Star Ocean 5
When most people think of Square-Enix, they generally think of either Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. As much as they enjoy milking those series, they do in fact, own other IPs that they will once in a while bother to resuscitate in order to make a quick buck. One of these often forgotten series is Star Ocean, though many fans do possess a bit of nostalgia for the second game (which was released during the heyday of PS1 JRPGs). It has been about seven years since the previous installment (Star Ocean: The Last Hope), and we're in a bit of a JRPG lull between Bravely Second and Final Fantasy XV. This means that the time was ripe for Square-Enix to dust off the IP and have another go at it.
At first glance, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness appears to be an impressive game on the PS4. The graphics are, as to be expected, a step up from the previous game and spank the pants out of Tales of Zestiria in terms of visual impressiveness. Combat takes place directly on the maps, which are very pretty. The character models are also fairly decent, though there is a bit of uncanny valley when closeups of their faces,despite the anime-styled characters. All seven party members participate in combat at once, leading to a lot of very stunning, flashy visual effects. It also features an excellent soundtrack by Motoi Sakuraba (probably best known for his work on the Tales series). On the surface, it seems as if SO5 has the makings of an excellent update to the JRPG genre.
Unfortunately, the game falls incredibly short of its potential, and the cracks begin to show almost at the beginning. The game's characters are basically a collection of JRPG stereotypes, and mostly don't grow beyond the tropes they are based upon.
- Fidel: The main hero of the game, Fidel is a generic blue-haired teenage swordsman from a small town. His dad is supposedly a badass legendary swordsman, but is basically an absentee father who has left his son in charge of the defense of an entire town. Fidel has a strong sense of justice, and that's about the summation of his character.
- Miki: Fidel's childhood friend who harbors secret feelings for him. Miki serves as the game's primary healer, and is fond of cute pastel colors and sweets. This is basically all you need to know about her.
- Victor: A long-haired, pretty boy knight who embodies chivalry and loyalty. Victor is probably the blandest character in the game, whose sole purpose early on is to help you get from point A to point B.
- Fiorre: An ultra-sexy, but eccentric mage who likes researching things. She is probably the most memorable character in the game, primarily because of her absurdly lewd outfit.
- Relia: A little girl with mysterious powers. Her last name may as well be MacGuffin.
- Emmerson: The womanizing, alcohol loving old man (probably 35). He's basically a far lamer version of Raven from Tales of Vesperia mixed with a dash of Captain Kirk (in that he's a starship captain who violates the Prime Directive fifteen times over without even a slap on the wrist).
- Anne: Emmerson's right-hand woman who basically is there to get flustered at him whenever he breaks the rules and to hack security systems for the group. Since this isn't really a JRPG class, however, she's functionally a martial artist type character in combat.
This cast pretty much remains static throughout the story, despite optional skits that try to reveal the character's back stories and personalities. Miki tries to advance her relationship with Fidel though has a bit of success by the end of the game. Anne apparently has a love for cats and was raised by her grandmother. Fiorre's mysterious mentor disappeared a few years ago, and she's apparently in love with him. Everyone is willing to put their lives on the line for Relia, a little girl they all just met. Fidel's dad dies about 3/4 of the way through the story as a cheap attempt at character development, however the fact that his dad was giant flaming prick the whole five minutes you interact with him during the entirety of the game doesn't really allow you to feel sympathy. The cast is basically a paint-by-numbers band of JRPG cliches distilled down to their simplest aspects. It is almost as if the developers are afraid of doing anything but checking off a list to appease their most hard-core fans, and thus don't want to veer at all into any level of originality.
The plot itself can be boiled down to this. While this is a bit simplified, it pretty much summarizes everything. The writing of the game doesn't really make these plot points any more interesting. Characters often behave nonsensically just to facilitate getting to the next point in the story.
- Fidel needs help from the kingdom to fight bandits who are threatening his town.
- On this initial journey he runs into Relia, a girl with mysterious powers who is being chased by some shady organization that seems to be outfitting the enemy kingdom with space-age tech.
- Emmerson, who is from the Federation, gets involved and ends up violating the Prime Directive because he just can't say no to kids.
- It is revealed that Relia is an experiment of the shadowy organization (formally known as Kronos because it sounds evil). These guys have been doing illegal experiments on Fidel's planet.
- There is actually something special about Fidel's planet, which is why Kronos chose it for their experiments, but it is never fully explained.
- As it turns out, Relia has a twin named Feria, and both are artificially created life forms. Kronos intends to use the powers of these girls as weapons of war against the Federation.
- Fidel and company beat up the leader of Kronos because experimenting on kids is wrong. Also stopping an interstellar war is good too, I guess.
Sidequests, for the most part, are basically given to you by quest boards in towns and are of the "kill X or gather Y" variety. There are a series of sidequests featuring Welch, the eccentric inventor who is basically the Cid of the Star Ocean universe (if Cid were a teenage girl) to unlock crafting skills which can be used to create and power up items. However, these can actually be completely ignored if you're playing on the standard difficulty level. Quests basically have you backtrack across the same maps over and over again as well, and you don't really get free reign or fast travel options until towards the end of the game.
The villains in this game are not even worth noting, and most of them just show up and then get killed. You basically have generic bandit leader, generic enemy army leader, and generic mad scientist. The big bad is a generic megalomaniac in a cape. The denizens of Kronos have some sort of beef with the Federation because they were forced to sign some sort of nonaggression treaty or something. Whatever it was, they're all maniacally laughing and experimenting on kids, so you know that they are the bad guys. Thus it is a-ok to stab them with your sword.
Also, when I refer to the Federation, this is an organization that is literally called as such and is almost verbatim just a rip off of Star Trek with very little change in terminology. They have warp drives, phasers, photon and quantum torpedoes, teleporters, and a Prime Directive not to interfere with pre-warp civilizations. The whole game can basically just be described as a glorified away mission for Anne and Emmerson.
So for all the generic crap in here, it does remain to be said that gameplay is king and sometimes a mediocre story can be forgiven if the game is fun to play. SO5 does fare better in this category, though the experience feels overall like a cheap knockoff of Tales when all is said and done. The game features real-time (for the most part) combat. In theory, you can move around, block, dodge, and counter while comboing your moves to do damage. The problem is that the options are very simplistic. You are allowed to assign only two short ranged attacks and two long ranged attacks, which severely limits your options. There are far too many moves for all the characters to keep track of, so you end up just picking whatever you think the best one is. The combo system isn't very well thought out, either, and with all of the chaos and flashy effects happening all at once due to an often large number of allies and enemies on the screen, you end up just eschewing trying to do anything fancy and instead spam your favorite moves and hoping for the best. This works most of the time, as most of the bosses basically will use unavoidable moves that you basically just have to heal through anyway. Outside of a few cheese-ball gimmick encounters that your AI companions (who are as dumb as dirt) can't deal with well, the game basically allows you to power your way through by just spamming the same two moves over and over again.
I'm not sure to be happy or upset that the game only takes about 20 hours to complete. On one hand, I kind of feel ripped off because I expect 40-60 hours out of a JRPG. On the other hand, the short play time allowed the mediocrity to end swiftly. The game isn't terrible, but it is disappointing because everything feels half-assed. Not only are the characters generic and the story bland, but the combat is notably inferior to Tales. While I wasn't incredibly fond of Star Ocean 4, it felt like a more complete game than its successor. But at least there aren't any pedophiles in this one...