Theorycrafting – Does the RPG genre really need to exist?

When one interprets the term “RPG” they tend to associate it with Dungeons And Dragons. The problem is, this doesn’t tell us what an RPG actually is. If you look at Dungeons And Dragons today and break down all of its elements, you can clearly see connections between DND and other genres outside of RPG’s.

Doom for example is loosely inspired by DND, this is made even more apparent by the Astral Dreadnought’s face being cropped and made into one of Doom’s most iconic enemies, the Cacodemon. ID software were clearly fans of DND and they took inspiration from it. The maps in both Wolfenstein and Doom can be seen as replications of possible DND maps, the first person maze-like structure of the game’s levels are similar to that of Akalabeth which was also inspired by DND.

One could argue that Doom and The Elder Scrolls Arena are the same game on the surface with the only differences being the lack of RNG elements, character building and replacing the direction of sword swings with the aiming of the crosshair. Mapping isn’t the only thing DND was known for but it’s definitely one of its defining traits as mapping was a big part of the game. The same could be said about Doom.

So what truly makes an RPG an RPG? If we look at all the elements of DND we are left confused as to which elements truly matter within the context of an RPG. The point I want to make is that the context does not matter. Every single gameplay element of DND is important, not just in RPG’s but videogames in general. The problem is that the games we define as RPG’s were merely games that were built to imitate DND much like Toukiden Kiwami and God Eater Burst are built to imitate Monster Hunter. That is not to say that they don’t have their own unique elements, these games did solve problems, it’s just that the problems they solved aren’t as clear to us today because we’ve taken them for granted.

One could consider Role Playing Games to be a sub genre of strategy games. The thing is, DND is exactly that, it’s a strategy game that uses dice rolls to manipulate variables to encourage more experimental gameplay and more replayability. The dice roll is merely a facade that covers a deep strategy game built on player intuition. The player’s choices are the strategy, the dice roll is the manipulation of the variable values that influence the outcome of the strategic choice the player makes. The reason for this is likely to solve a problem.

Strategy games like Warcraft Orcs And Humans are a lot easier to figure out than DND because they focus less on RNG and more on methodical design. That’s not to say that Warcraft Orcs And Humans is entirely a methodical game. However the fact that it is named “Real Time Strategy” and not “Real Time Role Playing Game” makes it pretty obvious that it wasn’t trying to be like DND, it was trying to be more akin to wargaming but in real-time. Then Warcraft 3 came along and introduced a leveling system. This isn’t something that hasn’t happened before. Games like Chainmail did this way before Warcraft 3 ever did. Does this mean that Warcraft 3 and Chainmail are RPG’s? Well apparently not as many consider them to be strategy games. So if leveling systems have nothing to do with what makes an RPG then what does? Just to make things clear, Warcraft 3 does have elements of RNG. A good example of this is Grom Hellscream’s critical strike skill which has a chance to deal double the hero’s base damage.

So this technically means that RNG and stats also have nothing to do with RPG’s since they can be applied to strategy games and they should be applied to strategy games, at least in my opinion. Why? Because they are wonderful gameplay mechanics that helps keep games from stagnating. Random elements can make anything intense because you can never be so sure of the outcome, sure said outcome can be manipulated but only to a certain extent through the use of RNG. The thrill of getting that critical strike chance is awesome because it can turn the tide of battle very quickly.

Now if we were to break down the definition of a Role Playing Game, it essentially means that you’re playing a game in which you represent a role. The truth is, this is the case for a lot of games these days. We have moved on from games such as Tetris and it seems that most games these days involve role-playing in some shape or form. Halo might be a first person shooter but you’re playing the role of Master Chief. What people don’t understand is that back in the day, games in which you played roles were few and far between, games were more abstract and as such it was far more difficult for games to portray a role for the players to play. There are games like Tetris in which you don’t play a role whatsoever. These games still exist today and as such they’re massively outnumbered by games that can be labeled as RPGs and if we were to name these games RPGs then the term itself would serve no practical purpose.

I can however state that most games are RPG’s these days and the mechanics that traditional RPG’s are known for have flooded into other games such as Borderlands. Does this mean that the term RPG has no meaning anymore? Well yes and no. The mechanics traditionally used in RPG’s are very meaningful, the ability to play a role is also very meaningful. What isn’t meaningful is the genre used to define a specific type of game. The term RPG is misleading. If you were to ask whether you wanted to make an action game, a strategy game or an RPG, which one would you choose and why? Action and strategy games have plausible reasons for their existence. Some people enjoy slow-paced thinking games, other people enjoy adrenaline pumping rhythmic games. There is a completely different audience for games like chess to games like football and each audience has their own set of preferences.

This is why many people were outraged when Final Fantasy decided to focus on real-time gameplay. The usage of the menu system in Final Fantasy XIII didn’t flow particularly well with the fast paced real time gameplay. Adding an auto battle option merely served to limit the player’s choice and navigating the menus took way too long for players to do due to the fact that every single choice is presented in a long list the player has to navigate through. As such the combat of Final Fantasy XIII was a recipe for disaster and the reason why people despised Final Fantasy XIII becomes clear.

Personally I dislike Real Time Strategy games as I don’t enjoy having to quickly think about what i’m going to do, I prefer to take my time. Real Time Strategy games rush you to make decisions and while making quick decisions might seem like a good thing to some, it doesn’t to me. Strategy games on the other hand aren’t so bad. Mount And Blade is a good example of a well paced and cleverly structured strategy game as the pacing of the game is only as fast as the player wants it to be. It is what I like to call “Synchronized Time Strategy”.

Believe it or not, the same applies to action games. Valkyrie Profile 2 is a “Synchronized Time Action” game which is something you definitely don’t see everyday. This is what makes Valkyrie Profile 2’s combat system one of a kind as many of its gameplay elements would never work in a real-time game (which most action games are). If I was to compare this style of gameplay to any other game series it would be the Mystery dungeon series. Unlike Valkyrie Profile 2 however, the Mystery Dungeon games are not considered to be RPG’s, rather they are considered to be “Roguelikes” which Valkyrie Profile 2 is not.

I really think that people under appreciate the value of synchronized time in videogames. It allows players to play games at their own pace. Pacing has been an issue for quite some time now and if more games were to use this style of gameplay, I believe it could help alleviate the problem of slow-paced gameplay. Synchronized time is not exclusive to RPG’s, so this doesn’t make it less important than any RPG mechanics in an RPG.

The point is, people need to start looking at the structural elements of game design more closely rather than trying to come up with thematic definitions for game genres. It’s one thing calling a game a first person shooter but is it a rail shooter or a free moving shooter? Both can be in first person and involve shooting but both are completely different games. Unlike RPG’s however, at least the term “First Person Shooter” makes sense as it categorizes gameplay that involves aiming via camera movement. The term Role Playing Game makes no sense whatsoever as it only categorizes gameplay which involves playing a role… which is in the vast majority of videogames released these days.

I do think genre definitions can improve, however I can see the importance in thematic genre definitions as they help newcomers discover a genre they can feel comfortable with. Not everybody is going to want to play a shooter because many shooters contain violence. Sure not all first person shooters are violent, Pokemon Snap is a good example as to how you can design a first person shooter without having to kill things but until people become more accustomed to gaming, I don’t think genre definitions should change. Perhaps if gaming becomes more acceptable in popular culture, we can improve our definitions of games by breaking down their individual mechanisms and sectioning them off into their own categories, we need an alternative definition for these games as the current definitions too vague. The problem is that there are so many different games labeled as RPG’s and we would have to break them down individually to find out what they really are.

If we did break them down, I think critics would have a much easier time measuring a game’s caliber. Of course it is still important to measure the levels of growth in a videogame and since RPG mechanics are directly linked to growth it can be as easy as simply looking closely at these mechanics and measuring them to see how well they accompany the core gameplay mechanics and how much of a rewarding experience they provide.

So I think we’ve found the true meaning of the term “RPG”. The genre label of RPGs given to games that use heavy RNG based mechanics and variables as a form of influencing decision-making and growth. The biggest problem with this label is that every other genre of game is adopting this system and thus they become RPGs. This means the way we look at games needs to change, we need to look at other games and how they implement elements of growth and experimental gameplay because this has become the norm now. Role Playing Games are no longer a genre exclusive to the stereotypical games that focus on heavy narrative (which was never the case to begin with, we just grew accustomed to this definition and by we, I am talking about the masses).

So what is to become of those games? Are they to be judged independently as either action or strategy games? Or will we find a new definition? Whatever happens, the way we critique these games should be no different. It is still important to focus on the mechanics that make the game’s growth and decision-making process engaging. We just need to start acknowledging these games as either action or strategy games or whatever is left when the RPG mechanics are ripped out of it. That way, we can help people understand what the game actually is without getting lost in the fog that is the term “Role Playing Game”.

