After seeing the first bout of reviews for Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, I braced myself for the worst. I put in the game, sat down and dove in, ready to experience this mediocre game in its entirety. After 2 hours of gameplay, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was having fun. I checked my temperature and took a walk around the block to clear my head before sitting back down to play some more. Unfortunately, this symptom has persisted through many hours of the game now, with no signs of going away. I think it’s terminal.
In all seriousness, I can understand a lot of the poor reception to Star Ocean’s latest entry. So, let’s start by talking about its numerous weaknesses.
The story is extremely flat, and about as cookie-cutter as you can get. You play the role of a young swordsman by the name of Fidel Camuze, whose primary concerns are taking care of his small village and keeping his friend Miki out of trouble. Of course, his village is threatened, he seeks out assistance, discovers a girl with mysterious powers and is thereafter tasked with a number of objectives to try and figure out who she is and how to utilize her unique power. We’ve seen all these characters dozens of times before, and it’s almost comical how quickly you acquire new team members. Veterans of RPGs are probably familiar with the whole “Get hints that you’ll eventually get this character in your party at some point further along in the storyline” trope. Yeah, Integrity and Faithlessness abandons all pretense as characters join your party within 30 seconds of introducing yourself. Not a lot of time is spent on developing and nurturing interpersonal relationships, with the exception of “Private Actions” – optional scenes of dialogue that are triggered with certain characters in certain locations.
The uninspired story combined with inconsequential character relationships is a one-two punch that takes a lot of wind out of Integrity and Faithlessness’ sails.
Going to space doesn’t vastly expand the game – even in an ocean of stars you’re still limited. Of course, a major part of this game is the realization that you’re just one undeveloped speck in a much broader universe. When you first embark out into space, with the experience of the game up to that point, you hope that there will be more exotic maps to explore and enemies to battle. These hopes are quickly dashed as you realize that it’s much less No Man’s Sky and more Final Fantasy XIII in that there are very specific places you can and can’t travel to. The promise of intergalactic adventure is dashed within a couple hours of arrival, and is probably the most disappointing aspect of the game.
Star Ocean: The Second Story set a high bar that no other title in the franchise has yet to pass. A classic from the original Playstation era, The Second Story is the Star Ocean game against which all others are measured. A vast JRPG with a moving and complex plot, dynamic characters and terrific real-time combat, fans of the series have been looking for a next-gen version of that experience, and at this point have been let down twice (Til the End of Time wasn’t exactly game of the year material). If we continue to use The Second Story as a yardstick, then I can absolutely understand the disappointment.
With all that being said, while the game certainly had its share of unremarkable aspects, there are still elements that help preserve a fun experience overall.
Integrity and Faithlessness wastes no time in getting started. The opening scene is of Fidel sparring with a childhood friend, and within minutes you’re versed in the basic concept of the real time combat system. I went and chatted with my childhood friend and then the two of us set out on our adventure before the gameplay timer hit 15 minutes. While I’m certainly not against a slow and purposeful introduction to a world and its characters, I think that Integrity and Faithlessness does well in getting the adventure started off quickly.
Holy crap, combat is fun. The combat in Integrity and Faithlessness is real time (as is tradition), and features a paper-rock-scissors approach in the form of light attacks, strong attacks and guards. Light attacks can disrupt strong attacks (denoted by blue flame around the enemy), strong attacks can break guards, and guards can reduce/nullify light attacks and provide the possibility for a counterattack. In addition there are combat skills and signeturgy (magic) that can be assigned to holding down either Circle or X. With 6 party members active on the battlefield at a time, it can be a fast and furious experience that transitions seamlessly from exploring whatever dungeon/world you’re in.
There is an advanced “Roles” system as well, that helps you narrow down and dictate how the AI characters behave, as well as granting specific bonuses. Sure, you can set someone up to be a “Healer”, but level up that role enough and you’ll unlock “Savior”, which gives a healing potency bonus.
Finally, there’s a “bonus gauge” constantly in effect during battles. This bonus gauge fills when taking advantage of the rock-paper-scissors combat system; by breaking enemy guards, countering or otherwise damaging the enemy, it will continue to gain through 5 different ranks. As you leave the gauge unused it will award gold (Fol), skill points, experience and additional bonuses depending on how full it is.
Overall, the combat is a blast and easily the strongest element of this game.
Specialties will keep you coming back for more. While the world itself may seem pretty small, there’s still plenty to do with the help of specialties. Whether you’re looking to dig up ore, cook up a gourmet meal or augment existing equipment, there’s a specialty right up your alley. As you invest skill points into leveling these specialties up, the list of items you can create continues to expand. Unlike some other games where crafting isn’t incredibly useful, the items you create with compounding, blacksmithing, engineering, etc. can all be highly useful when going on dungeon-dives with your team. With dozens of varying specialties, people who are completionists like myself will no doubt be spending quite a bit of time farming SP and leveling these specialties.
I know a lot of people, including myself, were very excited for this title. Square Enix did a lot to hype it, and in the end it seems to have fallen far short of the expectations we all had. However, while the story isn’t exactly inspired, and the world itself may ultimately seem restricted, there’s still a fun time to be had with Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. Maybe you just wait until it goes on sale.