Square Enix's Star Ocean series has often sat in the shadow of its bigger brother Final Fantasy but has always offered a unique mash-up of fantasy and science fiction elements and a real-time combat system that managed to set it apart.
Now Square has released the fifth game in the fan-favorite series, Integrity and Faithlessness, and there are a number of things to laud and criticize. The series has never been a powerhouse graphically, but Star Ocean V is a definite step up in that regard. The game looks as if it at least belongs on the same system, but it most likely won't age very well. Compared to recent roleplaying games like The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition, the game already looks dated, especially the environments.
The stylized characters actually look quite good, though, with subtle textures and detailing in the costumes, but when you head to the borders of a town and look out, the blocky textures and unremarkable water take you right out of any immersion you've previously built.
Okay, so visually it's not a powerhouse, but Star Ocean's cast of characters are extremely likable. While they might not break the mold of other like-minded JRPG's, they're enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and just quirky enough to remain interesting. I'll put it this way, you don't mind spending 40 to 60 hours with them. The plot does revolve around a time-honored plot troupe of "person with a missing memory", but Relia is someone you empathize with almost immediately, and despite her sparse remarks you can't help but feel responsible for her. That drives a good deal of the main plot, and it's often successful.
Your desire to protect Relia stands above all else, and that's a good thing because the game lacks any true villain to speak of. There are villains, don't get me wrong, but none of them stand out. Rather, they just become another obstacle on your way to solving the mystery of Relia's origins. While that was disappointing, to say the least, developer Tri-Ace did deliver some top-notch real-time combat, which has seen a number of improvements.
The role system allows you to customize your heroes strategies to your liking and delivers new roles consistently as you level them up. Whether you want someone to carry out strong attacks less often or have them play up their guard more, you have plenty of abilities to spread out amongst your team. Just because Fidel is the main character, don't be afraid to switch on the fly and take the controls of someone else. Each character brings an abundance of unique abilities to the fray that is worth giving a shot.
Tri-Ace has also removed transitions from the world map to battle, so when you see some enemies on the map you can attack them instantly with no loading time. Battles are fast and loaded with effects, but a twitchy camera at times dampens all the great things the battle system achieves. After an attack, you'll sometimes find yourself staring at the back of your own head, and it takes a minute to acclimate to your surroundings again, especially when you've got 6 other party members throwing attacks all over the place.
The camera is only made worse when walking on the world map. I eventually got used to how the camera moved, but be forewarned that you might need to change your viewpoint if you get easily motion sick. The camera constantly bumps and moves with each step you take, and I found that zooming closer in relieved some of that. Still, you shouldn't have to.
The game has some fantastic qualities that are otherwise marred by technical issues, issues that should have been solved with the ample processing power of a current generation console. If The Witcher 3 can have autosave and save anywhere functionality in its beautiful world, there is no reason Star Ocean should have to rely on the dated save crystal. A wonky camera gets in the way of fun and frenetic combat, and absurd "protect this person" missions ratchet up the difficulty instantly in unfair ways.
All that said, it comes down to the characters, and honestly this group of heroes is just a pleasure to be around, and constantly distract from the flawed technical design. There's an adventure worth having here, you just might have to put some blinders on to notice it.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars