Star Ocean Integrity and Faithlessness is the latest of Tri-Ace’s series to be released. Dating back to the days of the SNES, this series has since seen a release on each of Sony’s platforms as well as a brief exclusivity on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 at the start of its lifespan like so many others RPGs had during that period. With the mediocre receptions of The Last Hope behind us, Integrity and Faithlessness tries to bring the series back into the amazing light of its second and third entries.
As much as I would personally love to say that the latest Star Ocean achieved the greatness that its predecessor missed, and I did quite enjoy it, sadly it misses the mark but not for the reason that some may think. Yes there’s that sometimes annoying camera issue that by now everyone knows about as it was kind of blown out of proportion, but that is a minor detail that you don’t even see after a few minutes of jumping either into, or back into, things. Pesky day jobs.
The reason Integrity and Faithlessness misses the mark is that while this latest Star Ocean feels like a Star Ocean, it feels like a Star Ocean that you’ve already played. I found myself quite often seeing the parallels with the third and fourth as those are more recent in my memory. Childhood friend as a love interest? Check. Super sexy lady wizard with an outfit that is completely opposite of her more stern and mature personality which is also devoid of any physical protection? Double Check. Old Man? Check. Young Girl with crazy magic powers? Check. Other random party members to give more options in battle? Check those off too. It’s like the original formulas were followed to the letter. Is it fun though? Yes. Though they take backtracking a little too seriously.
Just about all of Integrity and Faithlessness happens on one planet which runs the biggest parallel to Star Ocean 3, that itself is pretty bound to one location after a few crash landings of course. Unlike the rest of the series however our first blue haired hero (which also followed the formula as the main characters have been Blue-Blond-Blue-Blond-and now Blue) is a native to the planet and doesn’t arrive by other means. Fidel, who didn’t get to space travel prior to this, is the son of a powerful swordsman currently serving in the capital and is himself currently serving as the main protector of the small seaside village that he grew up and resides in.
It doesn’t take long for this young man and his childhood friend Miki to be dragged into something bigger due to a group of bandits getting access to more powerful weapons and raiding the village. After repelling the first attack they set off to petition for aid which is where some of the other characters start to trickle in and where the mess of a situation comes into play as there’s more than one interplanetary group involved with high level tech on this underdeveloped planet. They couldn’t just use swords, wands, magic, and bows like normal people could they?
Most of Fidel’s time will be spent exploring the lands outside of his village. It was a nice touch to have several paths to follow over the course of the storyline but it gets old very fast with the multitude of quests that require backtracking and the lack of any real quick travel system. Fidel can run but it’s honestly not very fast and doesn’t change the pace very much from the standard movement pace to warrant holding down the button for it. There is an option to “quick travel” but it’s not originally available. Even when it becomes available for the first time you don’t have access to it for long and don’t re-obtain access to it back until much later.
This quick travel system as it becomes introduced uses a ship in orbit but for some reason it can only teleport your party to a location outside of the various towns and cities instead of that cliffside you needed to go back to for the xth time in a row to complete a quest. This begs the next question as to why couldn’t you just accept ALL of the quests in that location instead of handing one in and THEN be given the next one which is in the exact same place that you came from. This could have avoided the continuous bouncing between areas and backtracking which makes the areas feel old fast as you also need to go through them at times a number of times for story related progression.
With all the backtracking though there is another issue that can pop up. Some quests can be picked up in order to do them but the target location becomes blocked off for a foreseeable time because of story progression making you unable to hand them in. On one hand this isn’t so bad as you could always hand it in later, but like any good RPG player quests must be done! Quests must be fulfilled! How else are you going to get bonus experience and awesome stuff? Being a bit more serious about it there is a reasonable explanation.
Quests do more than simply give you more experience and cash flow. Completion of quests will eventually give out extra skills or abilities known as Specialties that are useful in many different fashions. Some of these are passive abilities that allow for more materials to drop at the end of a battle dependant on the enemy type. Others allow for more materials to be picked up while harvesting herbs, mining rocks, or fishing for a variety of sea creatures. Specialties also do other things such as allow for Fidel to see enemy positions on the map, treasure chests, and a few other neat little things like smithing and performing alchemy. Overall these are all useful but there are some that require for quests to be completed as they will not unlock otherwise making ignoring them not quite a good idea.
