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Is Star Ocean 5 worth the effort?

Another Tri-Ace title is bound to get fans of Japanese role-playing games excited. The developers for the Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile series have proved their mettle countless times. So how does their newest game add up?

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is the official name for the fifth installment in the series. This title is far more whimsical than previous ones (4 was called ‘The Last Hope’, for instance, which immediately indicates goals, urgency and drama) and seems to have little bearing on the plot or themes of the game, other than the fact the main character’s name, Fidel, is a synonym for integrity.

Fidel, sporting what could be considered the 'Star Ocean Classic' haircut
Fidel, sporting what could be considered the ‘Star Ocean Classic’ haircut

Marking a departure from previous games, this installment takes place on just one planet, Faykreed IV, including one minor trip to an asteroid field and a few starship visits. This was a little disappointing, as I had come to love the planet-hopping adventurous nature of previous Star Ocean titles. Sure, previous titles also tend to focus on one planet in particular, but the space travel element is so integral to the series, it felt a little isolating to be consigned to one planet for the whole game. Perhaps, with the focus on Faykreed IV’s underdeveloped civilisation, this was the point.

However, since the last Star Ocean game, fans of space-based RPGs have been treated to both Mass Effect sequels, both of which focus heavily on galactic exploration, and perhaps this has contributed to the slight disillusionment here. Nonetheless, exploring Faykreed IV was fun, and particularly the scaling of enemies in previously-visited areas as you progress through story and levels stopped this single world from feeling too restrictive.

Relia, the young girl from space that the Faykreedians have to protect
Fidel holding Relia, the young girl from space that the Faykreedians have to protect

The story is pretty standard fare – group of adventurers meet amnesiac young girl, vow to protect her from the space soliders chasing her – and while it’s fun and you do develop some attachments to the characters, it’s worth pointing out that the writing is terrible. The voice acting is cringey, but I feel this is mostly because of the writing quality. Also, some thing really don’t translate well into English – the most cringeworthy of these is Miki’s nickname for Fidel. In Japanese it’s Fidel-nii (a short form of Fidel nii-san, meaning ‘Fidel my big brother’). In English this becomes ‘Fiddly’, which is just hilarious and awful at the same time. Luckily, the game lets you choose between Japanese or English audio.

'No, we meant the other Eitalon, who are more cheese than ham'. A bit like how this scriptwriting is all cheese and ham.
‘No, we meant the other Eitalon, who are more cheese than ham’. A bit like how this scriptwriting is all cheese and ham.

In terms of the world setting, Star Ocean 5 takes place between the second and the third game. One of the characters is from the Kenny spacefarer lineage (after the first man to travel at the speed of light when Earth was first developing space technology), and it’s nice to see this reference crop up yet again – it helps continuity and makes the world feel more immersive.

Furthermore, 5 takes place before 3: Till the End of Time, and it feels like 5 is the missing link between first discovering symbology (the series’ version of magic – it’s basically coding) and the necessary symbological advancements that made the epic events of 3 possible.

The battle system follows on from previous titles and utilises a real-time engine rather than turn-based strategy. The monsters have the same classes and species as previous games, although it is disappointing as you get the feeling they have just recycled the same monster character models from the fourth game rather than taking the opportunity to put a new spin on them.

Some ordinary in-field battles. Here's a mandragora you may recognise from previous games.
Some ordinary in-field battles. Here’s a mandragora you may recognise from previous games.

The main bosses all have something to do with the faction that’s after the girl you’re protecting, Relia. They’re a challenge particularly on higher difficulty, and it pays to learn how to control each character’s skillsets and roles to ensure you can scrape by.

Epic boss battles ahoy!
Epic boss battles ahoy!

Aside from bosses, there’s also some unique challenges involving protecting Anne, the programmer of the group, from being shot while she hacks databases and security systems at various points in the story.

Anne coding while the rest of the party looks about anxiously. Sentry robots in 3..2..1..
Anne coding while the rest of the party looks about anxiously. Sentry robots in 3..2..1..

And speaking of the main person you’re meant to be protecting, Relia is absolutely adorable. She’s got a mysterious upbringing which gives her stilted, unsociable speech patterns and for much of the game you’ll find yourself wondering what she is doing on this planet, what her purpose is, who her parents are. She switches from sounding incredibly robotic to sounding innocent and sweet in a matter of minutes, as she tries to understand how other humans live with each other. And perhaps most importantly of all, she’s hardly as annoying as one would expect.

Relia. Seriously, so adorable
Seriously, so adorable!

Miki’s character is mildly irritating, partly because she’s just waiting for Fidel to notice her a lot of the time. When she’s not doing an Amy Rose, she’s incredibly interesting – she loves science (signeturgy) and wants to study technical subjects, and loves the topic of food, being unafraid to eat bucketloads without worrying about her femininity being at risk, which is nice. And she’s one of the most fun characters to play – initially taking on a distance healing role, but gaining some super powerful earth and light attacks later on. She might perhaps be the most powerful character in the party.

The magic specialist, Fiore, probably has more algorithms put into the jiggle of her breasts than the special effects of her spellcasting, but her hair is fabulous and her conversations are hilarious, better than expected. Particular favourite incidents involve trying to get Emmerson to wear her spare catsuit when he makes lewd comments about the one she’s currently wearing. Design-wise she stands out from every other character to the extreme, and when it comes to battles her response time is so much lower than the others that it makes it hard to play her continually, but personality-wise she is fun, smart and enjoyable to listen to.

That's not yellow fabric.
That’s not yellow fabric.

So all round there’s lots of badass ladies, and all of them are technical people, which is a nice break from the mould. The three men, Fidel, Emmerson and Victor, are way less technically oriented. Victor’s your standard driven military career man, and works on honour and pride. Emmerson is your eroji of the group – incessantly thinking about women (although it turns out a lot of his social interests are a sneaky way to get political information in different territories). He is likeable even if he’s a little socially old-fashioned. Out of everyone, Fidel, the main character, has the least personality.

Speaking of other things that look nice but don’t have much personality, the architecture in this game is stunning.

Santeroule - a magical place!
Santeroule – a magical place!

Other things carried over from previous games are the ability to synthesise, cook and craft various items. Accompanying these side quests and abilities is everyone’s favourite inventor, Welch!

Welch: too chirpy and bright for some, but just my cup of tea
Welch: too chirpy for some, but just my cup of tea

In all, this game requires about sixty hours of investment for a full run including most of the side quests. The dynamic battle system is, as ever, enjoyable, and actually feels like it has a better difficulty progression than the previous titles. I’d recommend playing on Universe difficulty though, if you’re a fan of the series.

The ending is better than expected, although mostly because they went to a level that I didn’t think they would in regards to what happens to some characters, and it became extra dramatic. You can get different epilogues depending on who you talk to the most during the game, too, and these are nice but a little underwhelming after the epic ending.

So is Star Ocean 5 worth the effort? I give it a resounding yes for sheer enjoyment, but don’t expect a storyline as engaging as previous titles.

 

screenshots taken by O. Ferrie, © Tri-Ace

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