Alas, I have fallen victim to my own weaknesses and put too much faith in a game I knew better than to blindly follow.
For the past year, I have been a big supporter of tri-Ace’s return to the Star Ocean franchise. Its announcement felt like a chance to secure developer tri-Ace’s future under a new owner, and myself along with millions of others were somewhat starved for that classic JRPG formula.
I knew what to expect to my very core. I knew it would be a shallow game and probably a little on the safe side. I knew tri-Ace wasn’t going to take any risks with complicated mechanics like it has on smaller franchises or original titles, and that it would try to alienate as few people as possible with a candy coated story and host of cliche heroes.
I knew all of this game’s problems long before I actually played it, and yet told myself it was OK. This is a classic JRPG in the year 2016, and damned if all else, I am going to like it.
I didn’t realize it was going to be this bad. Alas, as I said before, I fell into a trap dug out by my own weakness for the nostalgia of a genre that has left its heyday behind and now struggles to keep up with the rest of the the world. Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness tries its darndest to look like a modern JRPG with a sparkly world and a shiny battle system to flesh it all out…
Scrub all that polish away, and all that remains is a joyless, hollow game devoid of personality and starved for anything that resembles a soul.
Who are these people, and what do they want?
Even before it was released, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness found itself sadly straddled with far more expectations than a game of its limited budget could possibly handle. The game not only had to bring “The Year of the JRPG” to the PlayStation 4 in a meaningful fashion, it also had to reignite fans’ passion for a cult-classic series after the previous game, the Xbox 360’s Star Ocean: The Last Hope left a good many of them sour.
And from what we have in front of us, tri-Ace has actually taken countless steps backwards. The cast? Our hero is just another sword-swinger, son of the local military leader. He has a lady friend who has crushed on him since childhood. They are aided by a soldier who coincidentally stumbles across them. The team hires a magician consultant from a neighboring kingdom to help. When an amnesiac girl stumbles into the story, two space federations members.
This is the extent of our characters here, the depths to which their personalities are never explored. tri-Ace attempts to dig into these clockwork stereotypes, but rarely do they bloom into full blown likeable people. They are instead mere machines created to push the exposition and get this game from point to point to point, beginning to end.
Remember, this is a franchise that spawned the unforgettable Ashton, a hapless loser with two eternally warring dragons fused to his back. I’m not asking for such levels of genius from Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, but come on. Give me one person worth remembering after the credits roll!
Our heroes’ introductions? Nothing more than an off-hand bit of exposition.
“Oh, this is Fiora. We hired her to work with us. Let’s go….” Thanks, I’ve waited a long time to meet this character after all those screenshot leaks, and THIS is her grand introduction? I’m not even sure if she talks in her first cutscene, that’s how forgettable it was!
The lack of creativity doesn’t bare the burden of this game’s shortcomings though as the style in how the game delivers its story doesn’t do the character any justice either. The voice acting is bad, just plain… bad. Cutscenes too don’t have a shred of style to them, comprised of characters just talking to one another on the map. Our hero, Fidel has free reign to walk around while chatting, but an insufferable red ring jumps in his way if he wanders too far, blocking him from escaping as if to say “I know it’s tough, but you need to sit through this.”
When the game does jump into a traditional cutscene, one that has actual camera angles, editing, and excitement to it, the visual quality takes a huge hit with fuzzy character models and lack of focus. No, you are not watching this in-engine. This is all pre-rendered. Between the still, boring conversations on the map and a genuine cutscene though, no matter the visual quality, I’ll take an exciting cutscene any time.
Too bad these are few and far between.
A gilded world
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness also sold itself on its open landscapes, gorgeous scenery as far as the eye could see. A lush, open environment laid before us in the screenshots with mountains, lakes, as far as the eye could see. Yup, all background and not actual geometry in the game.
One small area, a sort of hub map, can be considered “open” in that it has branching paths to get characters wherever their next destination. What’s there to explore? Well, not a whole lot unless you want to go press the X button on a shining area of the ground to dig up resources or fight a monster. Star Ocean’s world is barren. While it might look like an expansive, gorgeous place, it might as well be an empty, white room for all the purpose that it serves. And that little purpose beyond being a means to get from one town to another.
A majority of the remaining maps are convenient paths that connect cities and towns together. Tubes that are at least honest in how little there is to do or places to branch off to. A quick little path this way, oh a chest. How nice. Now, get back on the road!
Towns, or rather the small portions of the towns, remember, you can’t actually go to majority of the places you see, don’t house much gratification either. A cutscene, a few shops to upgrade your armor and stock up on ingredients, a board of fetch quests because Star Ocean is just so addicting that further dragging out it’s play-length is just the natural instinct to follow, am I right?
Private actions are a bit of a welcome at first. In these, the party will split up and Fidel will get a chance to interact one on one with them. Again, nothing too revealing happens during these mini-attempts at characterization, but it’s better than nothing.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness’ world is an empty, hollow, and unwelcoming, obviously built with a shoestring budget. The art is there, but the resources and time clearly are not. Buildings, trees, the porcelain academy, even the grass, all the tiny details that hold this planet together together look like they are made of plastic. Fake, phony, hardly a living, breathing world, and their bland, textureless presentation clash horribly with the overdressed character models.