Learning and upgrading Specialties will require spending SP which also doubles as what is needed to learn individual character abilities and battle skills once books are found to allow so. Obtaining SP is just as easy as experience and Fol (Star Ocean’s currency) which can be earned by fighting enemies and handing in quests. This makes the backtracking issue a bit more minimal as if you want to upgrade these skills then a bit of grinding may be required which means going back out there anyways. Unlike in The Last Hope however, SP is not character based but instead pool based for the entire party allowing for you, the player, to use it as you see fit. This for example can be the choice of upgrading a field skill or leveling up a character skill which is very expensive starting off but becomes less so as it gains experience in combat. Waiting a little while can save a decent amount of SP and still allow for faster leveling of these skills.
Finally SP is used for Roles which grant passive bonuses such as extra defense and mp to how AI controlled characters handle themselves in battle. Each character can equip several roles which help define their actions in battle. Want someone to heal more and be better at it? Equip the healer roles and some others that help with spellcasting. As Roles level up they unlock more roles that can be used to better define the actions being performed. This works out fairly well but sometimes there’s a line between excellent stat boosts and combat performance. Choices will need to be made.
Where choices are no longer quite needed is when you dive into combat. There are many way that a combat can be won but there’s only one real choice. Victory. Victory is the obvious vanquishing on all the enemies on the field. Every character has access to normal and heavy attacks as well as two battle skills for close and two battle skills for long range. This can take some time to get used to because the basic battle system feels like it’s missing something as no character can ever swing more than twice. Two-hit combos is the extent of it all unlike the Tales Series for example that even before the action points could enable up to five or six before resetting. Two light hits followed by two heavy hits, rinse and repeat, will lead to a higher combo count but it feels stiff. Thankfully the usage of skills makes up for this making things a bit more fluid.
The Last Hope had an interesting way of accumulating more experience, Fol, and SP in order to level things up. Sadly a good portion of these required specific actions to be performed and the gauge was so easily broken that it was damned right frustrating. This idea has been built upon and somewhat simplified. Light attacks grant percentage bonus to experience, heavy attacks grant to Fol, and counters to SP. This gauge is thankfully not as easily broken or frustrating to get right but doubles as a super attack meter that can be used at any point once the first segment has been filled up. This attack is destructive and even the hardest of fights can be done in an instant with it. Unfortunately the bonuses to exp, Fol, and SP are gone but that is sometimes a small price to pay instead of a game over. Selected amounts instead of the whole thing can also be used which lessons that blow a little bit.
With all of the exploring, gathering, and battling out in the fields there will be a lot of materials that at first may have no seemingly use to your party. Benefiting from a more simplified interface, synthesis makes its return and thankfully does not fit into the backtracking equation as it can be done straight from the menu. Healing and attack items can be created as well as armor and weapons for the party. Sometimes these items will feel a bit out of date by the time enough has been gathered to make them as you’ve already been able to purchase better.
Item creation the rest of the time can keep the party afloat making a return to town in order to heal up unnecessary. When you do go back to town however to pick up other quests or buy new items a stop by the Inn is recommended as it allows for the party to get to know each other a bit better. Glowing circles can be found outside of the various Inns provide a bit of a break to the party who disperse through the town. Some of these people have something to say and will start up a mini-cutscene of sorts while others at that point will simply keep to themselves. Entering the circle will tell you how many scenes may play out and better yet they aren't really miss-able as you can always come back to do them unlike in The Last Hope in which once missed they were missed until the next playthrough.
One of the larger changes to the series are the active cutscenes that a few developers such as Bandai Namco with the Tales series and Square Enix themselves with Final Fantasy Versus 13 / XV, which is still in production, have been experimenting with. This makes things more natural as you are still in control of your party even if other things are going on. This creates a smoother experience and carries along the events as there are sometimes several in a row and unlike a Quick Time Event, you are keeping your hands on the controller because you are still playing and NOT because you need to hit the right button. Where this can kind of go wrong is that there are some limiters sometimes preventing you from opening that one chest that was two feet outside of this circle or that everyone else has to leave the castle entryway while you’re waiting to because the line is in the way.
Star Ocean Integrity and Faithlessness is not a bad game. Unfortunately however it plays it a bit too safe and doesn’t stir the pot too much even with all of the alchemic experiments and synthesis within it. The art style, the music, the voice acting, and gameplay are good to great, but if you’re looking for something “new”, you won’t find it here. If you’re looking for something comfortable and nostalgic however then Star Ocean 5, my apologies Star Ocean Integrity and Faithlessness, awaits you.
Article by Pierre-Yves