When the first Star Ocean title released back in 1996 on the Super Famicom, it was hard to imagine its action combat system would go on to influence many titles in the genre’s future. The team at tri-Ace created a universe consisting of intergalactic space travel with underdeveloped planet exploration. The franchise’s roots are old, and its newest release, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, shows the franchise is still around and kicking.
Integrity and Faithlessness is the fifth core title in the franchise and although it’s a competent entry, it certainly isn’t the series’ best. The game’s story sees us follow Fidel and his female companion Miki. Fidel is in charge of his town’s guard, protecting the village from bandits and anyone else threatening it. With his country in the middle of a war, Fidel’s town is attacked by raiding bandits using the lack of guards to their advantage. After pushing back the opposition, Fidel and Miki head to the capitol to petition the king to spare some troops to help protect his town. Along the way, Fidel and Miki encounter a mysterious ship crash-landing next to their home town. Investigating the crash, Fidel and Miki discover a young girl named Relia, who is attacked by mysterious men with advanced technology that neither of them have ever encountered. During the battle, Relia demonstrates mysterious powers while saving Miki and Fidel, which turns the focus of the story toward finding out who Relia is and where her powers come from.
The story unfortunately, isn’t anything you haven’t seen before in other games or anime. Like past Star Ocean titles, it doesn’t take long until the advanced civilizations take center stage. The evil Kronos Federation wants to capture Relia for their own means while the Galactic Federation tries to stop them with Fidel and his planet caught in the middle. Those who know the lore of Star Ocean know that advanced civilizations are not allowed to interfere with underdeveloped planets, but that never seems to stop them. I have no real problems with the story itself, but the way it’s presented is where the big problems come into play.
First and foremost, character development pretty much doesn’t exist in the main story. The only way you get to know your characters is by doing what’s called “PA” activities in towns. These PA activities simply have you running around and listening to your party members interacting with each other, giving them a little more depth. Another major problem comes in the characters not really caring about important events. There are two wars going on, one on land and one in space, but Fidel and his party care more about finding Relia’s parents. It gets worse when Fidel’s father, who happens to be the military adviser to the king, tells the party that Fidel and company need to find out more about Relia to use her in aiding them in the war. This comes with absolutely no protest from anyone in the party. I don’t know about you guys, but when someone wants to use an eight-year-old girl as a weapon, I would protest the command.
Let’s talk about what has made the Star Ocean franchise so memorable: its combat. Integrity and Faithlessness brings back its action combat system, but in a much bigger way. The system remains similar to what players experienced in The Last Hope and Til the End of Time. The big difference comes with all your party members participating in combat at the same time. That’s right: all seven party members take part in combat, leading to some hectic instances. During combat, you can switch and use any party member you want, which is great depending on the enemy you are facing. But having all seven party members participate in combat, the screen becomes completely cluttered with enemies and special effects, making it hard to see your own character, let alone what you’re doing. The hectic battles work in open areas but are almost impossible to control in more enclosed locations.
It also doesn’t help that the camera likes to move itself to ground level, making it even harder to see what’s going on. Sure,you can move the camera around, but it won’t help much since it just moves back to ground level randomly.
Every battle nets you SP, which is used to upgrade roles and specialties. Roles act like a job system. Each character can equip four roles to specialize their combat AI. If I wanted Miki to focus on healing the party, I would equip as many healing roles as I could, which will increase her Intelligence stats and tell her how often to heal. On another hand, if I wanted my tank character to lead the charge, I would equip him with defensive roles to block more often and taunt the enemies to get their attention. It’s a great system to utilize if you want to create custom AI tactics.
Specialties, on the other hand, increase your ability to gather better ingredients and craft better equipment, as well as open up more information on your map, like enemy locations and gathering locations. You can level up each specialty using your SP. The more you level up a specialty, the better gear you can craft and the better materials you can gather. Like past Star Ocean titles, crafting, cooking, and gathering play a big role and are a must when it comes to some of the game’s harder side quests, as you won’t be able to find most items in shops and stores. Crafting is also the only way to get the best weapons and armor for your characters, but it isn’t necessary to finish the game or even enjoy it.
Another aspect that makes Star Ocean’s return successful is the way you learn new skills to use in combat. Unlike other RPGs, Star Ocean utilizes books to teach you new abilities. Finding specific books will allow you to unlock new skills for your characters. It’s important to know that some characters utilize the same books and it’s up to you to figure out what skills are important to learn and what ones aren’t. Even though there are lots of skills to learn, it’s a shame that you can only use four at a time: two for close-range combat and two for long-range. The long- and close-range system, in my opinion, is pointless, especially when you know your magic users will never run up and attack an enemy up close anyway. When I have seven abilities unlocked, it’s a shame I’m limited to four of them, and worse when only two of the four are effective for ranged characters.
Graphically, the game can be gorgeous and bland in equal measure. It’s important to inform you that the game was originally designed as a PlayStation 3 title and ported to PlayStation 4. Seamless transitions into combat, an open world to explore, and monsters roaming the fields are impressive feats. When entering combat, there is no loading or waiting for the battle to start, and you’re never taken out of the experience. This type of achievement comes with its own drawbacks, though. Foliage pop-in is very common in a lot of areas and towns aren’t as big as we expect from the game’s apparent scale. The character models, however, are pretty impressive and were given a bigger boost of polygons than the environments they are exploring.
The sound design is good for the most part. The English voice track is well done, but a Japanese voice track is available for those who prefer it. Even better? If you don’t like the voice of some of your party members, you can actually go and turn off the voiceovers for certain characters. The music, on the other hand, isn’t my favorite. Returning Star Ocean fans will be right at home, as the music is pretty much the same type you’ve heard in past titles, but it just feels a bit dated.
I have waited for a new Star Ocean for almost eight years. Now that I finally got one, I feel somewhat underwhelmed. Integrity and Faithlessness is a good game, but it also seems that Square Enix was pouring more money into their other big projects. Integrity and Faithlessness brings back a lot of great mechanics that made the franchise so important in the genre. Cooking, crafting, and synthesizing are fun and integral to some side quests, and the combat system is fun and enjoyable when you can make out what’s happening. It’s just a shame that its story and character development falter where it should have succeeded after a strong and mysterious start. If you were never a fan of the Star Ocean franchise, Integrity and Faithlessness won’t change your mind about it, but for those who love the franchise, you will find plenty to love in this fifth title.