Review: Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is faithful to its roots
So JRPG it almost hurts.
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), PS3
Publisher: Square Enix
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is like discovering a Leonardo da Vinci sketch that a child has colored over with crayons, beneath globs of brightly colored wax is something of value, but it's not immediately apparent at first glance. There's a lot of metaphorical wax here, so let's get started.
A plastic world.
The Panty Panic Potato Gremlin in one of her more flattering shots.
Just like our hypothetical sketch, the first thing you'll notice about Star Ocean Integrity and Faithlessness is its visuals. This is a cross-gen game, and it's pretty obviously so. Nothing in the environment reacts to the player's character in the least, and said environments are reminiscent of HD remakes in general: The 1080p textures are great, the improved frame rate is awesome, but the geometry looks plastic and artificial.
That extends to the characters, too. The anime aesthetic is something hard to do in 3D, and Star Ocean's effectiveness varies from character to character. The level of detail placed on their outfits is wonderful, but their faces...not so much. Fidel looks fine, but Miki's face makes her look like a potato gremlin. If these characters are plastic, then someone left her in the heat too long, and her eyes look like they spread apart when her face softened up.
The notion of plastic characters is only reinforced by the awkward motions and over the top animations they perform in conversations. When JRPGs first started jumping into 3D, faces were painted onto the polygons representing a character's head. Characters would make weird gestures to help emote and emphasize that they were the ones speaking, a practice that lived on well into the PS2 era. Here it creates a surreal experience where more detailed characters flail, stomp, and wave about in a manner that rarely conveys the intent of their dialogue. Together with the terrible North American voice casting of the villains (please play with Japanese audio), cutscenes feel like a father reenacting a children's story with dolls as props.
While the graphical shortcomings are obvious, Faykreed still has a sort of charm to it that comes from its unique interpretation of science fiction that may be more aptly called science fantasy. All I can say is that It's not totally lacking in visual appeal.
A matter of scope.
Science fiction meshes with fantasy throughout Star Ocean.
If a typical JRPG adventure has the scope of Star Wars, then Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is an episode of Star Trek. Faykreed is an interesting, but small world, especially by today's standards. Players will make up for this be visiting almost every area multiple times throughout the story. Tri-Ace tries to conceal this by altering the enemy types and levels in an area as the game continues on, which helps, but the backtracking due to lacking size is still obvious. The game boils down to go here, fight that, watch this, repeat.
There's a promise of something greater in the story, and just when the player thinks it's going to happen, it doesn't. Instead of this massive adventure players were teased with, it rapidly comes to a conclusion, and ends with the gaming equivalent of a “Where are they now?” montage that may be affected by player choices and character affinities. It leaves the door open for these characters in the future, but I kind of wish that future came with this game.
I handily beat Integrity and Faithlessness right at the 30 hour mark, and I did over 60% of the side quests on offer. There's significantly more continent if you're a completionist: Unlock and max every ability in the game, hunt down the optional Cathedral of Oblivion encounters, complete all challenges, find every crafting recipe, max out the augments on the best in slot gear, and get all of the “Private Actions” conversations between characters. In the past I would have scoffed at a JRPG that was under 40 hours for its main scenario, but these days a 30 hour game appeals more to me than a longer game buffered out with needless grind.
Great characters, horrible villains:
People will first notice Fiore for reasons other than her character, Here you can see two of them.
The main characters in Star Ocean are somewhat trope-y, have their fair share of ups and downs in the dialogue, and sometimes feel insignificant in terms of the story. The upshot is the Private Actions portion of the game, where players have conversations out on the field or in the cities on their free time, helps add much appreciated depth to the characters. For example, Fiore Brunelli: A character that's going to get a lot of attention for her very skimpy outfit, Fiore actually has a great personality.
Smart, motivated, and highly successful, not to mention absurdly powerful, she remains down to earth in spite of her status as a genius and international importance. Through her PA conversations player learn about her personal code of ethics as a scholar, her atypical childhood pets, how she encourages her peers, and more. These little bits of character development make the protagonists a little more relatable, because we see their human side through everyday situations.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Integrity and Faithlessness' villains. Simple villains aren't an inherently bad thing, some of the best villains in movies, games, and literature are evil just because there had to be something for the hero to beat. Good villains, like Ganondorf, due share a common theme though: They are significantly built up or foreshadowed over the course of the story.
