Star Ocean The Second Story R PAX West 2023: symbology improvements, crisp 2D pixels, and Weepy Ashton

When Square Enix unveiled Star Ocean: The Second Story R several months ago, I’m sure I shared a similar reaction with fans of the original classic - very excited, a little scared, a bit anxious, and extremely curious to learn more. Many Star Ocean fans hold the second mainline installment in high regard and to many, it’s still the best Star Ocean yet. When I heard that it’d be playable at PAX West 2023, I knew that it’d be one of the titles I had to check out. It’d be doing you RPG Site readers a disservice if I didn’t.

The brief hands-on demo with Star Ocean: The Second Story R started in the Lazgriz Mountains (previously localized as Lasgus Mountains) up to the boss fight with Zinae. Right away, the most significant change fans will notice is the overhauled visual style. Although it’s not quite HD-2D, Star Ocean: The Second Story R’s environments are all completely rendered in 3D; meanwhile, the character and enemy models themselves retain their 2D pixel art. 


I know many remain divided on this visual direction for Star Ocean 2’s remake, but I warmed up to me the more I played. It’s as if the character sprites are wandering through a 3D diorama rendition of the original game’s environments. More importantly, the pixel art for characters and enemies are extremely crisp to the point that you can see each individual pixel that comprises their model when the in-game camera zooms in on them. There is no smearing that tries to blend the pixels together. I had a mental sigh of relief when I saw it in person.

Before starting the demo, I quickly skimmed the party menu to see what else I could learn. Claude, Rena, Celine, and Ashton were in my active party, while Precis and Leon stayed in the back; I unfortunately was not allowed to change this setup. Characters can still distribute skill points to learn a plethora of skills that affect other system mechanics.

For those not familiar with it, Star Ocean 2 had a lot of “miscellaneous” skills that characters could invest in, such as the “Kitchen Knife” skill making a character adept enough to cook,  the “Music Instrument” skill allowing a character to eventually use the Musical Talent command, or the “Danger Sense” skill granting the character the ability to scout. Star Ocean: The Second Story R seems like it has left this aspect rightfully untouched, though it has made its interface much more organized to navigate through.


Battles in Star Ocean: The Second Story R retain what people loved about the original game’s battle system; it still allows people to roam the battlefield freely as they attack enemies with short or long ranged attacks in real-time. Characters with melee weapons have their basic 3-combo attack sequence. Arts (character skills) can be fired off freely as long as you have the MP for them. Players are still able to switch between which character they want to control in battle on the fly.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R makes significant improvements into how symbology magical spells are utilized in battles. Fans of the original game can’t forget how using a lot of symbology would elongate encounters because they would freeze the entire battle to slowly play out their fancy animations for spells. Now, symbology has been given new prettier and speedier animations; longer ones that freeze combat, such as Rena’s Star Flare, can be skipped entirely with a single button tap to keep combat going. 

Another feature that remains intact is players being able to issue a command for a symbology user to cast a specific spell when they’re in control of another character. It is a much faster process to execute in Star Ocean: The Second Story R as people can pop up a mini battle menu during a fight, select the Spells command, and quickly find which character’s symbology repertoire they want to access.


With all these enhancements, the high tempo of Star Ocean 2 fights are more consistent, though it also brings a few new tweaks to spice them up.

A new Break mechanic allows players to stagger enemies at set intervals by keeping up the pressure on them; broken enemies also receive more incoming damage. The Break gauge is depicted as red shield icons above an enemy’s model that shows how close an enemy is to being broken.

Reserve party members can now briefly participate in battle through assist attacks. Players can call upon them via the D-pad and they’ll hop into the fight, execute a spell or ability, and tag out until a cooldown allows them to be called upon again. It’s a relatively small addition to fights, but it goes a long way in making it feel like everyone is participating in some way, shape, or form.

Another new feature is something that future Star Ocean games possessed after the original release of Star Ocean 2. Star Ocean: The Second Story R now has some sort of ongoing, persistent combat multiplier bonus that grants various buffs by reaching certain point thresholds in combat.

The exact specifics of how this system works in Star Ocean: The Second Story R is unclear to me in my short time with the demo. There was some sort of circular orange gauge at the bottom right corner of combat that had numerical values in it. For example, it displayed 136/300 inside of it; as I dealt damage and broke enemies, the number 136 would increase. When it reached 300, it granted me a buff like Atk Dmg +1.5% and this circular threshold would persist into consecutive battles. Once again, the Star Ocean series is no stranger to battle chains yielding combat multiplier bonuses - though Star Ocean 2 never had that sort of system until this new remake.


Lastly, Star Ocean: The Second Story R makes an amusing change for the sake of clarity when it comes to Ashton. For those unfamiliar, Ashton is the character from the reveal of the remake that has the two dragons on his back; their names are Creepy and Weepy. Sometimes in the story, one of the dragons possesses him if the narrative calls on them to participate.

Depicting Ashton as possessed in the original release saw a slight shift in his art portrait and his tone of voice drastically altered to indicate that, in that moment, Ashton was not Ashton. Now in Star Ocean: The Second Story R, the dialogue box will also denote this further by having the speaker’s name be ‘Weepy Ashton’ instead of remaining as just ‘Ashton’. It’s a small thing that stuck out to me and I figured I should mention it.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R was a lot of fun in my hands-on time with it. The big visual changes leave me eager to see how the rest of the game’s environments will look in its final release. All the enhancements to its battle system have been great. It reinforces the best aspects of Star Ocean 2’s battle system and makes some smart adjustments to the lackluster parts of it. The widely anticipated remake to this classic JRPG arrives on November 2 worldwide to PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC (Steam).