It is important to note that this is not the responsibility of the critics. Critics cannot change something until it is widely accepted by the masses and as such we need to be patient. We cannot simply shove these definitions down people’s throats nor should we confuse the masses further by completely boycotting the definition. Instead we need to work on breaking down each individual game and discuss what makes these games great or otherwise. Once we know what makes a great game, we can discover new methods to motivate and engage players by analyzing the systems games use to provide the best possible experience for the player and share our ideas with other people so that not only do we get better games but people can finally understand what truly matters to them in game design.

This is a slow and arduous task that I alone cannot do but I can shed some light on it hence the fact that I chose to write about it. The RPG genre label needs to disappear and all games should be judged on growth and how well they implement growth because growth is practically everywhere now, people enjoy growth and as such, people enjoy RPGs. That’s not to say that everybody needs it but I do think that people enjoy it. Ultimately it all comes down to the way it is implemented. People have argued for way too long as to what makes an RPG an RPG and it’s time we put a stop to this, permanently by banishing the label from existence and accept that each of these games are different.

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Odin Sphere/Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Review

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Imagine A Valkyrie Profile beat em up game where you get to play 5 different characters each with their own perspective in the story. Sounds cool right? Well the guys at Vanillaware seemed to think so and decided to create a game that would do just that… well maybe not exactly that but they came very close. That game was Odin Sphere released in 2007… a year after the release of Valkyrie Profile 2… surely that’s not a coincidence.

Now when I heard that there was a remaster of Odin Sphere in the works, I didn’t really think much of it. You see during its time of release I was in the middle of playing the original Odin Sphere and I was originally going to review that game by itself. Thank god I didn’t because Odin Sphere on the PS2 was a piece of shit. Now you might be wondering how bad it could possibly be?

How about you watch this video and make your own judgement:

So after watching the video you can clearly see that this game has a lot of issues. Let me explain. First of all, the most obvious issue is the fact that you have 1 attack button. What this means is that you are literally mashing the square button the entire time. Sure you can use the directional buttons to mix things up but they really don’t blend in well with the main combo attack that can be used by simply pressing square over and over again. As such there is no way to string together combos. All you are doing is mashing square over and over again.

But don’t just think you can just sit there and mash the square button constantly. Just like in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time, Odin Sphere has a special gauge designed to punish spamming… when in reality all it does is leave the player incapable of doing anything for a few seconds. In other words it is completely pointless and only exists to give an illusion that the game is actually encouraging players to use a wide variety of attacks when it clearly isn’t the case.

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This my friends is what the game likes to call the POW meter. It is a meter that is consumed every single time you use an attack or a guard action and it recovered by either walking around or simply doing nothing. You can also recovery it by absorbing phozons off of dead enemies but doing so requires you to perform an animation which leaves you vulnerable. Once the POW meter is depleted the game not only prevents you from attacking but it also inflicts the dizzy status ailment immobilizing you leaving you vulnerable to being attacked. Talk about adding salt to the wound.

The attack animations are quite detailed but unfortunately the frames used to perform these attacks take ridiculously long whereas the frames used for certain enemy attacks can be extremely quick, in fact one particular enemy can hurt you before the actual attack frame is executed. This can be really frustrating as you feel crippled compared to pretty much every other enemy in the game. To make things worse, certain bosses tend to heal themselves or be healed by other enemies. This can be extremely frustrating as when they are healed their health bar is restored to full. Add to this the fact that these healer enemies respawn and you have a really tedious and annoying boss fight to deal with.

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Oh and don’t think that boss fights are few and far between. Each stage has not only a single main boss but also has several minibosses for you to fight, these minibosses are just as difficult as the actual boss fights, sometimes more. You will often find yourself stuck on a boss only to beat it and eventually run straight into another boss fight. This can be infuriating to deal with and can make each stage a painful slog to play.

Odin Sphere is a game that focuses heavily on its alchemy system which is surprisingly pretty complicated for those who don’t know what they’re doing. Basically potions have different effects when mixed with mandragoras but they also have a numerical value. This numerical value is a variable that decides what potion you brew with each material.

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Each material has several different combinations based on its number. These combinations are only tied to even numbers however, odd numbers will have no effect with any ingredient and only single digit numbers affect the outcome of the potion so if your numerical value is 10/20 you will still get the same result as you would get with a 0 but it will release extra phozons as a result. You can multiply the numerical value by adding more ingredients to the material, the value the material is multiplied depends on the item. The results of the potion vary based on the numerical value and the type of mandragora used to create the potion.

And don’t think that the alchemy system is just a novelty. Expect to brew dozens of potions and be sure to keep stocked up on them but don’t forget to use them when the time is right. Potions can save you a lot of hassle, this is true in both the original game and the remaster but especially true in the original. There are offensive potions such as napalm allowing you to deal a large chunk of damage to an enemy and healing potions which are surprisingly quite rare since the main ingredient for it is hard to come by. This is somewhat problematic as healing potions tend to be your main source of healing early on and you’ll likely end up backtracking to acquire more of them.

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In the original Odin Sphere, phozons had to be absorbed manually using the R1 button. In Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Phozons are absorbed automatically but you can still manually absorb them if you want to.

In addition to all this there are potions that protect/heal certain status ailments, these are also vital as well since to add insult to injury, status ailments can be devastating in this game. The poison status effect will sap your hp to 1 very quickly so using an antidote quickly will save you a lot of food/potions, the burn status is also quite strong too with a similar effect which can be stopped by using a cooler. Then there’s quite possibly the most annoying status ailments. These are freeze and dizzy.

Freeze does what you think it does, it freezes you in place leaving you completely vulnerable for an attack which can be devastating in this game. Dizzy stuns you for a short period of time just like running out of POW which can be a real pain. Pretty much every single status ailment can turn the tide of battle in the enemy’s favor very quickly especially the freeze/dizzy status ailment as being inflicted by those ailments often leads to the player’s death since they are vulnerable to any attack and enemies won’t hesitate to take advantage of your misfortune.

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Goddamnit…

Hopefully I’ve illustrated to you just how frustrating the original Odin Sphere is which is why I recommend against playing it. I say this because there is a “classic mode” option in the remaster of the game which is exactly what you think it is. It’s the original game in HD. If you don’t want to put yourself through this torment then please for the love of god don’t play classic mode, it will break you… no I’m serious, it will break you… mentally.

Now that that’s out of the way, let us talk about the remaster itself. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is not just a mere HD re-release like most re-releases tend to be these days. Story and cutscenes aside, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a completely different game to the original. They have completely wiped the slate clean and started from scratch, essentially recreating the entire game from the ground up. It’s incredible to see how so much has changed with this re-release it literally feels like a whole new experience altogether. In other words, fans of the previous game will find a lot of new content here even though the game’s story is still pretty much the same as it was in the original.

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The question is, does this 9 year game still hold up today or was it best left in the dust? Now I’ll admit, I was eager to get this game simply due to the fact that the original game had so much potential underneath despite all its flaws and I seriously mean that. Odin Sphere is one of those games that I really tried to like despite my infuriating experience. I wanted to keep playing the game to experience more simply because I didn’t want to give up on it.

On paper, Odin Sphere had a lot going for it. A simple yet engaging story with multiple perspectives and a great soundtrack composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto accompanied with bright and colorful visuals in order to create a lush atmosphere that would have captivated me had it not been for the abysmal gameplay. Thankfully, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir not only fixes many of the issues that plagued the original game but it also brings more to the table.

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For starters using regular attacks no longer consumes POW, instead there are new items called phozon prisms which contain psypher skills. These abilities consume either POW or PP when used, the latter being a replacement for the phozon gauge which has been removed. In addition, running out of POW does not make you dizzy either which was a big nuisance in the original game. I like how they found a good use for the POW gauge rather than just removing it entirely, it merely adds an extra layer of depth and flexibility to the game and that is never a bad thing.

In addition to the new psypher skills, there are also new regular attacks to experiment with allowing for even more flexibility. There is also an added dodge button which can be quite handy at avoiding attacks quickly. You can dodge both on ground and in the air but on the ground you can dodge limitlessly making it a great way to quickly maneuver around each stage as well as a great way to avoid getting hit. Dodging doesn’t make you invincible but it can let you slip away from attacks easily. Dodging is really smooth and easy to execute so it’s a good idea to take advantage of it as often as possible.

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Guarding no longer consumes POW and all characters are given the ability to guard making it a more viable option to protect yourself against enemy attacks. Guards can only take so many hits but they let you avoid attacks in situations where movement is limited, They can also help you deal with annoying projectile attacks and often put you in a better position to counter your enemy making it a more viable option than dodging in some cases though if you get hit from behind then your guard will break so be careful.

