Square Enix and developer Tri-Ace's latest big title, Star Ocean V: Integrity and Faithlessness was playable at this year's Tokyo Game Show, and after some quality time with the demo, despite some minor issues, it's shaping up to look pretty solid.
The Star Ocean V demo consisted of a short dungeon and a boss battle that apparently takes place early in the actual game. You control the protagonist Fidel with the heroine, Miki, and a third party member who has not yet been officially introduced, along with three other NPCs to hunt down a bandit. The demo itself was very straightforward and was intended to highlight the gameplay.
First off, the game was quite pretty. That's not a high marker in current gen, but it was worth noting. Where in Star Ocean IV, I got a very uncanny valley vibe from the bright, almost doll-like smooth features of the characters, the characters in V were just JRPG enough not to distract.
I've had experience with previous games in the series (1, 3, 4). Even so, the combat had a bit of a learning curve which was hampering without a tutorial, and admittedly I did die at the boss battle once before I got the handle of things. The circle, square and X buttons are used for weak attacks, blocking, and strong attacks respectively. Holding down on the circle button and the X button (not simultaneously) executed special attacks.
The combat apparently employs as rock-scissors-paper balance system where weak attacks have an advantage against strong attacks, strong attacks have an advantage over blocking, and blocking has an advantage over weak attacks, but with my character, two AI characters, three AI NPCs and the enemies all occupying the battlefield, things were too frenetic for me to really get a solid feel on that. Apparently, by timing when you block you can counter, but I never was able to pull one off.
One issue I did encounter in the demo was that if my characters fell in battle (HP reduced to zero) they stayed that way unless I used a reviving item or spell -- which I did not have. In my faffing about, I found a bonus boss that was much more powerful than the boss I was supposed to fight, and while I did manage to defeat it, two of my characters were knocked out of commission and I ran out of revive items during the battle. One of the characters that got knocked out was Fidel, so this made for an interesting phenomenon where I would be running around the map with Fidel, but the second I entered combat, he would crumple over, wailing for a heal, while I was automatically switched to my one character who was still usable. This was a little odd until I managed to find some more revive items.
Another issue I had was the fact that while the map was very pretty and vast, I really wished I had some way to dash faster than my current running speed. Backtracking and running long areas between enemies did feel a little tedious over time and I wished that there was some kind of speed boost, be it a skill or a temporary dash, I could use.
Overall, the gameplay was fairly solid, if a little unintuitive. I wasn't able to really run into a situation that required a massive amount of tactical thinking. Mostly it was just bum rushing enemies or "that guy uses magic? Kill him first." Or "That thing is too powerful for me? Hand over control of the fighters to the AI and snipe with the mage."
On the story front, as the story is going to be more magical/fantasy focused as opposed to technology/science, and the developers have informed me that while the travelling between planets -- a staple of the series -- will be present, the characters may not necessarily have their own ship. From what little of the story I could gather in the demo, the characters lived in a world that is technologically far behind the other sort of worlds previous protagonists have come from. There is a moment in the demo where the bandit boss pulls out a gun and the characters treat it like some fantastical weapon that they can't identify, but know that it's dangerous. Where in previous Star Ocean games where the main characters were the visitors, it seems that this time they will be the visited.
Do note that my experience was from a demo and not the final product, so some of the things I have issue with may be tweaked or changed when the full game comes out.
Star Ocean V: Integrity and Faithlessness is scheduled for release in Japan on February 25th and in the West sometime in 2016.