My Thoughts on Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness

So, juggling a playthough of Final Fantasy II (Japanese FF2, ya know… the bad one) on the PSP, Persona 4 Golden on my Vita, and grinding until I can’t feel anymore in Bravely Default on my 3DS, I decided to play and finish a game I was looking forward to for the better part of 2016: Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness, or as I’ll call it, Star Ocean 5. Star Ocean 5 is special to me, as it is the first of the Star Ocean games I have played and beat, and while my hype for Final Fantasy XV was there, the runner up of that hype went to Star Ocean 5. Why? Well, many people (mostly on YouTube) have expressed their love of the Star Ocean franchise, mostly Second Story (Star Ocean 2… obviously) and ‘Till The End Of Time (Star Ocean 3). After my initial distaste of Star Ocean The Last Hope (Star Ocean 4), I became weary of Star Ocean 5, especially after reviews came out slamming the game, therefore my hope died out on it being a good game. Alas, I have played and beaten it. What do I think now? Well..

Let’s start off with the story. You play as a dude named Fidel Camuze, who… screw it. I honestly don’t remember anything about the story. You’re a dude who picks up other eccentrically dressed and varied characters as you spend most of your time quelling enemy attacks on towns and getting mowed down by random fights, because you didn’t spend the last hour grinding. I’m not saying that the story is bad, but incredibly forgettable, meaning that I completely forgot the setup. Okay, you are a dude named Fidel, with a friend who doesn’t want to be just friends but she has to fit into a cliche of being the girl drooling over the main bland, Miki. Admittedly, I like the cast in this game way more than the cast that I got introduced to in the first 2 hours of Star Ocean 4, who were all insufferable in their own ways. I just find that the cliche of the boy who is attracted to the girl class president who is amazing in every way, shape, and form is reversed, which makes it more Western in that sort of stereotype, which… meh. I can role with it because I actually like Fidel and Miki, despite the fact that I never got romantic vibes from them, so it almost seemed like they were brother and sister, but in the end (SPOILERS), Miki drops the subtle-not-so-subtle hit to Fidel that she wants to be his wife. Again… meh. Anyway, you also come across Victor Oakville (a soldier who you could replace with a stuffed bear with long hair a sword and nothing would change), Fiore Brunelli (the fan service character, who strangely has a lot more to do with the plot than the other characters, which makes me think, why isn’t she the protagonist?), Relia (a young girl that spends her time being 12 years old and a plot device), and Emmerson and Anne (Captain and crew mate of the Charles D. Goale, part of the Federation, and what they lack of in last names, they make up for by being the only thing that can make the plot move forward). The main problem is that your character, and most of the characters minus Emmerson, Anne and Relia, are citizens of an underdeveloped planet, meaning all the fun of a game that is essentially Japanese Star Trek, gets tossed into the decompression chamber and ejected into space to die in a way that I don’t want to ponder upon for too long. As the story progressed, we learn that our planet sucks, that a dude named General Alma watched Film Theory’s video on how Star Trek’s Federation stood for Fascism, connected the dots that he was in Japanese Star Trek and then went ham, capturing Relia’s sister Feria (because OF COURSE HER NAME IS FERIA). You kill him, everyone lives out their dreams, which sets up a story I would have rather played through than the one I actually played through. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are scenes that are pretty good, such as Fidel’s dad dying and their estranged relationship with each other, as well as the ending being a lot better than how i thought it was going to be, but the story was aggressively okay. My main problem is that you can move your character and the camera in 90% of the cutscenes, which made me not even pay attention to what was going on, because what was going on was already boring and pointless enough, so that when the camera doesn’t change to make the scenes more interesting, I lose interest really quickly.

This is an action RPG, where you can control allies individually and use their special abilities. You’re placed in an invisible-walled arena, where you must fatally remove the enemies from your safe space. X and O are your attack buttons, Square is block, Triangle brings up your menu, R1+X is your limit break… kinda. You can set roles, which give you various buffs to aid your characters in certain stats. They are like the “Titles” from the Tales series, except you can equip 4 to each character, and they are much more important if you want to beat the game properly. You can also learn new abilities by finding them, acknowledging that you indeed have them in your inventory and then assigning that command to one of 4 places: X and O in short range, or X and O in long range. The battle system is okay, being decent enough to get you from point A to B and have some fun, but not enough to be something to look forward to, especially when you start grinding, because trust me, you’re going to need to grind. It’s a JRPG, so duh there will be grinding, but I don’t like spending hours grinding in action RPGs for some reason. Turn-based is optimal for grinding, but action-RPGs are more active and fast paced, so grinding feels wrong, in my opinion. Regardless, the overall battle system is okay.