Moving the left analog stick in each direction while guarding allows you to perform the additional standard attacks I spoke of allowing you to weave in and out of a guard easily allowing for more passive aggressive play. Psypher skills can be set to the circle button or used from the menu, it’s great how players have the option between seamlessly performing their psypher skills and pausing the game to select a psypher skill. Up to 4 moves can be assigned to the circle button and its associated directional inputs so they can be used in a pinch.

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Each psypher skill you acquire can also be upgraded using phozons collected from enemies in order to enhance their effects which adds a little bit of personalization to the game allowing you to customize your experience making Odin Sphere feel more like an RPG than its predecessor. In addition to psypher skills, as you level up you will acquire ability points which can be spent on passive abilities for even further customization. All I can say is that it’s about time this game had some great character management as the original was sorely lacking in it despite being considered an RPG by many.

In the original game you would either absorb phozons from dead enemies to level up your psypher level (attack damage) or you would plant seeds which would absorb phozons in order to obtain food items which would heal you and level up your hit points. This essentially means that you had 2 levels to manage. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir merges both levels into one so that you don’t have to worry about your food to psypher ratio which was kind of annoying as your hit points level would often be lower than your psypher level simply due to the fact that it was so tedious to level up a character’s hit points because of how long it took to grow seeds.

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So to rectify this issue, both levels merged to become a single level which increases all your stats. In addition they added the ability to stack seeds in order to save the player from having to constantly go back and forth between menus to plant multiple seeds. Another problem with the original is that if you absorbed phozons it would cost part of your psypher gauge in order to release them. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir adds the ability to release phozons by holding R1 + Square. The top right hand corner of the screen shows the total number of phozons you have and you can use them as not only a form of currency in the upgrade screen but also to feed seeds so they will grow into food.

In the original Odin Sphere there were restaurants which would cook meals for you giving you a huge chunk of hit point exp. This was vital if you wanted to get through the game smoothly and as such you would often have to backtrack to different levels to farm ingredients including mandragoras and seeds, it was tedious. In addition specific coins were also required to pay for the meal. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir splits this system in half by adding a new touring restaurant that appears in rest areas on the map. This means that players can eat food on the go rather than having to constantly enter and exit the level to get access to the restaurants.

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Unlike the restaurants however, the touring restaurant doesn’t require any money, rather you are required to bring the ingredients necessary to cook the dish. The restaurants themselves however only take specific types of coin but do not require ingredients. This allows players to level up their hit points easier in a way that befits them. Those who wish to gather the right materials for a meal can level up their food level at the touring restaurant. On the other hand, those who do not want to have to search for specific materials in each level can use the regular restaurants. Ideally you will want to utilize both for the maximum exp gains. You can also buy takeaway food that can be used in battle but the exp gains are lower than other dishes.

This is great for people who enjoy invested empowerment as it constantly throws exp rewards at you… but you have to earn them. Ingredients can be purchased from shops but they can be expensive, special coins are often obtained from treasure chests littered around each stage. You can also be rewarded with more/higher quality special coins by getting a higher rank for beating each fight zone meaning that if you play well, you will be able to level up higher. In addition as there is only one leveling system in this game, food doesn’t just level up your hit points it levels up all of your stats. This is a pretty big deal.

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How does she remain so dainty after eating so much food?

One of the more interesting challenges that comes with playing Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is managing your resources in a way that best suits the situation. As important as it is to eat food, it is also very important to keep stocked up on potions. There are a lot of new potions this time round, many of the spells from the original have been transformed into consumable potions which kinda makes more sense when you consider the fact that many of the characters shared the same spells. Now that the psypher skills are more-or-less unique to each character, it makes sense to separate the shared magic and to instead use it as a consumable damage dealing item.

If the original Odin Sphere has taught me anything it’s don’t be conservative with potions. Potions can really deal a lot of hurt towards enemies and can really help turn a bad situation around for you as well as to buy you some time. Things can get pretty chaotic at times to the point that even the psypher skills don’t provide strong enough crowd control. Damage dealing potions act as an extension to your psypher skills allowing you to really build up the hits and can be really handy for crowd control, especially when you’re trying to position enemies up for an attack. This can be really handy against bosses too as they can take a good chunk of a bosses health away.

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Crafting potions is a lot easier than before. Rather than relying on the numerical value to decide the outcome, the numerical value is now used to determine the strength of the potion as well as other factors. Crafting different types of potions is as simple as adding up to 3 of the same type of mandragora to a material. The type of potion you make depends on how many of the same type of mandragora you put in. Each mandragora has different potion recipes  linked to it, you can find them out by collecting them over the course of the game but they’re easy enough to figure out. I would also like to note that potions will no longer generate phozons when crafted which means that you can no longer abuse the value system for phozons.

Just about any item can affect the value of a potion. Other items such as seeds, accessories and even junk have their own recipes connected to them so you will want to try all kinds of items to find out what results you can come up with. To make things easier, there is an option to stack multiple ingredients as you make a potion. This not only speeds up the process but it allows you to preview the results of a crafted potion without having to actually make it. This makes potion crafting a lot easier to grasp than it was in the original and it only takes a few minutes of experimenting to find every single combination. You can also craft some really overpowered potions early on if you want to so you can still break the game… though it will come at a cost of course.

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When it comes to surviving in Odin Sphere, preparation is key. You’re going to spend quite a while doing simple yet somewhat time-consuming character management. While this is not everyone’s cup of tea it’s important to realize that Odin Sphere isn’t just a mindless beat em up, it’s also an RPG. While the core gameplay really focuses on the beat em up action, you are expected to manage your character’s stats and inventory often. Thankfully Odin Sphere makes this easier as it cuts away all the tedium so you will spend far less time planting and crafting than in the original.

Those looking for more of a challenge may be disappointed by the fact that many of these new mechanics added to the game seem dumbed down when compared to the original. Fear not, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir acknowledges these changes and offers even more challenges to the player in order to balance things out. Bosses have a lot more hit points this time round and rather than having a single health bar, their health is presented in multiple chunks. on other words you have several health bars to deplete. The good thing about this is that bosses will no longer be able to heal their health to maximum if you have taken out a chunk of their health.

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If you somehow managed to beat the original Odin Sphere you probably have all of the basics figured out but don’t think you’ll be able to use the same strategies as before. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir introduces new enemies, many of which are bosses. These bosses can be brutal… so much so that they put the original game’s bosses to shame though I won’t deny that many of them can be really fun to fight. Returning enemies also come new and improved with new abilities to keep you on your toes. You will have to be more careful when fighting these bosses this time round and be prepared to eat food and use potions often, you’re going to need them. All in all the standard enemies and the bosses offer a satisfying level of challenge and death is never too punishing, you can also retry a fight right from the beginning at any time retaining any items you used.

The stage map is a lot more intricate this time round. The original Odin Sphere’s stage map consisted of battle stages, boss stages and rest stages. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir mixes things up adding brand new stage layouts each with their own unique environments which is a pretty big deal considering the fact that the original Odin Sphere re-used the same environments for each stage which became quite stale over time and appeared to be somewhat lazy. I don’t know whether this was to do with budget issues or not but this was a pretty big problem considering the fact that the original Odin Sphere’s art design was the game’s biggest selling point. The new environments are just as stunning as they were in the original and they really help to flesh out each location to give them more of an identity.

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Some passages are too small for the character to fit through. These pink plants allow you to transform into a miniature version of your character in order for you to access small passages, keep an eye out for them.

In addition to all this, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir adds a brand new soundtrack to accompany these new environments. Fear not, the original music is still there, it’s just not as common as it was in the original. Many of the original ambient tracks now play in the rest stages, the battle music remains the same for the most part as does the boss music. The cutscenes remain completely unchanged from the original and have the exact same music playing in each one. I really enjoy the new soundtrack that has been added into this game, some of the new tracks are even better than the originals, that’s not to say the originals are bad but the new tracks are even better which isn’t surprising considering the fact that Hitoshi Sakimoto returns to compose many of the game’s tracks.

That just about covers all of the new additions to Odin Sphere Leifthrasir but aside from all the improved mechanics and additions, how does the rest of the game hold up? While the gameplay may have been abysmal, the story itself wasn’t half bad. Like Valkyrie Profile, Odin Sphere’s setting takes a lot of inspiration from norse mythology although Odin Sphere goes a little crazy with it. there are several nations, each with their own ideals and methods. The character’s you control are often affiliated with each nation and has to deal with the many conflicts each nation is involved in.

