Faithless but full of hope
After seven years, Star Ocean finally graces our consoles again with the ninth installment in the franchise. And while this entry departs from a lot of what made the series stand out, it sets out to create the foundations for an entirely new type of JRPG
Star Ocean I&F takes place on the planet Faykreed between the second and third games in the franchise.. The story revolves around Fidel Camuze, a young man who sets out to seek help from the government to obtain troops to protect his village. What starts off as a rather simple task quickly becomes a quest to stop an evil empire and save the planet.
JRPG stories have become rather stagnant in recent years, and Star Ocean I&F does little to help change this. The story is predictably boring and, at times, laughably contrived. There are a bit too many conveniences and jumps in logic, and it makes the overall story one that’s quickly forgotten.
However, while the story itself may be as stale as week old bread, it’s the delivery of this story that makes I&F stand out from other JRPGs. For better, and for worse.
I&F decides to go for a more american style of storytelling with its mechanics. Yes, there are in-game cutscenes, but the majority of the story is given out through fixed camera moments of characters exchanging dialogue. During these moments you can still walk around environments, although at a snail’s pace, and sometimes interact with objects. It’s similar to how you would speak to NPCs in the original Assassin’s Creed.
This means that there are no static portraits on-screen with miles of text to scroll through. Everything is played out in front of your eyes, with voice actors, body movements, and sometimes even combat. This helps not break immersion and keep you feeling like you’re in the moment.
Having a story that isn’t told through text or static pictures means that story is much more based on cues, which also means that it’s now a lot more streamlined. Gone is the massive sprawling open world, where you feel like you’re a small part of something much bigger. Now you and your actions literally carry the momentum of the story.
While it’s tempting to compare it to something such as Uncharted, it felt less like playing a game, and more like interacting with an anime.
Everything in the game feels like you’re interacting with an anime variation of the classic tale Journey To The West, with typical JRPG tropes adding to the sensation. For example, the party will run into someone who is a potential new party member, but they won’t join until they have their own little character arc, so the party has to help them overcome what issues they face until they learn something about themselves and join your group.
It’s standard JRPG stuff, but because this is all resolved in around 20 minutes, it feels like you’ve just watched an episode of a Star Ocean anime, and it’s a feeling quite unlike
While many will hate this new change of style, resenting the fact that you don’t really level and grow to become a well strategized group, despising that the game is more of a TV show then an actual video game, it deserves to be given credit for trying something new.
The rest of the game is as bland as can be. Combat that hasn’t been changed since The Last Hope, voice acting that sounds like it’s been ripped from a 4Kids dub of One Piece, and a soundtrack that makes you go “I’m pretty sure this is from Tales of Symphonia”, it’s nothing to get excited about. It’s not bad, it’s completely passable, but it doesn’t do much to mix things up from what we know to work.
However, what does deserve note are the graphics. Helping add to the feeling of “playing an anime”, the art style and design of the game are gorgeous, and the world design and sculpting of the game is something to behold. Villages and towns are alive with quirky characters, the vast plains paint the land a bright green, and the sea looks so inviting you with the game had a swimming mechanic.
Not everything is a pleasure to the eyes. Some character designs are vomit inducing, and not having weapons and armor change when you equip new ones is almost a sin by now, but the game shows the potential of just how good video games can look in this new generation of consoles.
JRPGs are stuck in a creative rut, and while Star Ocean isn’t going to be the game to save it, it’s definitely going to be the game to help begin the movement to a brighter future.
Thanks to Square Enix for supplying a review code