The aesthetic is very hit and miss. The art style is something I really love and I think that, for a game that has an anime aesthetic, it has a fantastic level of polish. There are hiccups with the frame rate, models clipping through the ground (meaning no animation or position change of feet being on an incline/ decline), and facial animations being very poor, but I think that the style is great. For the most part, it’s nice and artsy, but then there’s Fiore, who’s checkered outfit didn’t match her personality of an intelligent symbologist. Then again, if they are going to have a fan service character, she might as well be the black mage who also is a key member of the plot (again, why isn’t she the protagonist? Eh… whatever). The art of Star Ocean 5 is really nice, but I feel that the overall aesthetic turns out to be only okay. This goes for the soundtrack as well, unfortunately. While there were cool songs in the game, I couldn’t remember any of them for the life of me, which is a shame, because video game OSTs are my favorite things. It’s composed by Motoi Sakuraba… wait… the guy who did the Tales series and Dark Souls?!?! I mean… he did do a lot of games in 2015-2016, so maybe this wasn’t really his best foot that he put forward, which I wouldn’t blame him. The soundtrack is rather forgettable, which I say very disappointingly, because I really wanted to like it. The voice acting is pretty good, although it does get way too cheesy for it’s own good later down the line, but anything is better than Star Ocean 4 (YES I’M STILL BITTER).

Overall, I feel that Star Ocean 5 is just aggravatingly and aggressively… okay. It’s a fun 23 hours with moments that will make you wonder why you started playing the game in the first place. In the end, after seeing the ending, I actually am glad that I decided to take the time to look at this game, even though I understand and agree with the critics on this one, for the most part. I think it’s enjoyable, but as someone who loves a good OST, story and art style, this game unfortunately let me down. I really hate saying that, but the amount of times I just wanted to play Kingdom Hearts instead or start a New Game+ file in Persona 5 ruined my overall enjoyment of this game. I just hope that we can get another entry, because while this is a better place than where Star Ocean 4 left off on, this series still has great potential that can still be tapped into. Star Ocean Integrity and Faithlessness is just okay.

My Thoughts on Star Ocean Integrity And Faithlessness

My Thoughts on NieR:Automata (Spoiler Free)

So, I finished Persona 5 last night! So, to celebrate that, I’m going to talk about NieR:Automata. I’m going to wait a couple weeks before I write my thoughts on the absolute longest game I have ever played, but I’ve been meaning to talk NieR:Automata ever since I beat it in March. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to it as NieR 2. NieR 2 was created by Yoko Taro, as a part of the Drakengard series, and was developed by Platinum Games, who were responsible for over-the-top action games, such as Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (which is amazing, go play it). The game released this year on March 7th and it has honestly made such a monumental impression on me that I still think about it every day, even after marathoning Persona 5 for the last month. This game is what Final Fantasy XV should have been and puts other action RPGs to shame. No Spoilers ahead, I sincerely want you to go in blind when playing this game.

I’ll start with the bad, because I already expressed that this game is fantastic, but it does have flaws, like every other game. First off, the game doesn’t run too smoothly. It tries to run at 60 fps, but it trips up on the frame rate and causes a bit of stuttering. Personally, I don’t really mind, because it didn’t happen or I didn’t notice it when I was in combat or doing anything important. I will say that the game did freeze on me and made me restart, but that only happened once, and given that this game only had around 2 years of development, I can’t believe how well it works right now. To some, this is inexcusable, but I honestly don’t really mind too much. Sure, it is something that isn’t desirable, especially in AAA games, but this is honestly the only universal problem with this game. Even then, critics also gave another open world game with bad frame rates a 10/10, so NieR 2 gets lower score, because God forbid a niche game gets mainstream attention. Some people don’t like the second campaign, because there are a lot of shoot-em-up sections (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, think Galaga). I don’t mind. There is a purpose behind it and you can cheese the game with it, so it’s either use the hack and slash combat and use your skill, or use the hacking to kill things quickly. Again, I like shoot-em-ups, so I don’t mind at all. Some don’t like the aesthetic of the world, how it’s all brown and gray. Because a post-apocalyptic world where humans fled to the moon thousands of years ago is supposed to be all colorful, interesting, and full of things to do… modern gamers are really dense, I swear. The setting makes sense, so I don’t mind. The campaign, for being a “JRPG” is rather short. You could beat it in 19 hours (doing all 3 routes, getting the game’s 5 main endings), and while I did mine in about 26 hours, it was short, but I also feel that the game is pretty consistent in the main quest, minus the easy fetch quests towards the beginning of the campaign. Whether or not you enjoy a short experience when playing a game is entirely up to you, but as someone who, at the time, just finished three 50 hour games, a 26 hour game was refreshing and a much needed break, especially since right after, I jumped into Persona 5. I like the fact that this game’s length is short, so it is easier to replay. Chrono Trigger was a 15 to 25 hour game, and while a case can be made that it was a Super Nintendo game and that makes a shorter game justified, both have a straightforward campaign with very little fluff added artificially lengthen the game.