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Each book starts at a completely different point in the game’s timeline from a different perspective. Interestingly enough the first book starts half way through the story and finishes right near the end… but once you finish the rest of the books, the events leading prior to the first book become clear. It’s a smart and interesting way to tell the game’s story by putting you straight into the action right from the get go rather than drowning the player in exposition. In doing so, the story manages to bait the player’s curiosity, beckoning them to uncover more.

Despite all this the plot itself feels rather simplistic though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I find that the story’s execution is the driving force that keeps players coming back for more. I like how rather than telling you what’s going on directly, the game illustrates the situation and presents the player with written notes which explain the story in more detail which can quickly be skimmed through or even skipped should the player wish. These can be viewed at any time in the bookshelf on the book selection screen and in the original they could be found in the prophecies section of the notes.

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There is also a timeline where you can re-watch all the cutscenes which can be handy for those who want to re-watch them. Each cutscene represents a specific point in the timeline so when you see characters cross paths you can see what the other character was doing simply by checking out the other character’s cutscenes that occur around the same time as the current cutscene. This helps link the story better and also helps the player keep track of where they are in the timeline which is very important as certain books start in different places and you will question why something is or isn’t in the other book because of changes made in an earlier book.

It’s interesting to see how each book connects and how each character views one another. I always love the ability to experience multiple perspectives in a game’s story and I can appreciate how Odin Sphere manages to execute this concept so well. While it may not be on the same scale as Warcraft 3, having 5 different characters to play individually is something I believe that more games need to explore.

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The original Odin Sphere was undoubtedly wasted potential. I think the game suffered from a severe lack of budget. Even with its vibrant visuals, interesting story and gorgeous soundtrack, the game itself felt patched together at the last minute. Given more time, I’m sure the developers would have been able to deliver a solid experience. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir proves this. It is a remarkable turnaround for what was once a complete and utter failure of a game.

I think we can all learn a lot from both Odin Sphere and Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. Gameplay is the root of all videogames and while the focus may still be shifted towards the visual and audio department, we cannot forget that these are games to play, not games to look at. Polished shit is still shit and I can’t recommend shit to anyone. Odin Sphere is probably one of the most painful experiences I have ever had in gaming to date. This is why I had to review this both this game and the original simultaneously because Odin Sphere Leifthrasir proves that stripping away flawed mechanics and replacing them with something better can turn shit into diamonds.

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Now I could give this game a higher rating but there are still a few things that annoy me about Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. For starters, using items in the middle of battle is still an issue. The animations still take way too long and I’d rather they were just cut out completely or at least sped up several frames. Even with the gourmet ring, eating food still takes way too long. Why can’t players simply use items on the move rather than just standing there? It really doesn’t blend in well with the gameplay at all and often leaves you open to be attacked which is a nuisance.

One of the additions that didn’t impress me were the shoot-em-up sections with Mercedes. I get that they were trying to mix things up but these sections are frustrating as hell. For starters you are unable to use items and you can only evade backwards not forwards. Also if you die you merely get sent down to the floor below. Fortunately these sections are completely optional to complete though they tease the player by knocking them down to the next section when they die rather than letting them retry which is a pain since you have to use items to heal yourself since you will have 1hp left afterwards.

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Fortunately you are able to retry these sections as the stage map now allows you to warp between stages so you can backtrack easily. This still doesn’t make these SHMUP sections any less painful though. If they allowed the player to dodge forward instead of back then these sections could have been more enjoyable. Sadly this was not the case. While you are often able to choose between multiple stages on the map, these “optional” stages are compulsory to partake in though you aren’t required to finish them.

Another issue that may turn players away from this game is the inventory management. While it has improved considerably from the original Odin Sphere, it is still an issue. The original Odin Sphere gave you bags which had to be picked up and placed in your inventory. You then needed to create a separate bag slot from the inventory by selecting the bag. This was a pain to do if your inventory was full as you had to drop an item, pick up the bag, create a bag slot and pick the item you dropped back up off the floor.

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Thankfully Odin Sphere Leifthrasir fixes this issue by automatically increasing your storage capacity which cuts out all the needless inventory management you had to do. There is also a storage chest which can store numerous items too. The problem is that these storage chests are only in rest areas. While I can’t exactly fault the game for this I can see it being a problem to people who detest inventory management as you will often find yourself with limited space. Plus it is important to save your best items for the bosses so you won’t want to use them in standard fights. Why would you want to when you can use your powerful psypher skills?

In any case I would argue that aside from these minor issues, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is definitely worth playing for both newcomers and returning fans. I would also recommend this game to people who were disappointed by the original Odin Sphere. It’s just sad that my first time playing this game was single-handedly crushed by the abysmal gameplay of the original. For those who haven’t played the original and are interested in these types of games, never play the original, it’s just not worth your time or money but if you own a PS4 or a Vita then you owe it to yourself to experience Odin Sphere in all its glory by picking up the remaster.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir Review 5

Can you please stop eating? It’s making me hungry…


Story/Plot: Great
Visuals: Excellent
Gameplay: Excellent
Music: Excellent
Lifespan: Quite Long
Would You Replay? Maybe

Overall: Excellent
silver-star-of-awesome sized

Value: £40.00

Purchase Odin Sphere Leifthrasir (PS4)

Tales Of Symphonia Review

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I don’t talk enough about the Tales series, maybe because the series has burned me out. I’ve been seeing more and more Tales games get shoveled out every year and each time I see them I kinda get a bitter taste in my mouth. Ever since the release of Star Ocean 5 and Exist Archive, my interest in the Tales series started to dwindle to the point where I had just lost interest in it.

However there’s nothing like a great Tales game to satisfy one’s JRPG cravings and Tales Of Symphonia is the first game that comes to mind when It comes to playing a good old-fashioned run of the mill JRPG. You see, Tales Of Symphonia doesn’t present itself as anything new. At first sight it’s easy to be misled by the game’s slow pacing but I’d advise you not to judge a book by its cover. Tales Of Symphonia is definitely a must play for any JRPG fan, particularly those who enjoy action RPG’s over the conventional turned based.

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As and action RPG, Tales Of Symphonia is often seen as a benchmark and rightfully so.  It was the first 3D Japanese Action RPG to give us a deep and engaging combat system and ultimately served as the demise for the Star Ocean series as a whole. If it wasn’t for Tales Of Symphonia, I don’t think the Tales series would have lasted as long as it has. The series has had a pretty huge legacy and Tales Of Symphonia serves as the pillar that holds it all in place.

Tales Of Symphonia might not seem much at first glance but as a game released in 2003 it has aged magnificently… most of it that is. A lot of people question the popularity of Symphonia, often comparing it to other games in the series. While the Tales series has evolved considerably, there have been a lot of changes to the series that have improved on the formula set by Tales Of Symphonia. As good as this was, future games in the series failed to stand out from its predecessor. While I won’t deny that there were some solid Tales games released after Symphonia, Symphonia kinda feels different from those games.

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There is something about Symphonia that keeps me coming back to it and I think I’ve found out what that something is. For starters, one of the things that made Tales Of Symphonia so iconic is its diverse array of content. There’s no shortage of things to do in this game as the main story has a pretty sizable length and there are plenty of sidequests to experience as you progress through the story and many of them offer some great rewards, usually in the form of titles.

The title system allows players to collect special titles that will alter the character’s stat growth. These titles can be carried over in a new game plus which allows players to customize their character’s growth in future playthroughs. Knowing that nearly every sidequest you complete contributes towards each playthrough gives you more of an incentive to complete them, when it comes to rewarding players, Tales Of Symphonia has a lot to offer.

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This alone would be a mere novelty. What truly makes Tales Of Symphonia a memorable experience lies in its gameplay and story. While the story of Tales Of Symphonia might appear quite generic at first glance, it manages to stay fresh with its strong themes. The characters themselves are very much the same, on the surface they are cardboard cut outs but each of them has their own place in the game’s story and play their role well enough. Rather than focusing on the characters individually, the game uses them as a means to portray the strong themes the game’s story revolves around. I don’t want to go into too much detail on these themes for fear of spoilers.

I’m not going to lie, Tales Of Symphonia’s story isn’t going to blow you away, it’s pretty bog standard for today’s standards but it was executed well enough to create a memorable experience. So long as you don’t set your expectations too high, you might be pleasantly surprised by the game’s story. If you do want to get the most out of the game’s story though, you’ll want to engage in some of the game’s many side quests as a lot of the story is hidden behind them. There are also skits which can help shed a light on some of the characters too.

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What makes this game truly stand out from other games in the series is its affection system. Tales Of Symphonia steals borrows this idea from the Star Ocean series which allowed you to partake in special events known as private actions which allowed certain scenarios to influence variables. These variables would affect the ending the player would obtain and each character would have their own adjustable variable value. As such the player may opt to avoid certain scenario’s or backtrack for specific scenarios in order to build up their desired variable.

