Star Ocean 5: Integrity and Faithlessness Preview
Veteran JRPG followers are well-acquainted with the name tri-Ace. This development team has delivered some of the finest role-playing experiences in the industry's history, as the esteemed Star Ocean franchise has been going strong for over two decades now. While some of the more recent entries were comparatively lackluster, I maintain that Star Ocean: The Second Story on the original PS1 remains one of the best RPGs of all time. Now, the talented team is working on Star Ocean 5: Integrity and Faithlessness, which will launch for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 some time later this year. Will it be a home run or will we continue to see the unfortunate decline of this sub-genre?
Maybe I'm being absurdly optimistic but based on the information and media we've seen thus far, I'd like to think Star Ocean 5 is the JRPG that sucks me back into the genre. I don't care that it's going to utilize the PS4's Share functionality (though I imagine that appeals to some gamers), nor do I care that there appears to be a hefty emphasis on action. And that's because this series has always sported a hybrid battle mechanic that blends real-time mechanics with very deep strategy and party micromanagement. You should be able to pause the combat to issue commands - as you should be able to do in any game that calls itself a "role-playing game;" you could even drastically slow time to access the menu in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - and your success will rely on your brain more than your dexterity.
As for setting, the year is 537 and the unfolding events occur at some point between Star Ocean 2 and Star Ocean 3. You will explore the remote and dangerous planet of Feycreed, which is approximately 6,000 light years from earth. A growing conflict threatens the Galactic Federation and any hope of order and peace, so yeah, it's one of those "save the world" scenarios that is just so clichéd and yet so popular. The three main characters have been revealed in recent months: There's Fedel Camus, a male fencer who first sets out to protect his village and becomes embroiled in a much larger adventure; Miki Sorvesta, the childhood friend of Fedel who is kinda like a little sister, and Lilia, a mystery girl who has no memories and is very much like a desensitized automaton. What's her story, we wonder...?
Now, each character's attack method will vary depending on their distance from the enemy, which is classic Star Ocean fare. The skills at your disposal will rely on your battlefield positioning, so you always have to be aware of your enemies. You'll also be able to cooperate with allies, thereby stringing together attacks and creating multi-strike combos that deal devastating damage. What I like is a quote from producer Shuichi Kobayashi that better illustrates why it's a role-playing game, and why so many can't seem to figure out the difference between an action-centric experience and an RPG:
"The Star Ocean games are a series that I feel should be about enabling the players to enjoy what's going on comfortably. Over the years, the games have always had action elements in their combat systems, but they're otherwise definitely not action games in the truest sense. For Star Ocean 5 as well, we're making a game that's not so dependent purely on player skill to be enjoyed, so that our audience can focus on taking on the world and the characters that we've created here."
Yes, the world, characters and overarching story should be a focal point as well, and the battles should offer a mix of action and turn-based/strategy, and that will undoubtedly go over well with the fans. Turn it into God of War, where the emphasis is squarely on the timely pressing of buttons, and you've changed the genre. Anyway, getting back to the characters, it's important to mention that this series has always boasted lots of allies and party members. They're all typically distinct and unique in their own way; for instance, the recently revealed archer Emmerson is 41 years old and yeah, his strength is ranged attacking, while he still has a thing for the ladies (the creepy old man caricature is still alive and well in Japanese culture). It was always great fun to experiment with different fighters in different situations, and it adds a ton of depth and longevity.
Additionally, series followers will appreciate the return of certain "events," which can have a definite impact on your team. There will be seamless events that include enemies attacking you and it's possible that one of your teammates will become captured. This will in turn have a direct impact on your overall party strength, of course. And as for standard combat, it looks like they're returning to the 1v1 battle with the main character facing down random foes, but the entire team will take on bosses. I'm still not sure if I like this concept but again, I return to another quote from one of the developers (via Famitsu): "Star Ocean 5 is about bringing a sense of reassurance back to long-time fans...I sincerely don't want to do anything with this game that'll upset people even a little bit."
Thank you. Someone finally gets it. It's also great to hear that this new entry will take many of its cues from Star Ocean 3, which I really liked (even though it was no Second Story). Anyway, look for Star Ocean 5: Integrity and Faithlessness later this year; it officially launches in Japan on February 25, so here's hoping a Western release isn't far off!
2/15/2016 Ben Dutka