Now the good. Let’s start with combat. NieR 2’s combat is a combination the original NieR’s combat, Platinum Games’ style of hack and slash (similar to Bayonetta), and shoot-em-up gameplay, but with multiple camera changes to keep it interesting. The hack and slash element is smooth and incredibly quick, like other Platinum games, with the shoot-em-up mechanics being integrated rather seamlessly, making it almost feel second nature, as well as a necessity to keep piling on damage to enemies. You can upgrade your character with chips to cause certain effects, such as HP up, a shockwave addition to your sword, and instant item uses when you didn’t get good at the game enough to avoid taking nearly fatal damage. If you are smart about selling items that are there to sell, buying space to put your chips in, upgrading said-chips, and buying a ton of healing items, you’ll do well in this game. The simple layout allows you to understand how the game works and you will do very well, until you get to the difficulty where you die in one hit no matter what… oh boy. You control 3 characters in the game: 2B, 9S, and a character that shows up in the spoiler territory. 2B fights like a normal character in a hack and slash game, using light and heavy attacks. 9S is where the heavy attack is replaced with that hacking mini-game I mentioned earlier. You could easily go through his campaign playthrough without relying on the RPG elements that aren’t present in the hacking mini-game, even though you do get exp boosts from playing the mini game, so it is ironically a great way to grind. Spoiler character fights very similarly to 2B, but using heavier weapons. The boss battles are, for the most part, incredible. My favorite is still the Amusement Park boss, who has such a great song accompanied with it to make it an incredible moment in the story.

The story of NieR 2 is insane, but told incredibly well. The game takes place around 9,000 years in the future (11,945 A.D.), where humans fled to the moon and aliens invaded earth and sent out machines to take over the world. You start off as 2B going to earth to fight some machines, you fight some machines, you go around fighting, while uncovering things about the aliens that took over the planet, you fight more machines, and eventually you fight a machine and BOOM!… your 9-15 hour campaign is done, but that’s only Route A. Route B starts immediately after Route A with you taking control of 9S, basically playing the events of Route A from 9S’s perspective. Context is given to the story and machines that you are fighting and crazy revelations about the world unfold. After Route B, you can start Route C… and this is where the game properly begins. Yes, after around 18-25 hours, you are now going to play what it all leads up to. In Route C, you can get 2 different endings (Ending C and Ending D), which result from which character you pick in the final fight. After you get one ending, you now have chapter select, so you can very quickly go back and get the other ending, which then lets you get Ending E. Have internet for this, otherwise you cannot beat this last challenge, and there is a story reason as to why, I promise. The story never misses a beat and doesn’t relent unless you choose to stop focusing on the main story and do side missions. Many times this game made me stare at my tv screen in shock as something mind blowingly crazy happened. In a relatively short amount of time (26 hours total), this game presented an incredibly cohesive story that, even after weeks of finishing the game and even finishing Persona 5, I still think about NieR 2. The game makes an effort to show that games can be more than games, meaning that this game makes you feel more things than fun or joy, but rather it makes you think on a philosophical level, asking questions about purpose and what it means to be human, as well as asking other small questions along the way. Yoko Taro is a game director who tries to meddle with the potential of games and does so by employing tropes of game genres and the flips them on their heads, while subverting player expectations and delivering a story that is a cohesive, emotional roller coaster, but now with gameplay to match the themes that he tries to get across.

I cannot go further without addressing my absolute favorite part of this game: the music. This may just be my favorite gaming soundtrack of all time. As much as i love “Hellfire” from Final Fantasy XV, as much as I love “Velvet’s Theme” from Tales Of Berseria, and as much as I love “Aerith’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VII, NieR:Automata has single-handedly delivered a soundtrack that is so magnificent and emotional, you forget you are controlling android that are prohibited from showing emotion. The City Ruins theme is something I could probably listen to for hours and not get tired of. The Amusement Park’s theme and it’s boss theme are so spot on, it heightened an incredibly fun game to a piece of art, in my opinion. The variety, the different versions of themes depending on who you play as/ different playthroughs, the 8-bit versions that show up in the hacking mini-game, the story that is attached to it makes this one of the best soundtracks in gaming, which is saying a lot, because the original NieR’s most praised aspect was its soundtrack, and they somehow managed to out-do it.

This game is absolutely incredible. I can’t think of anything that this game does wrong personally, outside of technical performance. The messages this game presents, the satisfying combat, the easy to understand but customizable mechanics, the wonderfully told and insane story, and a soundtrack that nothing less than incredible, all come together to make this game a masterpiece. Don’t let the anime-esq aesthetic turn you away from what is one of the best games I have ever had the pleasure of playing. This game is an incredible achievement by Yoko Taro, who finally was able to create a game where the the ideas he had were able to be put into a game that had gameplay to match. There are so many games that have been released this year that I haven’t gotten my hands on yet (Horizon: Zero Dawn, Yakuza Zero, Resident Evil 7, Nioh, and The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild), but I doubt that any game that I mentioned or even any game to come out this year will be better than NieR:Automata. The game has flaws, but this game is the very definition of being better than the sum of its parts. What you get when you combine its crazy story that thematically connects itself with its incredibly fun gameplay with music that is masterfully made and an art style that looks anime, but more artistic and creative, you get what I think is a strong Game Of The Year contender. If you have a PS4 or PC, you owe it to yourself to play through this game. This game was worth the price of admission and every second I put into it.

Oh, the facial animations and the writing are good, so good to know that there is at least one more game out there that doesn’t look like a broken product with more patches on it than a metal head’s vest.  As soon as EA got attached to that franchise, it seems like those games got damaged in the shipping.

My Thoughts on NieR:Automata (Spoiler Free)