Running through the streets of Krosse, I was blown away by the immense scale of the medieval city in comparison to my minuscule character. I was transported back two decades when my starry-eyed younger self sat enraptured by the incredible world of games like Final Fantasy 7.
Star Ocean The Second Story R is a stunning remake that meaningfully updates a classic RPG, making it look and play like something new. Developer Gemdrops applied meaningful changes to sand down the game’s rough edges and make it more approachable for newcomers. At the same time, its visual style is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, evoking a sense of wonder and scale that so many PS1-era RPGs attempted to bring out. A few of the original game’s flaws remain, but Star Ocean The Second Story R is still one of the most impressive remakes Square Enix has put out to date.
Sea of Stars
Star Ocean 2 is often seen as the peak of the series. It established the framework for the rest of the Star Ocean games, and even the most recent entry, The Divine Force, emulated much of its style and mechanics, namely the dual protagonists.
In Star Ocean 2, you choose between two central characters, each with their own stories and recruitable party members. Claude C. Kenny is the son of a famous Pangalactic Federation officer, and Rena Lanford is a young healer who lives on the non-technologically advanced planet Expel. After an incident strands Claude on Expel with no way to reach anyone off-planet, the two protagonists' paths cross, sending them on a journey to save the universe.
The overarching narrative of Star Ocean 2 falls victim to certain RPG tropes with its overly generic bad guys and power of friendship themes, but its mix of sci-fi and fantasy elements remains unique to this day. And its phenomenally written characters and Private Action interactions bolster the generic plot.
Private Actions, which let you view optional conversations between party members, have become a staple of the series. They can be humorous or deeply emotional, and they’re a fantastic way of fleshing out the cast and building a sense of real camaraderie. Here is where Second Story R makes its first big change. The remake adds new Private Actions and streamlines the mechanic making it easier to discover when there are scenes to uncover. Private Actions are now marked on your map, and a fast travel system instantly lets you move between any previously visited locations, meaning you can mop up scenes easily without spending hours backtracking.
It’s an essential change that makes Star Ocean 2 feel more modern and means the story flows at a much better pace, especially since you can tackle Private Actions whenever you feel like it.
There is a load of content to explore in Star Ocean 2, including optional party members, over a hundred Private Actions, dozens of endings, and more. This degree of choice and variability is part of what makes the game so special, especially when it comes to how fleshed out every party member feels. Certain choices can result in different party members, but no matter who you choose, they all feel distinct and serve active roles in the story.
One Small Step
Outside the plot, Gemdrops gave nearly every other facet of Star Ocean 2 a facelift. The aesthetic interestingly mixes 2D sprite art with highly detailed 3D backgrounds, and it really works. It’s comparable to Square Enix’s HD-2D games like Octopath Traveler, but after dozens of hours with the remake, I prefer this visual style. There’s a staggering sense of scale imparted to the environments, making you feel like a tiny creature inhabiting a great world. All this carries over to the combat system, which is upgraded with dazzling particle effects. These changes, coupled with a redone soundtrack that places a bigger emphasis on orchestral pieces, add to the grandeur.
Combat feels drastically better than in past versions of Star Ocean 2, and it’s immediately apparent the controls were modernized. You can swap between characters on the fly who can equip special attacks known as Arts on the bumper buttons. The new Assault Actions feature also lets you call in inactive party members or special characters for assist attacks, drastically upping your options in combat.
There’s an almost overwhelming amount of customization in Star Ocean 2. But the remake explains everything clearly. Gemdrops has done a phenomenal job of making everything more digestible and approachable, cutting down on the frustrating complexity that was present in prior versions.
Further flattening the learning curve, there’s a new “Challenge” menu that rewards you for completing objectives like walking a certain distance or crafting a specific item. This creates a constant stream of money, items, skill points, and more that can help ease the grinding you’d otherwise need to do. Of course, if you want to retain the difficulty of the original game, you can simply ignore the menu.
This remake is clearly a labor of love made by developers who were influenced by the classic game. Gemdrops managed to enhance everything great about Star Ocean 2 while still retaining the aesthetic and feel that was so essential to the original experience. The main narrative still feels a bit slow and underdeveloped at times, but so much has been improved that it hardly matters. Star Ocean The Second Story R truly sets a high new benchmark for how to remake classic RPGs.
Star Ocean The Second Story R launches on November 2 for PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.