In Tales Of Symphonia the way you interact with characters is different from the Star Ocean series. While lot of the choices you make throughout the game will affect the amount of affection each character has for the main character Lloyd, the actual process of acquiring these affection points is a lot more streamlined for the most part often forcing choices onto the player as they make progress though the game’s story. That’s not to say that there aren’t any optional interactions. Many of the sidequests can also affect a particular character’s affection for Lloyd. There are also optional skit points where you can engage in a skit conversations with other characters in which the player’s choices affect the character’s affection for Lloyd.

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Sadly this feature never made it into any of the future Tales games which is a shame. Unlike the Star Ocean series however, the affection system doesn’t affect the game’s ending, rather it changes up many of the game’s cut scenes. Once you reach a certain point in the main story, the characters with the highest affection will be able to partake in a cut scene with Lloyd, this scene will solidify that character as the one with the highest affection for Lloyd, essentially replacing the multiple character endings the Star Ocean series has. As a fan of the Star Ocean series I really enjoyed the inclusion of this feature as it allowed me to get more invested in the story and characters. Plus it allowed me to personalize my experience more which is always a good thing.

The Tales series is known for its fast paced real-time action battle systems and Tales Of Symphonia is no exception. Even today, Tales Of Symphonia holds up well despite it being rather basic. If you’ve played any other Tales game then you’ll know what to expect here. Tales Of Symphonia uses a side scrolling battle system in a 3D battle arena. This means that by changing targets you are able to spread your party out. So despite the fact that it is a side scrolling action RPG, it really feels like a free moving combat system.

Tales Of Symphonia was the first game in the series to offer serious competition to the Star Ocean games and for good reason. Rather than simply having players barrage foes with attacks, Tales Of Symphonia focuses on chaining hits to build up combos. While the ability to combo was somewhat prominent it still felt rather unrefined. Tales Of Symphonia’s combat offers a more refined combo system allowing players to chain up to 3 techs and alternate between 6 different techs per character at a time. This was a big deal back then as ARPG’s often lacked variety back in their early years. Tales Of Symphonia was one of the first ARPG’s that added a considerable amount of depth making it capable enough to rival that of a turned based RPG.

The combat focuses on synchronizing your attacks with the AI (or other players) in order to build up a combo. This idea would later be used in other games such as Valkyrie Profile 2 which allowed players to take control over all four characters in battle, managing them all simultaneously. Tales Of Symphonia was one of the first to focus primarily on combo focused gameplay and offers a wide variety of options in battle.

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Unfortunately like in all real-time action RPG’s with AI controlled party members, the combat suffers from having a lack of control over multiple characters. This is a problem that is not exclusive to Tales Of Symphonia but is worth bringing up considering the fact that Tales Of Symphonia is one of the pioneers that established the more modern style of real time action RPG’s and as such it is important to keep in mind that relying on the AI is essentially a big part of the gameplay.

For this reason, playing the game with a friend is probably going to be a far better experience than playing alone. Much like Secret of Mana was a more co-op orientated game, Tales Of Symphonia appears to be very similar. However players managed to enjoy playing Tales Of Symphonia as a single player game so it’s not impossible to enjoy playing it alone, rather there are some flaws to be aware of in terms of the AI. I will say though that for the most part, the AI aren’t all that bad in Tales Of Symphonia and if you can learn the AI’s patterns, you can really build up some awesome combo’s.

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Still, my philosophy on these type of games is that they were actually built with co-op in mind originally but the early games in the series along with all of the Star Ocean games seem to have forgotten this. Regardless, I judge these types of games in four different categories: flexibility, intuition, smoothness and AI behavior and considering the time this game was released, Tales Of Symphonia is above average in all four of these categories making for a very well-rounded combat system. Like I said before, you have 6 attacks at your disposal and they can all be mixed up in any order you choose as well as several regular attacks to mix things up more. While that may not sound like much today, back in 2003 this was a pretty big deal in terms of flexibility.

Now I never had the chance to play the original Gamecube release (which is quite ironic since the Gamecube is my favourite console) but based on the PS3 release, the controls are very simple and easy to use. You can guard and dodge using the square button, use normal attacks with X and artes using O. Comboing is simple enough, using a combination of normal attacks and artes as well as the AI’s attacks you can build up some crazy combos which are still really fun to pull off today and it’s easy to build up those hits, you never feel like you have to do too much busy work to pull them off like in Star Ocean Till The End Of Time which required the player to constantly swap characters in order to juggle their enemies.

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To add to all this you also have unison attacks. This was cool because you got to stop the enemy in their tracks while you get to perform any move of your choosing. Performing certain moves allows you use a compound special attacks which were a combination of two different artes with two different characters. It was a flashy and cool way to finish off enemies. I really liked the unison attack system and building the unison gauge was never too much of a hassle. It just gives you more control over battles and adds some extra flashiness to the combo’s.

To make things even crazier, the PS3 version (based on the Japanese PS2 version) adds mystic artes which are an alternate finisher that allow specific characters to pull off a unique special attack much like the purify weird soul attacks in Valkyrie Profile. These are used as finishers but unlike Unison Attacks they are pretty hard to pull off and can sometimes be completely forgotten about. This is due to the fact that the overlimit gauge didn’t exist yet and overlimits were built up over time much like trance in Final Fantasy IX in the sense that you cannot trigger it at will. Since most mystic artes required the character be in overlimit or at low hp, they were difficult to pull off.

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Regardless I can easily say that Tales Of Symphonia’s battle system stands the test of time, while other games in the series may be better in some areas, few games come close to the polished smoothness of Tales Of Symphonia’s combat. It is one of those combat systems that keeps you coming back for more due to how simple yet polished it is. To put it more accurately Tales Of Symphonia’s battle system is the benchmark of any real-time action JRPG combat and is what all real time action JRPG’s should aspire to be.

Aside from combat you do get a little bit of character management here, while not as deep as it is in the Star Ocean series, Tales Of Symphonia offers the player a few choices in regards to character management in the form of EX skills. These skills alter several different properties of each character giving them special passive abilities or allowing them to be played in a unique way. Sadly in future games such as Tales Of The Abyss, EX skills were learned in a more linear fashion and rather than picking and choosing, you get given all the EX skills over the course of the game which ruined the whole point of having EX skills. Regardless this was a great addition which adds a little bit of experimentation to the game.

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Other than that however, character management is very basic, learning new artes can be quite complicated as there are two different combat styles to learn: strike and technical. Each style has its own set of artes and is influenced by the player’s EX skills. Strike artes are mostly powerful attacks which focus on knockback. Technical artes focus more on delivering more hits and are usually a lot flashier than strike artes. Then you have magic which is completely different depending on the character. For example, you could have Raine be a strong party healer and teach her technical moves like Revitalize. On the other hand you could teach her stronger single target healing abilities and the ability to give your characters an auto-revive buff.

You can mix between strike and technical artes by changing your EX skills to favor the opposite style just before you learn a new move, you can also forget certain moves and swap them for their alternate move should you wish. Or you could just stick with either style and see what you get. This makes the game more interesting as there are so many different combinations of moves you can have at your disposal, some may see it as limiting but that’s kinda the point, by limiting the player, you are making them choose between two variants of moves based on which they prefer.

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Do they want to focus on dealing raw damage and knockbacks or so they want to focus on building up more hits? By limiting your game for the sake of choices, you’re actually providing a more rewarding experience since the choice the player makes equates to that of rewarding players with personalization. This is what many of the other Tales games failed to realize, by breaking these limits and just giving all the abilities away to the player, they are essentially removing that element of choice which made Tales Of Symphonia feel so rewarding… at least in terms of personalization.

So Tales Of Symphonia does a lot of things right with its gameplay and while the story starts off quite slow, it picks up later on. In theory this alone should provide a highly engaging experience and it does… for the most part. You see Tales Of Symphonia may be the series’ benchmark but it isn’t without its flaws. For starters, the dungeons of Tales Of Symphonia tend to really bog the game down in monotony as there are plenty of dungeons in the game that just flat-out suck. Why is this you ask? That’s simple, puzzles and when I say puzzles I mean hours upon hours of tedium.

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The puzzles in Tales Of Symphonia are quite possibly some of the most irritating puzzles I have ever seen in an RPG. While the first few dungeons have very simple, yet boring puzzles, later puzzles can become quite tedious and annoying to do. One puzzle in particular literally has you moving blocks of garbage and dropping it off a catwalk for no other reason than to pan out game time. To make things worse you have the sorcerers ring with its many functions. I absolutely loathe the inclusion of this feature because there are times where you have to switch between ring modes to accomplish certain tasks the game gives you to do like shooting braziers and shooting a bomb to blow up a rock.

