Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness Review

STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness Story Trailer | PS4
STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness Story Trailer | PS4

The key moment of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness happens about an hour in, when a hulking spaceship roars out of the skies and crashes near a spot where the world’s fantasy-themed locals are hacking at each other with slabs of steel. It’s a powerful, Columbus-style moment; a clash of technology and world views. It’s also an unfortunate metaphor for Integrity and Faithlessness itself, as virtually every good idea this uncharacteristically brief JRPG brings up finds itself clashing with the complications of a poorer one. Sadly for those of us who’ve held out hope in the seven years since Star Ocean: The Last Hope, it’s a struggle that never really resolves itself.

Take the fantasy-meets-sci-fi premise: It’s one I admire greatly, being a fan of writers like Gene Wolfe, Mark Lawrence, and Joe Abercrombie. There was fertile ground for a great story here, and it even had the advantage of being filled with likable characters like Fidel, a young swordsman who gets caught up in an interstellar war after seeking aid for his besieged village; or Emmerson, a captain from space who roleplays a crossbowman out of honor for his government’s Prime Directive of sorts. I’ll even admit a fondness for Fiore, the supercilious sorceress whose greatest magical feat appears to be her ability to keep her porous getup from ever slipping out of place.

A pity, then, that the plot quickly falls into a pit of tired clichés, particularly after Fidel and his childhood friend Miki start hunting for the parents of a mysterious young girl who escaped from the fallen spacecraft. (She also has amnesia, because of course she does!) Space remains distant — regardless of the series’ title, this is a decidedly earthbound adventure, with the few jaunts to space and back lasting only a little longer than a round-trip flight for a SpaceX rocket.

Ocean’s Seven

Other signs of trouble reveal themselves early on, such as the relative absence of many traditional cutscenes in favor of voiced dialogue between characters as they stand around looking at each other in the normal gameplay perspective. Seeing expressions thus requires that Fidel moves around to look at their faces, and the approach lacks the emotional punch traditional Star Ocean cutscenes sometimes deliver. The design also fosters awkward silences when a character performs an action I may not initially see on my screen, thus leading me to realize the “cutscene” is still in play only when a red line pops up to bar my path. Integrity and Faithlessness employs this tactic relentlessly and excessively, and it did much to drain my interest in bothering with optional events in towns that flesh out the backstories of my companions.

Even the art design clashes with itself. Decent costume designs (which unfortunately rarely change, even with new gear) clash with character faces that hail from deep in the uncanny valley. (No wonder Integrity and Faithlessness avoids cutscenes so much.) The world they inhabit fares much worse: at their best, some outdoor regions look nice in a last-gen kind of way — sort of like how The Witcher 3 might look with my contacts out — while other parts look as though they could be Minecraft creations viewed from afar. It’s not an insignificant criticism: so much of Integrity and Faithlessness’ 20-or-so-hour campaign consists of jogging back and forth through the same seven or so predictable maps with cliffs and mountains, and thus only rarely does the eye candy sweeten the experience. The big saving grace, though, is Motoi Sakuraba’s fantastic soundtrack.

Combat, too, suffers from this clash between good ideas and poor implementation. The brawling in Integrity and Faithlessness generally takes place in real time save for pauses for greater precision, and initially there’s a lot of arcadey fun at hand while hacking and slashing away with Fidel and a few of his allies. In theory, one of the best things about this game is that seven characters can be in your party at once, and with a tap of the DualShock’s shoulder bumpers you can switch between all of them as you please, firing Emmerson’s crossbow in one moment and unleashing a fireball from Miki the next.

As the party grows, though, it becomes clear that seven is a lot of people to keep track of in real time. Everyone and everything gets lost in the flash and bang of spells exploding and swords slashing during each battle, for one, which makes it almost impossible to pull off the rock-paper-scissors system of countering that’s so vaunted by the opening tutorial. (I eventually found that just spamming Fidel’s debilitating heavy attacks usually yielded a surer path to victory.) Leveling allows you to assign up to four roles for each character to give them some kind of AI direction, but the option helps only minimally in practice. Without me taking control of them, my team members seemed dead set on attacking whoever they wanted to attack and staring off at distant clouds instead of blasting bug monsters with fireballs, “Defensive” or “Healing” roles be damned.This was maddening enough when I was fighting two-bit succubi in one of the many backtracks from one city to the next. Later, when Integrity and Faithlessness started peppering its story with boss fights that required me to protect a single character, it led me to desk-slamming depths of rage. No matter how much I tinkered with the roles and skills beforehand, the enemies invariably rushed the targeted character and the fight would end within seconds. Cue a minute-long unskippable cutscene before I could try again. Cue more anger. The only thing that got me through it was a “Reserve Rush” system that builds up heavy heals or devastating attacks for an entire party over time – but only if I’d built it up enough before the fight.

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