Overworld maps from the PlayStation days were more immersive than this!
How about that combat though?
As with most tri-Ace games, the company sought to seek redemption in the game’s systems. Item creation and combat star center stage here, but neither are enough to bring the game home.
Item creation… you find the resources on the map or in battle, and if you have enough, you make the item you need. Great? Next!
Combat is loaded with great ideas, but poor implementation never allows them to reach what tri-Ace clearly intended. As with the other Star Ocean games, the walls between and action game and an RPG are torn down to their foundations, allowing for frantic JRPG action without being hindered by a menu. Players will swap between seven controllable characters over the course of a battle, each with a different combat style.
In all honesty though, it might be better to just use Fidel for the entire game.
The tutorial hypes a kind of rock/paper/scissors system that ultimately proves to be the most useless bit of innovation. Players are supposed to time block or unleash power attacks based on visual hints made by the enemies. Power attacks break defenses, normal attacks beat power attacks based on speed, and defenses deflect normal attacks.
Simple enough right? However, Star Ocean isn’t exactly a subtle game when it comes to flair, and both the speed of battle and flashy, explosive attacks that surround the action and speed of the camera changes make picking up on these visual cues next to impossible.
Besides, it doesn’t matter anyway because spamming Fidel’s special moves are all that is necessary to clear any battle. X, X, hold X. Normal attack, normal attack, Double Slash. This is a combo you’re going to use throughout the entire 20 hours run of this game, and even the occasional strong attack with the O button will not be enough to shake the repetition up.
Another fun little function that breaks the game wide open is the “Reserve Gauge.” Playing out similarly to Final Fantasy Limit Breaks, this little tool lets players store up energy to pull off a super attack in times of desperation. Ultimate attacks that will wipe the board clean. On the flip side, keeping this gauge charged grants a bonus to experience points, money, and skill points.
Five hours into the game, I was collecting an additional 500 percent of experience points, and my characters couldn’t go two battles without leveling. This makes them stronger, making their power techniques and normal attacks more effective, erasing the need for the Reserve Gauge abilities, further allowing the player to boost their experience points to grow faster!
It’s an evil, broken cycle that feeds into itself. The pre-order experience point booster item helps too. And to be honest, I barely even cared when a character leveled up, which is the ultimate sin that any RPG can commit. Just a little fanfare and “Yay, my character is a little bit stronger,” and not toying around in the menu or anything. I can’t think of an RPG where a level up granted such little happiness.
And one final little thing I noticed about the boss battles is how many hit points they have. I get that boss battles need to be tough and longer than most others, but I spent a whole five minutes hacking away at the same dude with the same move over and over again until he finally died. It takes that long and that many overly flashy moves to take down a single humanoid!
Talk about being all flash.
Hopefully not a sign of things to come
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is a 20 hour game, and some are pointing that out as a negative given that the series usually clocks in at about 60. I’m calling it a mercy killing though as I did not want to spend another minute with it after writing this review. It’s the worst kind of pacing: too fast to not let players catch their breath bask in the story and slow enough to where one hour of gameplay can stretch to seem like four.
So actually, you’re still getting your money if it ultimately feels like an 80 hour drag, am I right?
Backtracking long distances through “nature tubes” and the emptiest world map in history, desperately looking for depth in a two button combat system that gives you the game’s most effective technique within ten minutes of starting on the adventure, trying find depth through the limited level-up and “Role” system, struggling to care what a single one of these cardboard cutout characters’ motivations are. Padding, padding, padding to get this game to an acceptable length.
You’re going to feel every minute of this overextended adventure at least five fold.
Do we have any positives here? Well, the music is good, but nothing fans of the series haven’t heard before. Emmerson is an unspectacular above average character in that he is “the old man with a ladies complex,” a captain with a loose regard for protocol, and a total Han Solo rip-off. And yes, the flashy attacks are fun to look at even if they pack more pizazz than punch.
The larger question is whether this is indicative of what the JRPG genre has to offer this year. Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is jammed with every problem and budgetary limitation that has led the genre to a stale standstill over the last decade, and this is the first major release in a year that is supposed to be a breakout for the genre. Worrisome much?!
Is the JRPG capable of keeping up with the flow of time, or is it doomed to be stuck in this funk? We’ve seen more promising world-building in Final Fantasy XV and a wonderful classic style in both Persona 5 and Dragon Quest XI, so I believe those franchises and developers with a proven track record won’t lead us astray.
Putting our faith inStar Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness though was a risk from the beginning, and that’s ironic given how shallow, simple, and safe of a game tri-Ace put out. The series’ started as a revolutionary new look into how JRPGs could combine two incompatible genres, and here we are 20 years later, and it has stagnated to become barely acceptable.
And to you kids out there, don’t let this game ruin it for you. The first two games in the series are wonderful classics released during the prime of the JRPG’s history. Do yourself a favor and skip this one. Seek out the two PSP games as those are a far more proper introduction to this series.
Disclaimer: We bought a copy of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness for the PlayStation 4 and played 12 hours of the campaign before writing this review.