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   Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness - Review  

What Are Little Girls Made Of?
by Adriaan den Ouden

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PLATFORM
PS4
BATTLE SYSTEM
3
INTERACTION
3
ORIGINALITY
3
STORY
3
MUSIC & SOUND
3
VISUALS
3
CHALLENGE
Easy
COMPLETION TIME
20-40 Hours
OVERALL
3.5/5
+ Nothing stands out as particularly bad.
- Nothing stands out as particularly great.
- Side quests require lots of backtracking.
+ But the rewards are worth it.
+ Roles cleverly combine AI and stat customization.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   I have something of a love-hate relationship with tri-Ace. Despite being immensely disappointed with virtually their entire last generation of offerings, I keep coming back to their games because when they do things right, they make some of the best and most memorable JRPGs around. And so, after the abysmal failure that was Star Ocean: The Last Hope, it's nice to see tri-Ace back in form. Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (hereafter referred to as Star Ocean 5) may not do anything to really stand out from the pack, but it is an all-around solid game, which is at least a step in the right direction.

   Star Ocean 5 takes the series back to its roots in a lot of ways, and this is best demonstrated by its story. In this entry, players take on the role of Fidel, a young swordsman from the village of Sthal, located on the planet Faykreed IV. This marks the first time since Star Ocean: First Departure that the main character of the game comes from an underdeveloped planet. The story begins when Fidel and his friend Miki head out of their village to investigate some bandits that were sighted nearby. After seeing something fall from the sky, followed by a large explosion, the pair investigate and meet Relia, a mysterious and injured little girl being pursued by some dangerous-looking people with strange weapons. Star Ocean 5's story revolves around unraveling the mysteries behind the girl, as well as protecting her from her pursuers.

   The story isn't particularly memorable, but it's interesting enough to keep one's attention. It's interesting to note that, of all the Star Ocean titles, Star Ocean 5's story by far has the smallest scale. Unlike previous entries, where the survival of worlds or even the universe itself has ridden on the characters, on this occasion the stakes are nothing more than a dispute between two galactic powers and the fate of a young girl. This may seem like a negative, but it also makes the story a lot more personal, which works in its favor. It also feels a lot truer to the franchise's Star Trek inspirations, from which it borrows shamelessly. Franchise fans can also look forward to a number of throwbacks to previous titles, including the return of the illustrious Kenny family.

   One of the more interesting facets of the tale is the storytelling methods tri-Ace employs. Abandoning the excessively long cutscenes of Star Ocean: The Last Hope, it's difficult to refer to most of Star Ocean 5's story events as cutscenes at all, because they don't cut away. Instead, the characters gather on the screen and talk, while players retain control over Fidel's movements. Although his movements and speed are restricted somewhat during these events, it allows players a sort of roleplaying opportunity, including the ability to react to events using emotes. There are a handful of more traditional cutscenes scattered throughout the game, but they tend to be fairly brief. As a side effect of this method, however, the game loses any semblance of cinematic presence.

Is this Welch, or Neptune in disguise? Is this Welch, or Neptune in disguise?

   Combat in Star Ocean 5 borrows a bit from both Star Ocean: Till the End of Time and Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Specifically, it takes the latter's rapid-fire pace and combines it with the strong attack, weak attack, guard trinity from the former. Strong attacks can break an enemy's guard, weak attacks can interrupt strong attacks, and guard can block weak attacks, opening the enemy up for a counter. And, like Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, enemies can make use of this trinity against the player.

   Each character can learn a variety of skills over the course of the game, four of which can be bound to the X and O buttons at a time. By holding down either of these buttons, players can perform a strong or weak skill attack. Which skill is performed is also determined by whether the character is currently at short or long range. Characters can also launch powerful reserve attacks, which are fueled by a shared gauge that builds up over the course of battle.

   As a first for the series, Star Ocean 5 also features seven characters, the entirety of the game's main cast, in battle at the same time. While it certainly makes a lot more logical sense than having half your party sidelined, it also makes the battlefield a lot more chaotic. In the end, the new combat system is enjoyable, but doesn't quite live up to Star Ocean: The Last Hope's.

   By far the most well-implemented aspect of Star Ocean 5 is customization. There are a number of different things players can invest in, most of which costs SP, which is earned after battle. The most interesting are roles, which are a combination of passive bonuses and AI tactics. As players invest in improving the various roles found in the game, new ones are unlocked, and they vary greatly. Some can drastically improve a character's AI, while others can significantly hinder it in exchange for powerful passive stat bonuses. Each character can equip up to four of these roles at any one time, and each role can only be equipped by one character at a time.

Specialties provide access to a slew of useful abilities. Specialties provide access to a slew of useful abilities.

   Players can also invest their SP in specialties, a long-time Star Ocean feature. Specialties allow players access to a variety of useful abilities, including item creation, increased drop rates, a portable shop, emotes, and much more. New specialties are unlocked over the course of the game by completing side quests.

   Speaking of which, there are a lot of side quests. While they're almost all little more than fetch and kill quests, the rewards for completing them, as mentioned earlier, are more than worth it. The game is also heavily saturated with private actions — short, character-driven scenes usually unrelated to the main story. This helps alleviate the excessive backtracking required to complete the game's numerous side quests, providing players bits of entertainment amongst the repetition.

   The backtracking is actually the biggest flaw in Star Ocean 5, as the whole game takes place over a rather small area. While each individual area is fairly large, there aren't very many of them, and players will find themselves going back to the same places, not just for side quests, but as part of the main story as well. About ten hours into the game, a fast travel method is introduced, but is almost immediately taken away again, not to return until near the end.

   On the video and audio front, Star Ocean 5 gets the job done, but little more. The soundtrack by Motoi Sakuraba is solid, with a handful of standout tracks, while the voice acting is solid but never impressive — though it thankfully avoids the cringeworthiness of its predecessor. Likewise, the visuals are solid, but hardly a testament to the capabilities of the PlayStation 4. There are some truly beautiful environments, and the character designs are well done, but a lot of the animations are overexaggerated and silly.

   Star Ocean 5 is an all-around solid JRPG that has a tendency to play it safe, an unusual move for a developer known for trying really weird things. It rarely stands out in any meaningful way, but still remains thoroughly enjoyable. In a lot of ways, this is a great thing. After several poorly received games in the last console generation, a simple, solid game is just what I needed to restore my faith in tri-Ace.

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