Star Ocean 5: Where Freedom Finds the Uncanny Valley [TGS Hands-On Preview]

I really like breaking down game design, and that’s what we’re going to do here. Let’s take a look at weird decisions in Star Ocean 5: Integrity and Faithlessness.

Star Ocean 5‘s battle system resembles a classic Star Ocean system, though it’s hard to see all it can do in a demo. There is one attack designated for strong attacks and one for weak attacks, which can both be chained together. Holding each of those buttons will execute a special attack that the player assigns to it (though of course, the special attacks were locked in this demo). It definitely feels like a Star Ocean battle system, but something about the Star Ocean battle system is starting to feel a bit dated. Disclosure: I didn’t play Star Ocean 4, which had a widely praised battle system and slammed in most other departments, but I’ve played the first three.

Between the hectic-but-fun Tales of games’ battles and Square Enix’s own Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, there have been some really cool things done with these action RPG battles when the games trend more towards RPG than action, and I wasn’t feeling it here. I found myself wishing for more options: an evade or guard button, some unique type of movement, more types of attacks, something. This might be a case of RPG demos generally sucking (especially when you can’t customize characters yourself), but Star Ocean 5‘s combat didn’t grab me and felt pretty tedious even by the end of the 15 minute demo, which is a bad sign.

I think that this game is trying to be more “progressive” in a sense, like not technically locking you into scenes where you have to sit and watch characters chat and having battles occur on the map without cutting away to a battle screen. That almost feels like lip service to the idea of freedom, rather than real freedom, though. Not having a separate battle screen to cut to means that all the enemies are onscreen instead of just one enemy standing in for the enemy party. This has the effect of making enemy parties much harder to dodge: you can get swarmed by small foes and trapped in garbage battles easily.

In fact, it wasn’t really clear if there was a special system for avoiding enemies or how close you had to be to an enemy to trigger a battle, so most times I found an enemy group on the map, it was a guaranteed fight. Since the fights weren’t easily avoidable, the result was the same as if I had just gotten attacked in random battles. But because you can technically avoid them, that’s more “free,” right?!

Walking around while NPCs chatter on is similar: it’s nice to not be technically locked in one place, but red lines on the ground would choke your ability to actually go anywhere and do anything meaningful during these talk scenes, and often your movement speed would be capped at a walk.

The game keeps reminding you of barriers by having other characters walk freely on and over this red line, as if taunting you to try and cross it. During story sequences, the party will be having a conversation, and players can run anywhere if they want to, except over that red line. Meanwhile, you’ve got everybody else breakdancing on it or treating it like the tape at the end of a marathon. It’s kind of bizarre, isn’t it?

So you’ve got things that, on paper, should make your game more free and open, right? But it’s like they hit an uncanny valley of openness. Eliminating “random” battles sounds more free, but the end result in Star Ocean 5 delivers virtually (if not exactly) the same number of battles. Allowing characters to move during scenes sounds great, right? But instead of the freedom, one’s focus is drawn toward the place where the freedom ends. It’s admirable to add these things, but weird that they don’t end up helping Square Enix’s cause.

What little I got to see of the story was decent, but that’s just it: I saw very little. Where it goes could be anywhere at all. Longtime Star Ocean fans know exactly what I mean.

Some images used here were created by GameRevolution reader endrightplease.

Check out more gameplay previews from the Tokyo Game Show:

…Wow, that’s a lot of PS4.