Guns, swords, sorcery, space ships, genetics and evil bastards. No, it’s not Star Wars, it’s Star Ocean V: Integrity and Faithlessness.
Genre(s): Role-Playing Game
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: July 2016
Played: Full Story
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Purchase At: Square Enix Store (EU)
Source: Review Copy provided by Publisher
I have a confession to make, before Star Ocean V: Integrity and Faithlessness I had never played any game in the Star Ocean series. It’s one of those series you hear about and occasionally see some footage for but never get to play. So when Square Enix offered me a review copy for this title, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to see if this JRPG series could hook me as others have in the past.
It most certainly did.
Taking place in the world of Faykreed, Star Ocean V: Integrity and Faithlessness stars young Fidel the master of the village of Stahl’s sword fighting training grounds. When Stahl comes under attack from an infamous group of bandits, Fidel and childhood friend Miki set out on what is to become an amazing adventure when they meet the mysterious girl Relia. What is the source of her power and who are those strangely garbed men after her, with their beam weapons and otherworldly ships? And how do these pieces fit into their kingdom’s war with one of its neighbours?
I loved the plot of Star Ocean V. As I mentioned last week, I love the Sci-Fantasy genre, stories where Sword & Sorcery mix with Sword and Blasters. And Star Ocean gave genetics, galactic federations and terrorist organisations, Kingdoms at war, politics and so much more. But at its core, it’s the story of a little girl used and abused and those around her willing to do anything in their power to keep her safe, which I loved.
Relia is one of the cutest, heartwarming and yet heartbreaking characters I’ve had the pleasure to interact with in a video game and while Star Ocean V: Integrity and Faithlessness could be considered a game-long escort quest, it made me care of the little girl, for her well-being and that is superb.
While I think Relia is criminally cute—ass in it should be illegal to be that cute—and has a very good character arc, maturing but still somehow clinging to her innocence, I do feel the rest of the cast lacks depth. They’re too straightforward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get. The good guys are extremely good and the bad guys are incorrigible. It doesn’t hinder the storytelling or make me care less for the plot, but it made it difficult to connect with the cast. I want characters to feel real, with fears and desires, doubts and vices, more shades of gray.
As Star Ocean V: Integrity and Faithlessness is a JRPG, it has some info-dump sequences, long sequences designed to tell you all you need to know about the plot, telling you things rather than showing them. It’s sometimes tiresome but on the upside they rarely tell you something you already know, which happens a lot in other JRPG. Another upside is that this is one of the very few JRPG where the end boss is not God or some other Deity. That’s refreshing.
Star Ocean V: Integrity and Faithlessness has two major elements of gameplay: exploration and combat. I call it exploration but here is everything not combat related, from picking up quests from the city boards and NPCs—though there is only one NPC quest giver in the world—to harvesting, mining and fishing when you’re out and about. As you unlock different specialties, such as Blacksmithing, Cooking and Mining, your options in the field grow.
While there is a fast-travel system in place, it’s not the best in the world, forcing you to first teleport to a hub and from there to where you want to go, similar to how it was in Bloodborne. But my biggest gripe with it, and which makes it clunky in my opinion is that you get the fast-travel somewhat late in the game and the first time it’s only available for a little while, so if you didn’t take the chance to go complete quests or find stuff in the world and instead advanced the main plot, you’ll be out of luck as they take the fast-travel from you until the last act of the game. It makes sense in-story, but it’s annoying in gameplay.
Because of this, questing–optional and main alike–can sometimes become tedious, as very often you’ll have to run from one end of the continent to the other. And it’s a shame because the optional quests are pretty good, the main ones are fun and they all have some kickass rewards!
The crafting abilities you unlock allow you to bypass some of the item hunts and create some powerful items, though the Synthesis ability requires way more dedication and planning that I care for. Having said so, the crafting skill to upgrade accessories is great, and it was very convenient to turn old gear into permanent bonuses for my armlets and rings. Every game should have this.
Combat is fast-paced and your characters can use a total of four skills in battle, two for long range and two more for short. While playing as Fidel, I often used skills that dashed towards enemies as my long-range attacks, so I could be there to punish them. One of the coolest features is the ability to cancel an attack as it’s executing and chain into another one. For every ‘animation cancel’ you do you get a 25% boost to damage on the next attack in the chain, up to a maximum of 200%, so my final attack in this chain was always a powerful skill, to deal tons of damage. It’s pretty fun and it plays well with the timing of blocks and counters.
Your AI partners do their jobs fairly well and as long as the AI is in charge, the characters aren’t limited by the 4-skill restriction, using everything in their arsenal, something I loved. You can also switch characters with a press of a button if you want to fine tune their overall strategy or get them out of bad stuff on the floor. The AI is good at attacking but is terrible at keeping itself alive. For the final boss in the game I had to give up playing with Fidel and switched to Miki, my main healer. I fired off more healing spells and resurrections than I’ve ever done in any other RPG in my gaming history. It made the fight super hectic and very rewarding!
One of the strangest things about the game is its skills. You learn new skills by collecting books and then these skills upgrade the more you use them, a very organic way to level up. But, when you win a fight, complete a quest or collect something from a harvesting node you get Skill Points, which, bafflingly, you can’t use to upgrade skills. Instead, you use these to unlock and level up your specialties and roles. Specialties are passive combat bonuses or active skills, such as crafting. Roles are passive combat abilities that grant bonuses and determine the party’s default AI behaviour. It took me a bit to wrap my head around Skill Points not needed for levelling skills.
My favourite part of the combat has to be the Reserve Gauge. You fill it by performing well in combat—not getting your butt kicked—and the higher it gets, the more rewards you get at the end, like XP or currency. But you can also expend the entire gauge in a powerful super-attack or spell by one character. It creates a risk-reward dynamic that I truly love. The game says the Reserve Gauge can turn the tide of a battle and they’re not kidding, it really can!
Environments are gorgeous, with some vistas that will make your jaw drop in awe. From the Signeturgy capital to the spaceship Charles D. Gaulle, you’ll love all the settings you explore. The downside is that even if you can see a vast expanse in front of you, the area you can actually explore is often quite limited, consisting of narrow hallways crisscrossing around the map. Only the Resulian field offers lots of room to explore. And it’s a shame because in its harvesting, chests, quests and the Cathedral of Oblivion, Star Ocean V: Integrity and Faithlessness actually encourages exploration. The game wants you to go out and find what’s hiding in every corner. I do love that even there is a lot to find even in the tightest of maps.
While I love the environments and creature designs, I have mixed feelings about the characters. Their clothing and accessories look amazing, and you can even tell the individual links in their chainmail. But they look plastic in cutscenes and lip-syncing is all over the place, even while playing with the original Japanese audio. If there’s one thing I loved about them though is how expressive their eyes are, conveying all emotions through some wonderfully animated gazes.
I adore the soundtrack, and I have the main theme song on a loop. The original Japanese voice acting is superb. I really can’t give an opinion on the English one as I go for Japanese audio at all times if possible. Japanese voice actors give everything they’ve got in their performances. They convey strong emotions even in the most nonsensical of conversations.
Star Ocean V: Integrity and Faithlessness is the first Star Ocean game I’ve ever played and while it has its shortcomings, it’s turned me into a fan of the series. It’s a fantastic JRPG and I’m most likely going to keep playing it to unlock all specialties, roles and complete all quests.
4.5/5 – Amazing!