24 years later, JRPG fans rejoice as Star Ocean The Second Story R sets "the new gold standard for any new remakes" amid stellar reviews

 Star Ocean: The Second Story R.
Star Ocean: The Second Story R.

Star Ocean The Second Story R, a full-fat retelling of the PS1 cult classic, has wowed retro and modern JRPG fans with one of the best remakes of the year – in the year of Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 remakes, no less.

Like everyone, I have a back catalog of games I’ll likely never get to despite my best intentions. As much as I’d like to do that new Cyberpunk 2077 playthrough for the Phantom Libery DLC or complete those Final Fantasy 6, 8, and 9 replays, any effort to do that is upended by my meandering progress through Baldur’s Gate 3 or commitment to the fashion grind within Final Fantasy 14. Now the fan reception to The Second Story R has me seriously considering if it needs to fly right to the top of that list – and with the Christmas break coming, why not?

Star Ocean The Second Story R is Square Enix’s latest effort to bring the old bangers of its own back catalog forward for a new generation of fans. The new 2.5D aesthetic – a fusion of 2D pixel art character sprites and 3D environments – will be familiar to anyone who’s played either of the Octopath Traveller games or, indeed, Live A Live, another banger from another time. You’ve also got other welcome tweaks like new battle mechanics, re-arranged music, and fast travel.

What's really wowing fans, though, is how all that and more heightens what everyone loves about the 25-year-old JRPG. Following some glowing reviews from several outlets, Star Ocean The Second Story R has launched on Steam to equally stellar reception. At the time of writing, there are 1,110 user reviews, with 96% bringing the JRPG to an 'overwhelmingly positive' rating.

"This is the definitive version of a classic PS1 JRPG," one review reads. "This is the new gold standard for any new remakes. So many quality-of-life options and others that I didn't know I wanted until they showed up in this version. The ability to choose the VA for each playable character individually from all three available voice tracks? Yes, please. Would recommend."

Another chimes in with, "You can finish the game in 20 - 30 hrs if you just wanna go through the story, an easy and short game for people that want to get into JRPGs and are overwhelmed by other long titles.

"If you wanna break the game, grind a lot, do the amazing super bosses and just play around with skilling mechanics, that's the perfect game then. It's super fun just messing around trying to break everything."

It's not just Steam users, either. The go-to JRPG subreddit features similar posts from many fans praising The Second Story R, with one top-ranking post calling it "the best remake I have ever played," and other JRPG fans agreeing in the responses.

"What's really impressive to me is that the original game was PS1-era with pre-rendered backgrounds and transition screens," responds one wowed player. "The lunatics that made this remake converted all of those to full 3D-rendered backgrounds without screen transitions – and had the audacity to put the original PS1 sprites over those backgrounds. It's absolutely perfect."

Game design has moved on since Star Ocean The Second Story's initial Japan release 25 years back, though it got a warm reception for the newer ideas it toyed around with. Everything people loved about games like Final Fantasy 7 was present, like team management and traveling to villages to stock up on gear. The combat between those lulls, though, was more active, a design choice we would see reflected in later Final Fantasy games.

Given the excitement around Star Ocean The Second Story R and an impending Christmas break, I feel compelled to see what the excitement is about – even if that does mean sentencing other games to the still-deeper depths of my gaming to-do list.

Need more? Here are the best JRPGs to play in 2023.