Star Ocean: The Second Story is fondly remembered by veterans of the PSX-era as being an excellent JRPG in a time, and on a platform, filled with some of the genre’s very best. After Second Story however, I was never able to muster the quite same level of interest in the Star Ocean series again. While Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness does try to return the series to its roots, it stumbles far more often than it shines.
Fans who haven’t jumped into a Star Ocean game in a while needn’t feel as though they’ll be left behind by the narrative. Integrity and Faithlessness is set following the events of Second Story, but before 2003’s Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. The game plays out on Faykreed, a planet whose civilisation is under siege from an invading alien force.
The game hits the ground at a sprint and refuses to let up, something it is both a blessing and a curse in the JRPG genre. You’re introduced right away to hero Fidel and his bestie Miki, but the game’s lightning-fast pace means they never really develop properly as characters. Further, the game’s main quest will only keep you busy for around 30 hours which is exceedingly short by JRPG standards, though there’s plenty of extra content in the form of side-quests, high-level dungeons and higher difficulties.
The thing about JRPG’s is that you’re frequently expected to put in many, many hours of work to see the characters grow and seize their destiny, becoming all-powerful and creating a legend. Final Fantasy VII remains a great example of how that model is used very effectively — hanging out with those characters is part of the game’s charm. Sadly, I felt no great loyalty to Fidel or Miki and before you can really get to know either of them very well, you’re saddled with the amnesiac/walking cliche Relia. Integrity and Faithlessness feels like it cuts the chuffa and moves so quickly because it doesn’t want to waste your time, but in doing so it sacrifices many of the things fans of the genre have come to enjoy.
Integrity and Faithlessness attempts to make the often stop-start process of telling a JRPG story more fluid by eschewing the usual dialogue boxes or pricey-looking cutscenes for a system that folds that chatter into the gameworld around you without interrupting play. In theory, this is a good idea and I like it quite a bit but there’s a few areas where it falls decidedly flat. For instance, I flubbed a big boss fight several hours in and found myself having to listen to the pre-fight dialogue all over again because there’s no way to skip it. This issue was worsened by Integrity and Faithlessness‘s insistence on using the long-outmoded save point approach to game saves rather than allowing you to save whenever you want. Also, and maybe this is a more minor niggle but, whatever, it bugged me, the subtitles don’t tell you who is talking. The dialogue is fully voiced, yes, but a little quote attribution would be nice.
Where the game’s dedication to moving at light speed works for me is that means the series’ usual hour-long introduction has been scrapped. The tutorial section only takes a second to blast through and you’ll be turned loose into the game world within about fifteen minutes. I heartily approve of this. The environments are broad, well designed and very easy on the eyes making them interesting and fun to gambol about in. You can also grind through enemies without suffering battle transitions or long load times that are the grim hallmarks of the genre.
It’s actually the combat that’s the game’s real strong suit. You’re given a Final Fantasy XII-esque full range of movement with strong and weak attacks in close quarters and at range, as well as block and dodge maneuvers. There’s a bit of a scissors-paper-rock system at play here where your weak attacks will interrupt strong ones and strong attacks will smash through blocks. The game telegraphs each move with just enough time for you to pick it up. The real mark of its success is that even when you’re facing down a lot of opponents, everything remains clear and uncluttered. Great stuff.
Jumping between your allies during combat is advisable however, because the ally AI has shit for brains. You can pare everyone down to just the basic actions within a predefined “role” (of which there are around a hundred) but you still can’t leave them alone during a fight. If you like micromanaging your party in combat then good news, you’ll probably have a great time. If not, you’re going to feel like you’re babysitting some really stupid-but-excitable puppies.
As a sum of its parts, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is a bit of a weird kid. It strives to take players back to the glory days of JRPGs with one hand while trying wildly new and different things with the other. It’s likeable enough, but if JRPG’s weren’t your thing already then it isn’t likely to change your mind.
Score: 6.5 out of 10
Highlights: Looks great; Combat is solid; Moves fast
Lowlights: Fast pace means poor character development; Garbage ally AI
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
Release date: July 1, 2016
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.