Maybe this is just a personal issue but I honestly do not see how anyone can enjoy slogging through such horrendous dungeons. The most infamous of dungeons require you to guide several blobs to a certain position. These blobs will follow you but it is a nightmare to keep them all together. All you do is run around the area aimlessly pushing switches and trying to find all the blobs and trying to keep them altogether. To make things worse pushing in certain switches pushes other switches out. It’s a nightmare for people like me who want to get straight to the action. Even if I were to like puzzles, I cannot see myself not getting frustrated in that horrendous place.

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The dungeons are the biggest problem with this game and they are one of the few things that hinder the game’s replay value. However there is also another problem that many games released back in 2003 suffered from, unskippable cutscenes. That’s right one of the most irritating parts of replaying a JRPG is to have to press X/A to keep the text moving so you get back to the action. I wish that players could just skip the cutscenes and move on. Why this isn’t a thing in the PS3 port I cannot fathom.

Despite all this, I managed to slog through another playthrough and while it did have its annoying parts, the amount of rewarding content this game offered convinced me to play through it again and once I reached the second half of the game, my engagement levels rose a ton. Tales Of Symphonia offers a new game plus feature. By spending grade you are able to unlock certain perks which you can carry over to each playthrough. After unlocking the combo’s perk the game felt extremely rewarding to play in terms of growth as it rewards you with experience based on the highest combo you perform in the fight. This made every boss fight feel different and added an extra layer of depth to the game.

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It was this second playthrough that convinced me to review this game as I felt that being able to play through a game such as this a second time alone is something worth noting since I don’t normally do such things in videogames. I will say though that the second playthrough did have its annoying moments, particularly in the dungeons but I believe if you are truly willing to give the game another shot, by all means do so.

This game has a lot of replay value to balance out the horror of having to slog through those painful dungeons again and as someone who dislikes replaying videogames in general, I can confirm that there is some value to be had in doing so, it just takes a bit of patience because Tales Of Symphonia is quite a lengthy ordeal as it can take around 40 – 50 hours to finish the story. I assure you, once you endure the first half of the game, the game opens up fairly quickly and you feel like you’re playing through a whole new experience entirely. There are still the painful moments but if you are willing to endure some of that pain, it’s definitely worth playing through this game multiple times.

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As far as music is concerned, the game’s soundtrack does a reasonable job of keeping players engaged in the experience but doesn’t go the extra mile to deliver something particularly noteworthy. There are some good tracks here and there, ironically the best tracks tend to play in some of the most tedious dungeons, kinda fitting considering the fact that you’ll be spending a lot of your time in these places. Some tracks are better than others but for the most part I’d say that the soundtrack does its job reasonably well.

In terms of art direction, Tales Of Symphonia takes a very vivid approach depicting a bright, colorful cel-shaded world. While some may find this kind of contradictory to many of the game’s themes I feel that it serves to make the world more likable and makes the locations more memorable due to this distinct art style. After all, sometimes you want a break from the more darker styled games and you want something bright and colorful as a refreshment. As such I feel that the art design fits this game rather well, it really fools you into believing that the game is very plain and simple at first but when things start to get more interesting as the story clashes with other themes, the art direction really stands out.

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When it comes to choosing whether or not to play Tales Of Symphonia, ask yourself what exactly you are looking for in a JRPG at this point? While I do believe that every JRPG fan should give this game a shot at some point, I don’t think this is a game people should rush towards for the sake of it. If you’re going to play Tales Of Symphonia then you want to be in the right mood for it.

If you’re tired of the more conventional RPG and want something different, Tales Of Symphonia can be quite difficult to get into. On the other hand if you’re looking to escape from more modern, avant-garde JRPG experiences then you should definitely give Tales Of Symphonia a go. I do think that the game starts off quite slow and it can be an arduous task to get to the meaty stuff but when you do I believe that you will enjoy what you see.


Story/Plot: Good
Visuals: Good
Music: Satisfactory
Gameplay: Great
Lifespan: Quite Long

Overall: Great

Value: £40.00

Purchase Tales of Symphonia (PS3)

Theorycrafting: The Difference Between Methodical And Experimental Gameplay

Sorry I’m late with this one guys.

Whether you want to know which style of gameplay is best suited to you or you desire to develop a game with a specific audience in mind, knowing what makes experimental or methodical gameplay is important.

Star Ocean: Integrity And Faithlessness Review

Ah finally I get to reveal the truth about this game. After all the negativity and all the incessant whining from Japanese fans over a pair of underwear, we can finally get down to business. Star Ocean 5 is indeed the return of tri-Ace and Square-Enix’s relationship and I can say with confidence that it doesn’t disappoint. As a fan of tri-Ace, I commend this game for its efforts to bring the JRPG genre back to life.

Now with all that considered, let’s get straight to it. Star Ocean 5 is basically a giant floating blob of fanservice to all Star Ocean fans, this can be interpreted both positively and negatively but I see it in a positive light, there are tonnes of throwbacks here and there and you can see that the devs are trying hard to bring that Star Ocean magic back into the series.

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Welch returns to cause some more mischief…

However things could seem a little too familiar, many of the enemy designs resemble past Star Ocean games and also many of the music is re-used from previous Star Ocean games. Personally this didn’t bother me so much as I like to listen to old Star Ocean music. The enemy designs didn’t bother me much either, it merely helped maintain that Star Ocean feeling.

Another thing you will notice very quickly is that many of the moves from previous Star Ocean games return. Pretty much every attack in the game is re-used from older Star Ocean titles. This isn’t exactly a bad thing since the Tales series does exactly the same. And several attacks look slightly different from they used to.

 

“Star Ocean 5 is basically a giant floating blob of fanservice to all Star Ocean fans”

 

That aside, let’s get into the bulk of the game. The story is in Japanese so I didn’t understand a word of it, the cast of characters are quite different this time round. Many of them are highly experienced combat veterans which is a nice change from the usual teenage kid saves the world having had zero combat experience (I’m looking at you Fayt Leingod) and it really gives the cast a strong feeling of importance as if they belong in the story as opposed to being put there due to circumstances in the plot.

The story revolves around planet Faykreed, a single planet. I can see why they went with this though and I believe the plot is the main reason why. The game starts off almost immediately in a conflict which expands over the course of the game, the game revolves around this conflict and as such it’s befitting that the story revolves around a single planet for that reason. As a result, the scale of the game’s storyline is a lot smaller than Star Ocean Till The End Of Time but the execution is done rather well.

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“Who ate the last piece of my pie? Was it you!?”

This brings me to the seamless cutscenes. This is where a double-edged sword comes into play. On the plus side, the cutscenes blend in really well with the gameplay rather than taking you out of the gameplay experience in a way many traditional cutscenes do. On the negative side, due to the third person perspective of Fidel it can be difficult to position the camera in a way that lets you focus in on the cutscene. In other words it’s trying to create a Half-Life effect by essentially putting the player into Fidel’s shoes and watching the story from his perspective rather than watching a traditional cinematic cutscene where the player feels detached.

As such, the seamless cutscenes are somewhat of an acquired taste. As you go through the game you grow to appreciate their significance more once they start playing around with new ideas. The game likes to throw them at you quite often and during these scenes you can walk around so long as you stay in the designated area. However there is a new emotes feature you can make use of which is a nifty novelty. The devs obviously intended for the players to make their own fun with the cutscenes and offered tools to do it with. The question is, is it enough to keep the player’s interest?

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The answer is simply… it depends. Whilst many of us appreciate the flashy CGI cutscenes, those that don’t can usually skip them. The biggest problem with the seamless cutscenes is the inability to skip them. This can be troublesome at certain points but for the most part they aren’t long drawn out and if for some reason you’re getting bored watching them, you can force Fidel to do all sorts of nonsense to keep you amused. Personally I had a lot of fun with the emote system but considering the fact that Star Ocean 5 isn’t an MMORPG it could be considered to be somewhat out of place. Then again we are talking about Star Ocean *wink* *wink*.

Another thing that sort of feels very MMO esque is the questing system. Like the seamless cutscenes, these side quests have both positive and negative implications. The obvious negative implication being the fact that questing can be kinda bland. On the other hand the bulletin board keeps everything together in its respective area which cuts out all the monotonous running around town in search of quest givers or trying to find that particular NPC you need to give that item to.

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There’s so much content in this game that you’ll never be board.