This guy looks cool, but in the English audio he sounds as smart as his military strategy (i.e. not very).
That's not the case here. There are four significant villains in the game, each bigger and more over the top than the last. There's no real build up for any of them but Der Suul, the man waging war against Rosulia early in the game. The “Big Bad,” appears from nowhere with a bang, and the final part of the game involves hunting him down.
The Big Bad even tries to paint the situation as if it were varying shades of gray, instead of black and white, but everything he says is undermined by the fact he comes across as a roid raging bodybuilder that's in the middle of a temper tantrum. There's not a single redeeming quality in any of the antagonists, they're just dumb assholes with a bad plans.
Also, did I already mention their horrible voice casting? It's the single worst aspect of the game. Please play it in Japanese.
Building characters and breaking enemies:
Combat is done in real time, with parties of up to seven members.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness' combat is a real highlight. It starts off simple and repetitive, but as your powers grow, so do your options. Parties can reach up to seven members, and each one can be customized through ability assignment and gear augmentation. Additionally, the character improvement systems are plentiful and easy to understand:
- Specialties: Abilities that allow for gathering, finding better loot, crafting, gear augmentation, or just making the minimap a lot more informative. Obtained by doing certain side quests, and leveled with skill points.
- Battle Skills: Special attacks and magics that must be learned from instructional booklets found throughout the world, or created with the Authoring specialty. Once an ability has been learned, it can be further improved through repeated usage or more reading material. Up to four can be set at any one time, though mages can use any of their learned spells at any time via the combat menu.
- Roles: Abilities that have a twofold effect on combat. First, they provide useful, and powerful, stat bonuses to characters. Second, they alter the behavior of AI-controlled party members. There are tons of roles, but they have to be unlocked by leveling prerequisites, building character relationships, or meeting certain accomplishments. These are also leveled with skill points.
Players can assume control of any party member at will.
The combat is basic ARPG fare, with a rock-paper-scissors system of priority: Light attacks interrupt heavy, heavy attacks break guard, and guard can deflect and counter light attacks. Aside from mages, who have all of their spells available from the battle menu, characters are limited to the three normal attacks and two each of short and long range Battle Skills.
It sounds simple, and it can be, but seeing all seven party members in battle at once can be hectic and fun. The only time it becomes an issue is when there are a lot of enemies, and everyone on screen decides to use their most flashy attack at the same time. It can cause the game to crawl for a few seconds, but that doesn't happen too often, mostly in tight corridors.
Sometimes oldschool is just archaic.
Look Fidel, everything that's slightly elevated is out of your reach.
The final knocks on this game come from its flawed and archaic design choices. Old stuff can be good, but sometimes old stuff is just clunky. Paying tribute to what's old is nice, but don't forget to remove the clunky bits while you're at it. Making it so most of the areas consist of set, winding tunnels instead of being open world is fine. Just give us a jump or make certain ledges higher or further away. Fidel and crew look like imbeciles running around an entire zone because they can't scale a 4 foot ledge. I've seen Fidel leap 20 feet into the air to cut an enemy down, why is the ledge in Central Rosulia forcing me to go through another area to advance?
There's a quest board with hunting and fetch quests that can be done, Awesome. But, you have to return to the particular board the quest was picked up from to receive the reward. Ugh. Unnecessary leg work is a real hassle before fast travel unlocks. Even after you get fast travel, do you want to go through multiple towns and loading screens to collect rewards the game could have just given you instantly? I didn't think so.
The event triggers are unclear as well. All too often I found myself going to the event marker on the map, only to aimlessly wander around a small cordoned off area, trying to trigger events to progress the scene. If you want me to talk to all of the other characters, why did you put a red star marker on the only one I didn't need to talk to?
However, the worst part is potentially the camera. It's not a big problem, unless you get motion sick. Then, you're going to have a bad time: The sway while running and moving the camera is enough to make the susceptible tap-out after a little while.
AnimeJRPG/10, your mileage may vary.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is a game made for JRPG fans. It has a few obvious flaws, and it may not be the best entry in the history of this storied series, but it is a good entry-point given its acceptable level of quality and distance removed from the rest of the series' plot. Integrity and Faithlessness is a game hardcore fans on the genre won't regret purchasing, but it falls short of universal appeal. If you don't alreadly like JRPGs, then this game isn't for you.