
  • Specialty skills also feel like they matter far more
  • Private Actions are more enjoyable with new art and voices
  • Leveling is grindy without boosters
  • No way to easily experiment with new attacks/spells
  • Some voice lines sound humdrum
From The Chatty
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    November 1, 2023 4:00 AM

    TJ Denzer posted a new article, Star Ocean: The Second Story R review: Epic adventure elevated

    • reply
      November 1, 2023 6:12 AM


    • reply
      November 1, 2023 6:50 AM

      Best Star Ocean gets better. So fucking excited for this.

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      November 1, 2023 6:15 PM

      Fuuuuuuuck I'm so excited and I just can't fight it. I still can't believe they did this and we're getting it in the West. So fucking pumped

    • reply
      November 1, 2023 6:42 PM

      redshak, what kinda game is this...?

      • reply
        November 1, 2023 7:09 PM

        Big JRPG with action-based combat like Tales of _____ games and a setting that's loosely "Star Trek, by way of anime".

        It's easily the best game in the series, IMO.

    • reply
      November 1, 2023 7:29 PM

      Great seeing the reviews for this. This game is basically what the entire series has been propped up for over all these years.

    • reply
      November 2, 2023 8:38 AM

      Switch performance ok? Could steam it but this seems like a nice couch game.

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