This latest Star Ocean game has been highly anticipated given its seven year gap since the previous installment. Seeing as it's the series' first release on the PlayStation 4, how well does the established franchise hold up against other recent JRPGs?
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness introduces us to the green landscape of an "undeveloped" nation where fencer and protector (Fidel) runs into a young girl in need of help (Relia). She appears to be harassed and when Fidel and friends try to free her from her captives, she unleashes power that they've never seen before which stops time and space in order to let them escape. It soon becomes apparent that Relia isn't from this planet as the party of heroes befriends representatives of the Pangalactic Federation and makes enemies with the dangerous bad guys collectively known as Kronos on their adventures to find out more about their new little friend.
The main party members' personalities aren't anything new, but I did take a particular liking to the adorable charm of Relia. Dressed in her Eastern European-style costume, her cheeks glowing as she talks quietly and tries to keep up with the team, what's not to love? Fidel is your typical spirited youngster with something to prove, Miki is his doting childhood friend and Viktor plays the typical by-the-book soldier type. Fiore (the magic caster) is... interesting... to look at as she appears to wear nothing but body paint. The last two party members were almost completely forgettable despite them being the only two that weren't from Fidel's home planet of Faykreed IV.
Having played many JRPGs for over 100 hours, I was very shocked to find out how short and small this one is. I completed it in around thirty hours total and had visited ninety percent of the map within the first fifteen. Speaking of which, there is no world map and even though the world is small, the lack of a map will drive you nuts. You'll often find a character mentioning that you should head somewhere as if you already know where it is then you'll get lost and confused with no quick travel option or map to reference.
The world areas and dungeons are your typical grasslands, small snowy areas, rocky hills and caves. They don't do anything to impress and I often found myself looking at the animations of the shrubbery close up, thinking of how it reminded me of early PlayStation 2 games. The fact that you can learn abilities that allow you to harvest, fish and mine for materials was about the only thing that made me veer off the beaten track to explore. Cut scenes are also done poorly with almost no cinematography at all. For the vast majority, the camera is pulled back with your main character in the middle of the screen, and no matter how you position it; the character will often be blocking the view of some people in the conversation. Characters have the tendency to overlap each other, too, which looks hilarious.
Having recently played Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE, I was extremely disappointed in the battle system of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. There are two major problems with it. First, the fighting is extremely simplistic, especially if you decide to only play as the main character which I prefer to do (you can switch characters as you like, mid-battle). It follows a rock-paper-scissors model where you attempt to block or attack weakly or strongly at the right time in order to do the most damage. You assign weak and strong attacks to the O and X buttons, but you won't learn more than a handful throughout the game, and none of them offer a huge advantage over others. Next, it's almost impossible to actually use the rock-paper-scissors strategy due to the fact that at any moment, you often have up to seven party members fighting many enemies at once. There's so much chaos that you won't be able to follow what any particular enemy is doing long enough to strategize. This means that I ended up simply alternating between doing a light and heavy attack as I pleased, occasionally blocking in between. I got through most of the journey playing this way except for a few boss fights where I switched to the healer and spammed heal spells while the rest of the party took the boss down slowly without me.
One redeeming part of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is its customization system. As you fight, you earn points that can be spent on learning and leveling up abilities. There are dozens of abilities to learn such as cooking, harvesting, creating items, upgrading weapons and improving the drop rate from certain enemies. I had fun creating new items from materials that I gathered and unlocking more complicated recipes. You could easily get through the whole adventure without using this entire system, however, so it would have been neat to see it become more of an integral part of the game.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness feels like it was rushed to release halfway through development. The lack of a map and overall length are obvious telltales, but there were lots of smaller signs of this, too. For example, I liked to order my list of quests by which ones were open and closed. However, when I went to a bulletin board to complete and retrieve rewards for multiple quests and selected a quest, the list would reset its order to default and I'd have to scroll all the way back up again to find my open quests and continue completing them. Trying to get the attention of shopkeepers was always difficult with me mashing X and adjusting my footing over and over as I stood in front of them in order to get the menu to come up. Also, when I was fighting the very last form of the final boss, I got away without him doing a single point of damage to me. Apparently, there is a bug where if you attack him before he does a certain attack at the start of the battle then this glitch is triggered. I got a 999 combo and finished the game unscathed. Honestly, I wasn't inclined to load up my save, wait through the many cut scenes (with no skip option!) and fight him again, hoping for a challenge.
This latest installment of the Star Ocean series leaves a blemish on its otherwise good track record. The short story, uninspired characters and overall lack of quality control made it a big disappointment to me. With so many better JRPG options out there, here's hoping that the developers take their time with the next one and bring fans like me back to embrace the franchise again.
- + Relia is one of the most endearing characters I've ever seen in a JRPG
- + Customisation and crafting is a fun addition
- - Very short story with mostly uninteresting characters
- - Small, dull world that somehow lacks a map
- - Feels incomplete and buggy