One thing that may bother people is that many of the content acquired throughout the game is locked behind sidequests. This includes skill books which are used to learn new battle skills and item creation professions. As a result you will have to spend a lot of time backtracking to different areas fighting mini-boss encounters and finding certain items to obtain new skills and abilities. So to get the most out of Star Ocean 5, you will have to spend a considerable amount of time doing side quests and backtracking. Then again, Star Ocean has always features a lot of backtracking through its private action system.

Speaking of which, private actions return but this time they are a lot easier to access. To access private actions, you merely need to approach a whistle icon in town where your party splits up and by approaching that party member, you trigger that private action. You no longer need to leave town or use a guide to find private actions though you may still want to use a guide to get certain character endings. I personally tried everything in my power to get any ending besides Miki’s, needless to say, I failed and ended up paired up with my least favorite character, looks like the Japanese language barrier trumped me that time.

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Miki appears to get very excited when you trigger her PA’s, shame I don’t feel the same way…

In addition to traditional private actions, certain private actions trigger on the road, kinda like skits in the Tales series only this time you don’t have to trigger them and watch a bunch of character portraits chatting amongst themselves. Instead the private action plays out as you are moving, kinda like seamless cutscenes but you are free to move and even battle during them. Obviously battle will cancel them out. As such you can enjoy these PA’s at your own pace and if you so wish you can take a break from exploring to see their expressions.

Item creation is back and is better than ever. Star Ocean 5 has in my opinion the best item creation in the series. Whilst it mostly sticks to Star Ocean 4’s item creation at first, over the course of the game you will unlock the classic Star Ocean 1 and 2’s item creation… with a twist. As such you get the best of both worlds here. The regular item creation is just like Star Ocean 4’s only this time you no longer have to visit Welch every time and can perform item creation straight from the menu which is handy. Also you don’t have to spend SP on invention or find recipes any more, rather you learn new items by simply making them.

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At first all the items are hidden behind question marks so you don’t know what you’re getting but once you unlock it will reveal what it is and you can make more of it should you wish at any time. Like Star Ocean 4, item creation requires you to gather certain components and use them to create a single item. Over the course of the game however you are able to unlock a new item creation system called the lottery.

The lottery is basically Star Ocean 1 and 2’s item creation where you put items into a pot and get a new one out. This time however you can use just about any item you please and you use up to a combination of 6 items from your inventory. You can have them randomly picked for you or you can choose them manually. Once you’ve selected your items, you can throw them into a pot (or in this case a bunny) to obtain a new item. However be careful not to throw important items in as they may be lost forever and you never know what you’re gonna get, it’s completely random depending on the items you use. The lottery system is fun to experiment with and you may end up getting an item that you can use in regular item creation to create the item you wanted. If you’re lucky, you may also get a new piece of equipment that is better than the one you had before. Of course you will get duds a lot of the time but that’s why they call it a lottery.

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Up to six items can be placed in the pot. Choose wisely!

Item synthesis is back also but is split up between multiple skills, one for weapons and armor, another for accessories. Like Star Ocean 4 you can apply factors to your equipment using any item in your inventory or combine certain items together to create a new and improved one. The system is very much the same as previous titles and whilst it may be nothing we haven’t seen before, it’s still refreshing that they brought it back in all it’s glory. As such there are many customization options for equipment available to you.

Visually, the game is fantastic. Whilst the overall aesthetic style is inherited from Star Ocean 4, there have been some huge improvements made. For starters, the first thing I noticed in the game was how impressive the game’s draw distance was. Whereas Star Ocean 4 tries to cover up a lot of its empty backdrops with white fog and clouds, Star Ocean 5 adds more detail to the game’s environments making them more vast and as such is contributes towards improving the game world’s sense of scale.

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Considering the fact that the majority of the game takes place on one planet though and there aren’t too many areas on that planet, the game’s world isn’t as large as the visuals would lead us to believe. However each location is very detailed.  I found it quite odd that the desert area had constant rain though. Isn’t a desert supposed to be piping hot and dry?

The character designs have been outsourced and are designed by freelance artist Akira Yasuda, who is recognized for his work on the Street Fighter games and they look great. The main character, Fidel is probably the best designed protagonist I’ve seen in a while in terms of visual appeal. Victor looks pretty rad too. The character models are a mixed bag though, Some of them are great, others are a bit off. Emmerson’s head looks a tad too small outside of the CGI’s and Miki… well she looks odd in general. Fidel still looks fine though as does Fiore.

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Overall I’d say the visuals are pretty impressive, at least compared with most other JRPG’s these days. I think they made a good decision to keep the choice of art style colorful and vibrant rather than trying to make it look realistic. It really gives it that Star Ocean flair. In addition, unlike Star Ocean 4, the characters don’t look like weird dolls anymore (aside from perhaps Miki).

Visuals aside, lets talk about the combat. Tri-Ace made the huge mistake of returning to Star Ocean Till The End Of Time’s horribly archaic battle system. Thankfully that’s the only word I could possibly use to describe the battle system of Star Ocean 5. It’s not all doom and gloom though, there has been some improvements. Now in case you don’t know, Star Ocean Till The End Of Time’s combat was abysmal. With the horrible CP cap, difficulty spikes aplenty and of course the dreaded MP death along with the HP cost for special attacks, Star Ocean Till The End Of Time gave me an experience best forgotten, gameplay wise at least.

Star Ocean 5 attempts to fix the system and it uses many simple yet effective methods in an attempt to do so. One method is to simply allow normal attacks to cancel into normal attacks. This way you aren’t stuck with only special cancels. This adds a little more depth to the gameplay as certain specials are long drawn out and you may wish to use a faster normal attack instead, especially if you think the enemy is about to attack you.

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Another improvement is the balancing of the characters. No more useless characters like Adray or Mirage, every character is useful this time round. In fact I found myself switching between characters a lot and thankfully due to the game’s guard system, this worked like a charm. What is the guard system you ask? Remember the fury gauge in Star Ocean 3 which let you guard attacks when it was at its max? Well that awful feature was scrapped and replaced by simply adding a manual guard function. This allows you to block weak attacks and almost all magic attacks which is pretty nifty if you ask me.

Once you have guarded and attack you can unleash a guard counter by letting go of the guard button right after being hit. There is a reasonable time frame but you have to let go of the guard button almost immediately. It does take a while to get used to but once you do it becomes a really fun mechanic and adds a fun new approach to battles. Rather than playing 100% aggressively like in previous Star Ocean games, you can now experience a more defensive style of play. Whilst Star Ocean 4’s blindsides were cool and rewarding, they were rather easy to pull off as you could pull off a blindside before an enemy could get a chance to hit you. In Star Ocean 5 however, guarding requires a lot more precision.

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You see by holding down the guard button, you can maintain a guard for as long as you want. However the enemy will usually read this as an opportunity to hit you with a strong attack. If you are hit with a strong attack whilst guarding your guard breaks and you lose a portion of your reserve gauge. So it’s important to read your opponent carefully and guard their attacks only when necessary. Enemies with blue auras around them are often preparing to attack you with a strong attack so be sure to move out of the way if you see one coming your way.

The reserve gauge is essentially the replacement of the bonus board. However, like in Star Ocean 3 it is a bar this time round. The reserve gauge is accumulated simply by attacking enemies. However it is depleted if you get guard countered or ko’ed. It may also be depleted if you are attacked during an attack animation. Accumulating additional reserve rewards you with bonus experience, sp and fol.

Once the reserve gauge fills up one of its bars you are able to unleash a special reserve rush attack. These attacks are basically the Star Ocean equivalent of Valkyrie Profile’s soul crushes and deal devastating damage to enemies (aside from Miki’s which heals the entire party). It’s cool that they implemented this feature as I always loved the soul crushes in Valkyrie Profile and it’s nice to see a similar concept used in Star Ocean.

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Like in most JRPG’s, it’s important to give the character an extravagant pose before using their ultimate attack. Just so you know that shit is about to get real.

Unlike Valkyrie Profile however, reserve rush attacks don’t show up on a separate screen. Instead they blend into the rest of the battle allowing you to keep the fight going as the reserve rush piles damage into the enemy. As such you could say that reserve rushes are the polar opposite of rush combo’s from Star Ocean 4 as instead of simply showcasing regular attacks on a separate screen, you are able to use unique attacks on the same screen.

The biggest change however is the fact that you control 6 party members in battle and as such you can swap between all of them to make unique combo’s. I personally didn’t have a main character this time round. Instead I cycled between characters and used each one periodically. I mostly stuck with the three dudes: Fidel, Victor and Emmerson though I occasionally swapped to the ladies for some support when needed.

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This brings me to another issue that was fixed from Star Ocean 3. Usually when you switched characters, the character would run up to the enemy in order to perform an attack. This could not be canceled out. In Star Ocean 5 however it is possible to cancel this run up through guarding which cancels out the attack completely. This is extremely handy and can be a life saver at some points.

