A Straightforward but Engaging Action JRPG
The Star Ocean series is one I’ve never really delved too deeply into, personally. But I have had a nerd love affair with the Tales of series from Namco Bandai. Turns out, Star Ocean developer Tri-Ace was formed by the guys who made the original Tales of Phantasia. So it now makes a whole lot of sense that I’m finding myself engaged by Star Ocean and wishing I’d played the series’ earlier incarnations. So, how does Integrity and Faithlessness stand up to its predecessors?
Star Ocean 5 is a good game. If you’re a fan of either the Tales of or Star Ocean series, you’re going to find something to like here. That said, SO5 does some things old hat that could be deemed quaint or nostalgic to some, but come off as annoying to me. You can only save at specific points, and those points are often spread far out, between events so if you crash or die, you’ve got a lot of ground to retread.
The story of Integrity and Faithlessness isn’t any great narrative achievement either, and it’s really right in line with a lot of recent JRPGs, with a few twists and turns here or there - war-torn nations, busy fighting over each other, when a bigger more dangerous party is introduced. I won’t go too much into spoiler territory, but if you’re a fan of the genre chances are you’ll be able to pick out the plot twists before they ever happen.
Combat is a redeeming aspect to the game, and one that’s a little disappointing. You have light attacks and strong attacks, near and far attacks. You can slot up to four spells/skills at any one time, and more often than not you’ll want to spam those since they’re far stronger than your normal attacks. And with how easy it is to refill MP with berries, or charge it at the inn, there’s no reason not to use them liberally. The combat in Star Ocean 4 was a bit more complex, and while 5 tries to make up for it with its AI roles but they’re just putting characters on auto-pilot and combat with 6-7 characters on the screen at once makes it too hectic to see what’s going on. You’ll likely pick a character you like to play as (Anne for me) and just stick with them through the majority of the game’s length.
The game’s world is varied, but it suffers from the “tunnel, then open area, tunnel, then open area” syndrome a lot of RPGs tend to fall into. There’s not a lot of real exploration in Star Ocean 5, and since you’re often forced to run back and forth early on in the game, any desire to actually explore once you unlock the fast travel is pretty much cut off. I’m surprised though, being a Star Ocean game, that you’re pretty much limited to one planet. The late stages of the game move to space, but it all feels sadly underused. And while there is a New Game Plus option, as well as an “Endless Dungeon” sort of feature planted in the game world, the scope of SO5 seems limited for a true Square-Enix RPG. Almost like they wanted to keep this one on a budget, which is a shame because the world could use a Star Ocean built on the scale of a Final Fantasy.
In the end, I’ve enjoyed Star Ocean 5, despite its shortcomings and any old school tendencies. I hope it sells well here, because the last thing I want is for Tri-Ace’s brand of JRPG to stop coming west. There’s promise in Integrity and Faithlessness that Star Ocean’s next incarnation could be really something special. Right now, it’s just not quite there in this edition.
GAMEPLAY – 7 | SO5 is torn between two points. It’s trying to bring the series to more people, but in doing so, it may have made combat too simple. This fact is at odds with the large party sizes, and deep role and skill system. The game’s linear nature and loads of time-played stretching walking everywhere makes for a somewhat dull affair between the game’s main events.
VISUALS AND SOUND – 8 | It’s clear that Star Ocean 5 was developed for PS3 and PS4, but that doesn’t stop its lighting and character design from being top notch across the board. Towns and scenery are a little less than desirable, but the overall quality is superb. The voice acting isn’t too bad as far as JRPGs in English go, but the sayings in combat can be very repetitive.
POLISH – 9 | Star Ocean’s pretty damn polished, and runs at a solid framerate most of the time. It’s got the shine you’d expect from a recent SE releases, but during large fights the FPS did drop from time to time. Odd, considering that the game was developed for both PS3 and PS4 in Japan.
LONGEVITY – 7 | The main story is short, probably between 30 and 40 hours long, with tons of side quests and a lot of walking to and from locations to try and pad out the time. That’s short for a JRPG for sure, but the father of two I am didn’t mind so much.
VALUE – 6 | With only around 20 hours of main story, and not a whole lot of replay-ability due to the linearity of the game, I’d say sixty bucks feels a bit much for Star Ocean 5. Still, if you love sci-fi fantasy JRPGs, there aren’t a lot of options and Star Ocean is good fun while it lasts, if imperfect.