Tales Of Symphonia Review

Tales of symphonia review 3

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.

Tales of symphonia review 24

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.

Tales of symphonia review 6

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.

Tales of symphonia review 23

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.

Tales of symphonia review 9

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.

Tales of symphonia review 24

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.

Tales of symphonia review 26

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.

Tales of symphonia review 2

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.

Tales of symphonia review 11

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.

Tales of symphonia review 22

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.

Tales of symphonia review 28

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.

Tales of symphonia review 27

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.

Tales of symphonia review 12

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.

Tales of symphonia review 15

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.

Tales of symphonia review 13

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.

Tales of symphonia review 8

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.

Tales of symphonia review 4

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)

Advertisements

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.

star ocean 22

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.

star ocean 23

“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?

star ocean 7

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.

star ocean 9

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.

star ocean 20

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.

star ocean 18

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.

star ocean 25

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.

Star Ocean 15

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.

star ocean 10

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.

Star Ocean 4

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.

star ocean 26

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.

star ocean 16

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.

star ocean 13

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.

star ocean 17

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.

Star Ocean 14

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.

star ocean 19

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.

star ocean 28

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

Star Ocean 24

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.

star ocean 21

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.

star ocean 8

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.

—————-

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

—————–

Overall score: Great

—————–

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)