Another improvement is the removal of boss staggering. Though this could be considered a negative. Bosses will no longer be interrupted by attacks. However with proper usage of the guard mechanic, it’s not likely that they will be able to hit you with a quick attack unless you let them but this is where the strategy comes in. You have to be able to read what the enemy is about to do. As for weak attacks, they aren’t used to interrupt bosses, rather they are used to exploit short counter windows. Strong attacks are used for the same purpose as always, to break down shields. As such, dodging and positioning yourself is very important and you can use it in conjunction with weak attacks for some quick hits.

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This means that you can no longer stagger lock bosses which was an issue that plagued the rest of the series. Now you have to think a bit more and use counter windows to your advantage. On the plus side, this feature only serves to make cancel bonuses all the more rewarding. If you can get a 200% cancel bonus on a boss without getting hit, good job but it’s not that easy. In Star Ocean 3, you could get cancel bonuses easy, all you needed to do was button mash and spam. In Star Ocean 5 however you have to be more calculated as enemies can hit you mid combo which causes your reserve gauge to decrease so you have to be careful with how often you stack attacks and wait for a counter window.

As a result there is a lot more thought process behind Star Ocean 5 compared with the rest of the series, even with the game’s rush mode, Star Ocean 4 still had the ever exploitable staggering but only for a certain period of time. However when an enemy entered rush mode you would simply run away from it until it’s rush gauge depleted then you would wail on it again which was kind of an exploit since the rush gauge was somewhat flawed even if it was a better concept than Star Ocean 3’s fury system.

So Star Ocean 5 manages to do a lot of things right with its battle system despite it’s limitations, so much so that many of its shortcomings are outweighed by the good parts. Needless to say however, the combat system remains somewhat archaic to a degree considering the fact that we’re still using MP for specials (well at least it’s not HP like in Star Ocean 3) rather than AC like in the Tales series. In other words, the Star Ocean series has a bit of catching up to do to keep up with this generation’s standards.

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All that aside however, the combat is still just as fun as the rest of the series, you could even consider it to be the best in the series. I would personally mark it on par with Star Ocean 4’s battle system. I think any Star Ocean fan will find enjoyment out of this system. If you can have fun by simply replaying old Star Ocean games, you will have so much fun with this game, especially if you enjoyed Star Ocean Till The End Of Time.

Now I want to touch on seamless battles a little bit. When you get into a battle, there are no transitions. Instead you are given the option to either attack or block to initiate a battle. If an enemy hits you, you will get surprised and the battle starts so you must be careful as you approach enemies and make sure you get the first move. Once the battle starts, a red ring appears around the field, running into that ring allows you to escape battles but there’s a timer. One thing that could be considered a minor annoyance is that when playing characters other than Fidel, they may end up outside the ring at the start of the fight, setting off the escape counter. It’s only a minor gripe though and if you do run away you merely have to wait some time to re-initiate the battle so it’s all good.

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When the battle ends a results screen appears in the top right of the screen and you are immediately free to move. There is no fade out or loading screen’s in between battles, they start almost immediately. Certain battles may even take you off guard at some points as they are blended in with the seamless cutscenes. Certain battles will give you specific objectives where you have to protect someone as well and as such, battles can get quite difficult later on in the game.

In addition you may occasionally be accompanied by guest characters who will help you in battle. This brings me to what is quite possibly my favorite feature in the game, war battles. War battles are a somewhat frequent occurrence where large scale battles take place in a designated location.

During war battles you can freely move around the map as the battles are waged and can engage into battle simply by getting in range of the enemies and instigating them by using either the guard or attack button. In other words there are several battles going on at once and you are accompanied with NPC soldiers to assist you, very much like the siege of Castle Prevant in Infinite Undiscovery only on a much broader scale. These battles are quite the spectacle and really show off what the game’s seamlessness is capable of as it makes the battles feel more exciting.

Another new feature is the roles system, this allows players to not only provide certain bonuses but it also allows players to alter the character’s AI behavior in battle. As such the AI is vastly improved from Star Ocean Till The End Of Time and no longer will you have to put all characters on manual control due to the fact that the AI likes to recklessly charge towards an enemy. One of thing things that annoyed me the most with Star Ocean Till The End Of Time was the simple fact that Sophia’s AI had to be one of the worst healer AI i have ever had the displeasure of witnessing in a JRPG.

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There are 5 categories for roles. One for offensive, one for defensive, one for healing and one for support. The final category is just for stat boosts among other things that do not affect your character’s AI.

Roles can be used for more than simply changing the AI behavior, certain roles have specific abilities that apply certain effects to the characters in battle. These effects can be pretty dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Certain roles offer great benefits but can impair the character’s judgement which makes their AI less effective, other roles encourage the AI to do specific actions which may or may not be helpful. Other roles such as altruist exchanges all EXP gains with SP gains which can be problematic if you somehow forget that it was equipped and start wondering why your characters are gaining 0 EXP (this happened to me before). Put simply, roles in Star Ocean 5 are like sealstones in Valkyrie Profile 2 taken to a whole new level of dangerous.

Now as I mentioned before, the music of this game includes tracks from Star Ocean 3 and 4, if you haven’t played those games I urge you to give them a try (even though Star Ocean 3’s gameplay is godawful, it’s worth it for the story). The music from those games are as good as ever and with the exception of a few tracks, the majority of the tracks tie in well with the game

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As for the new tracks, Motoi Sakuraba has put a lot of work into developing new ideas for his future projects as shown in Exist Archive. The soundtrack of Star Ocean 5 is a little bit more familiar though and really gives off that Star Ocean feeling. You’ll realize very quickly that the music maintains the series the standard of quality the series is known for and while there isn’t as much of it as we expected (Sakuraba is a pretty busy guy these days, seriously they should get Noriyuki Iwadare to work with him as he did the music for Radiata Stories and the legendary Grandia 2) the music we got is top notch.

You can feel the effort that was put into the music and you can also feel the struggle that Sakuraba has gone through to make the soundtrack as good as it can be. I think by now, music composition has become more of a challenge than ever for Sakuraba as he has a lot of reputation behind him that he needs to maintain and this means experimenting with new ideas and new approaches.

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It’s amazing how the soundtrack manages to remain so familiar but feel so different at the same time. The mixture of Violin, brass and alluring techno is the style Motoi Sakuraba went with for this game. The brass often stands out as being somewhat overpowering whereas the violin is very technical. The techno really brings out the sci-fi effect, especially when accompanied with the brass.

As will all tri-Ace games, there’s a bonus dungeon at the end and like the other games in the series there are two more unlockable difficulty levels for completing the game. The game itself is rather short but doesn’t outlive its welcome. There are several diversions available throughout the story such as the cathedral (the replacement for the series’ more conventional arena) which pits you against a gauntlet of enemies and finally a boss to obtain a reward at the end. There also of course plenty of side quests to do via the bulletin board and private actions. As a result you’ll generally spend around 40 hours or so which isn’t bad by any means.

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Those intent on rushing through the main story may be disappointed by the game’s length. I’d say the main story is on par with that of Infinite Undiscovery’s main story in terms of play time so if you don’t mind a short JRPG, you should be satisfied with what this game has to offer. I for one am glad the game was short as it meant that I could get to this review a lot quicker. Still I took my time and played through around 37 hours worth doing sidequests and stuff and had a lot of fun doing so, so much so that I was getting a bit lax on my analysis hahahaha. It is a long time since I’ve enjoyed a proper Star Ocean game, I wanted to make the most of it and I got what I came for.

So if you’re wondering whether or not Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness is for you, it all depends on what you’re looking for in a JRPG. Are you looking for a long adventure with lots of filler? You won’t find it here. If you’re looking for a game that’s short but sweet and intend to play through some of the game’s side content, I’d definitely recommend this game to you. In other words, Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness is the opposite of Exist Archive in the sense that rather than trying to shove as much filler into the game as possible, it aims to bring top quality content in small quantities to keep the budget costs down.

As such I believe they made the right decision with this game and though many will disagree with me, I think that Star Ocean 5 is a top quality game that didn’t get enough time to blossom but it’s definitely on the right track and I can see a potential for a Star Ocean 6 in the making. So just ignore all the irrational hate, give this game a go and I promise so long as you don’t set your expectations too high, you will enjoy this game a lot.

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Plot/story: Satisfactory
Visuals: Exceptional
Music: Great
Game play: Great
Lifespan: Quite Short
Worth replaying? Yes

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Overall score: Great

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For more about Star Ocean 5’s story click here warning: may be small gameplay related spoilers!!!

Value: £40.00+

Purchase Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (PS4)