There are two schools of thought to Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness; there are those who think it’s a triumphant example of a traditional JRPG from Square Enix and those who derive the lack of significant process for the series and shallow story. Neither viewpoint is wrong, and that’s what seems to have led to this title being something of a black sheep of the 2017 games line-up.
In all fairness, Star Ocean has always been a divisive series with several entries having sticking points that many players just can’t get over. ‘Star Ocean: The Last Hope’ took the uncanny valley to freaky place and featured possibly the most annoying child character in recent history, whilst ‘Star Ocean: Til the End of Time’ featured a story telling twist that was equal parts daring and aggravating. That Integrity and Faithlessness is simply considered too traditional or dull is the least outlandish claim, and it’s not without its high-points.
Graphically the game doesn’t tax the power of a PlayStation 4 too heavily, with a fully rendered 3D world and high resolution character models that have an anime-based aesthetic and features the usual mix of desert, snow, caves, etc by way of settings. It’s not that the game world doesn’t look alright, but there are some design errors where the camera bounces along with the character as he moves across uneven terrain, and this can cause a significant amount of shaky-cam. It’s most noticeable in the game’s first field area and seems to ease off after that point, but shouldn’t have been such a headache inducing mess so early in the title. The games direction can also take some odd choices, with the decision to minimise in-game cutscenes in favour of having characters banter while you move around within a confined location, giving things less of a cinematic feel. It’s a shame because when the game does bust out the in-engine cinematics the camera work is great and the game shifts into a better dramatic tone. Character designs are sold and all of the main cast are visually interesting, with the lead being particularly likable and in-game menus being simple to work out and access with a simple visual style.
There’s a very specific sound to a Star Ocean score, and this title manages to perfectly nail the majestic tone employed for its specific fusion of science fiction and fantasy concepts. Additional character themes would have been gladly welcomed, but what’s on display adequately sets the stage for events and feels at home alongside the rest of the series tonally. Character dialogue is fully voiced, and the game does manage to shine in its vocal casting, and although there are some examples of stilted dialogue to match the timing of scenes or odd word choices for translation, the matching of cast to character types is well done. The protagonist in particular manages to be capable and confident, which makes a stark contrast to the younger teenagers of previous games who come of age through the games length. Fidel remains a likable character whilst starting from a more mature point, and his actor captures this perfectly.
The story takes a well-trodden trope as its basis and manages to side-step a lot of the usual ‘fate of the world’ level of drama in favour of sticking to a single planet for the most-part, centring on Fidel, a former soldier who has recently taken over his family’s swordsmanship training hall as his father (a general and famous hero) has moved to the capital to oversee the war effort. He and his adoptive sister/love interest stumble upon a mysterious young girl who crash lands on their world and the story spirals into a ‘protect the child’ dynamic from there. We do get to take part in various stages of the war as these characters search for the girl’s identity and origin, uncovering the fact that a technologically advanced third party is backing up the enemy and eventually enlisting the aid of a starship captain as well. The game does manage to do a lot with a very small-scale event and this does allow for some good storytelling, but does devolve into a game of hot-potato as the girl is lost, found, stolen, recovered and taken again throughout the middle act. There are no big twists that make you view events differently, and we aren’t building up to any earth-shattering reveals that the player won’t see coming. It is handled competently however, and the writing/characters are likable throughout its short run time.
Gameplay features an active battle system that sees the player controlling one of a party of seven (really six as the girl in question is largely unplayable) and able to use three actions split across strong/fast attacks or block. Each is a rock/paper/scissors counter to whatever the enemy is doing and builds or lowers a gauge that boosts rewards as well as charging the games larger limit attacks, which can be triggered at any time. This is a solid dynamic but gets lost once the bigger visual effects spells come into play and you’re instead smashing out damage instead of duelling one to one. Holding the light or heavy attack buttons at close or at range will trigger special moves mapped to those buttons, and party members will act according to their AI. You can pause the action with the menu button to micro-manage and use items, but this rarely played a factor until replaying on the games highest difficulty setting. Fights are usually fast and fun, earning you experience, SP and currency to spend on items in the games many shops. Like past instalments there’s a synthesis, augmentation and item creation system in place that you can ignore completely or unlock though mini quests (of which this game has a lot and they can be found easily on notice boards in towns), this doesn’t play a massive role in exploiting the game, but can be used to good effect if you’re willing to sink the time into it. Exploration is quite standard, but is fleshed out with harvesting from various points in the scenery for free items and there’s a selection of ‘Specialities’ that can be unlocked to add a variety of features. The deepest aspect of the game however is its ‘Role’ system, where character classes as unlocked, levelled with SP and breed new unlockable classes as certain requisites are met. Each character can equip multiple roles and they both act as passive buffs for stats as well as dictating how AI characters behave, upping their performance and bringing out the completionist in even the most streamlined player. We immediately cleared as much of the healing and spellcasting roles as we could and then backtracked for the attacking ones, only to discover that certain pairing between the two sparked new roles that further benefitted our play style.
Overall, if you are looking for a semi-traditional JRPG to play through in a sea of ground-breaking titles then this may be just the game for you. We found it an excellent palette cleanser between other games and one that has by no means earned some of the negative buzz around it. Accept the title for what it is and you’ll find a fun little RPG that doesn’t rely on DLC or in-game payments to tell a short but succinct story.