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Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: tri-ACE
Release Date: June 28, 2016 (US), July 1, 2016 (EU)


PS4 Review - 'Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 16, 2016 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is an epic adventure that introduces seamless transitions between gameplay and dynamic cut scenes, adding a new layer of depth and immersion to storytelling in the series.

Buy Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness

The Star Ocean JRPG franchise isn't the most prolific. It's had about one game a generation since the SNES, the last being Star Ocean: The Last Hope released early in the PS3/Xbox life cycle. It's been so long since the last game that people assumed the franchise was dead. Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness was an unexpected revival of a long-dormant series. There's a lot of appealing potential on the surface, with high-budget visuals and the original developer Tri-Ace returning for another shot. Unfortunately, that potential never quite materializes.

Integrity and Faithlessness opens up on the fantasy world of Faykreed IV. Players control Fidel Camuze, who's militia leader of his town and protects it against bandits and monsters. Fidel's relatively normal life is thrown into disarray when he finds himself in the midst of a war between the nations of Faykreed IV. Also in the middle of the conflict is a young girl named Relia, whose powers are the key to saving the planet. Fidel must guard Relia and save his planet from disaster.

The plot isn't bad, but it feels poorly paced. Fidel is bland, but he's supported by a more likeable cast of characters. The idea of the game world is interesting, but it isn't satisfactorily resolved. Beyond a certain point, the plot goes into hyperdrive and rushes toward the ending without resolving many plot points. It feels like a TV show that's been canceled early and tries to wrap up everything. Relia is kidnapped more than any character I can think of, and the majority of characters are focused on being amusing jokes rather than actual characters.

The combat system in Star Ocean is a mix of RPG and action elements. You have direct control over one character, and the others are controlled by the AI. Your entire party fights at once rather than being limited to a smaller selection, which is unusual for a JRPG. You have a weak attack, a strong attack and a guard. The weak attack is fast but weak, the strong attack is strong but slow, and guard blocks attacks. You can also hold down the buttons to perform special attacks. You have to keep track of your mana bar when using these techniques to avoid running out of energy, but the game is rather generous with replenishment, and you won't run out very often.

In theory, there's a rock-paper-scissors element to combat. Weak attacks can knock enemies out of strong attacks, strong attacks can break guards, and guards can block weak attacks. The obvious intended way to play the game is to take advantage of this. Use counterattacks on weak-attacking enemies, block their powerful attacks with your weak attacks, and smash their guard when they're defending.

In practice, none of this is necessary. You can get through the majority of fights by spamming a couple of attacks without care or thought for this system. Your AI allies can be customized with various roles that determine the effectiveness of their abilities, which is a neat concept that feels underutilized. It's satisfying to finally have a full RPG party fighting together instead of half the cast sitting on the sidelines.

It's easy to compare Star Ocean to Tales franchise, and that's perhaps its biggest flaw. There's nothing wrong with easy and simplistic combat, but Star Ocean has all of Tales of Zesteria's flaws and none of its strengths. Rather than feeling like an action title, it feels like an RPG with action mechanics. Attacks are awkward, and chaining together attacks doesn't flow very smoothly. The battle meter rewards you for playing well, but the overall low difficulty makes it hard to care. The camera occasionally breaks, making it absurdly difficult to see what's going on.

Difficult fights generally fall into one of two categories: the fight is tough because of a poorly designed gimmick, or the fight is tough because the AI can't handle it. The gimmick fights tend to involve poorly designed escort/protection missions, but they become easy once you figure out how to cheat it. The fights where the AI breaks are hard because the AI's eating damage a regular player wouldn't. There weren't any fights where I won because I understood and mastered the mechanics or where I lost because I misread the situation.

Perhaps the overly simple combat would be less of a problem if there were more to the game, but there isn't. Integrity and Faithlessness feels like a game that ran out of budget midway through and had to figure out what could be done to stretch the gameplay to an acceptable length. Backtracking is not only common but omnipresent, and the game makes only the barest pretenses about why you need to backtrack. Sometimes you'll wander to a place only to get a cut scene and be asked to backtrack across the same area you just visited. Sometimes, you'll do that multiple times in a row. One absurdly egregious segment has you backtracking across almost the entire damn game just to say goodbye to some people.

Unfortunately, this wasn't a case of the developers having to create a bunch of worlds to visit, so some shortcuts were necessary. As a franchise, Star Ocean has never really been big on the actual star ocean. Usually, you visit a handful of planets, and that's true here, too. The world of Faykreed IV is basically the entire game. While you eventually venture into space, it's the most confined space you can imagine, as it's limited to spaceships that are effectively dungeons. Unlike previous Star Ocean titles, Faykreed doesn't feel developed enough to be worth hanging around. It only has a handful of towns and environments, and everything in space feels rather unfinished.

For the first 5-10 hours, Star Ocean gives a good first impression, and the slow pace and slightly repetitive nature can be written off as the usual tutorial and setup. Then you realize that it doesn't change. There are ambitious ideas throughout the game that go completely unresolved. It felt like the game was ramping up to something, so I waited for the other shoe to drop, the twist that would make the game break out of its mold — but it never came. Even when the ending credits roll, the game doesn't feel like it ever got off the ground.

Perhaps the strangest of all is the handling of the cut scenes, which are more reminiscent of Half-Life 2 than modern RPGs. Characters talk to one another while walking around the environment, and they're locked in a certain section of the game world by glowing red circles. You can't skip the cut scenes or fast-forward through the text, but the cut scenes aren't animated or well emoted, and most of the time, I found myself walking in a circle while the characters chatted about the plot. It's hard to tell if this was an ill-guided attempt at immersion or if the developers simply didn't have the time to make fancy cut scenes, but it leaves things feeling disjointed and dull.

The visuals are a mixed bag. It was intended as a PS3/PS4 game, and it shows, but the environmental design and general artwork are pretty nice. The one sticking point is the character designs, which are intended to look like anime characters but are done in a realistic enough style that the end result is unnerving. Games like Tales or Atelier show it's possible to do anime-style characters on a limited budget, but the characters in Star Ocean look like weird plastic dolls. It also has what is possibly the most insane character design I've ever seen in a video game. The soundtrack is quite good, and Motoi Sakuraba's usual high-quality work really helps the game. Also pleasantly surprising is the voice work. The dub is extremely high quality and elevates some weak material, and the Japanese voice acting is also available.

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is the kind of game that is full of potential but needed a lot more development time. The final product is about one-third of the game that it needs to be. The lack of environments, weak combat and bizarre pace makes it difficult to recommend even to die-hard RPG fans. There are a lot of strong individual bits, but they don't gel into a cohesive whole. It might be worth a shot once it comes down in price and if you're aware of the flaws going in. Even fans of the franchise will find this to be a step backward.

Score: 6.0/10

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