Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is a clunky, sometimes beautiful mess, navigating between some exciting highs and many disappointing lows to fall short of its promise.
The wait for a new Star Ocean game has been a long one for fans of the long-running JRPG series. It has been seven years since the last Star Ocean, called The Last Hope, and for a while gamers eager to dive back into the game’s storied universe felt that the 2009 iteration’s title was more prescient than people had imagined upon its release. Once Square Enix and Tri-Ace announced that Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness was in development, however, JRPG devotees unanimously held their breath to see what would become of a series that had once rivaled Final Fantasy at the height of its popularity, even after troubling reviews surfaced following the initial Japanese release.
Sadly, sometimes a mediocre game really is just a mediocre game. Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness has a few bright spots that shine like a supernova in the game’s otherwise dark and cloudy sky, but the bulk of the game is a narrative and mechanical jumble that never seems fully sure what it wants to be.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness starts out promising enough. It’s equal parts sci-fi and high fantasy adventure, and the game begins as a fascinating and compelling telling of a first contact story. Citizens of a technologically under-developed planet are exposed to space-farers who wield weapons and gadgetry that the knights and sorceresses can’t possibly fathom, and the way each main character grapples with this sets up an early interesting premise. The characters are also promising: Fidel, a young knight thrust into an intergalactic war, and Emmerson, a space captain trying to preserve the natural and technological state of Fidel’s planet, are fun and even fresh at times. Even the scantily-clad Fiore, the classic fantasy trope of powerful sorceress who has chosen to eschew most fabric, is handled pretty deftly by the game’s narrative.
That all falls apart, however, once the game hits its main stride and the story quickly devolves into a stereotypical tale about finding a lost girl’s (with amnesia!) parents and the party that assembles around this idea never really makes a lot of sense. No one actually has a dire need to help Relia, the aforementioned girl with no memory, and no one ever actually tries to provide a reason either – everyone just kind of comes along for the ride, and the first contact story quickly becomes a distant memory. Likewise, the promise implied in a title like Star Ocean – that of space travel and different planets – quickly disintegrates as it becomes clear there is only one planet on offer for the entirety of the game.
While the main characters at least look pretty while they are vapidly following the plot from one tried-and-true JRPG trope to the next, the same can’t be said for the game world. A lot of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness tasks players with jaunting back and forth through the same five or so maps on the game’s only planet, so the less than stellar graphics are especially noticeable because there isn’t much variety to draw the eye away from each blocky environment. It’s possible that the game’s Japan-only PS3 release hindered developers here, but if that was the case, it really would have been worth considering ditching the last-gen version in favor of more modern graphics.
If it sounds like Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is a lost cause, however, that isn’t the case. While there are a lot of different things dragging the game down from the lofty expectations some of its predecessors may have created for it, Tri-Ace manages to do a few things so well that they’re almost worth checking out on their own. First and foremost, the soundtrack of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is beautiful, and composer Motoi Sakuraba deserves a lot of credit for creating what little emotion there is to be found in the game with his incredible score.
The combat, too, has its moments of brilliance, particularly in the first five hours of the game. When players are in a small party of characters, combat feels fluid, exciting, and fun, letting gamers hack and slash their way through monsters that segue near-seamlessly from roaming the map to fighting a group of warriors. The Role system is also excellent, providing depth and customization that lets fans adapt their characters to fight the way they want.
Again, though, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness gets overwhelmed once it hits the real meat of its twenty-hour long main story. Once gamers are in a party of 6+ characters, the combat devolves into mashing buttons and spamming the strongest attack Fidel has, a strategy that is sadly very effective. Those looking to micro-manage their party might find some success, but seven characters is a lot to keep track of, and the combat is so fast that it’s much more likely players will simply let the AI handle themselves while impaling various re-skinned enemies on Fidel’s sword.
While Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness does allow players to customize the AI, computer-controlled behavior is yet another issue in a game with several great ideas that simply fails to execute on most of them. There isn’t really a middle ground during the course of the game when it comes to AI behavior – regardless of Role placement and design, early on party members behave like they have never seen a battle before in their lives, while late in the game it feels nearly impossible to die given the effectiveness of each party member in their role. While the latter example isn’t really a bad thing, it is a product of the last half of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness feeling entirely too beatable.
Gamers who effectively manage their characters as they level up and learn more Roles will create nigh-invincible mixes of unkillable tanks, speedy and sneaky healers, and DPS characters who are capable of disruption and damage all at once. The only time Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness feels challenging is when it is frustratingly so, in quests that task the player with protecting one party member from endless streams of enemies. These instances require gamers to completely alter the way they approach the game, and it feels unintuitive to do so – only after failing the mission several times and completely restructuring the Role system do these quests become manageable, and even then they aren’t very fun.
That’s the thing about Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, in the end. The game simply plods along the path tread by so many JRPGs before it, never really offering much in the way of something new and stumbling on simple concepts like plot and graphics. Eventually, it’s hard not to get the impression that a publisher as strong as Square Enix really should have done better.
The newest Star Ocean isn’t a bad game – although its twenty hour length is actually a boon here – but it isn’t really a good one, either. Tri-Ace never quite figures out the identity of its own game, and players are left with a similar problem without a solution. Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is worth a look for fans of the series or of JRPGs in general, but the fact that its shortness is such a strength in a genre that prides itself on game length is all fans really need to know about where the latest iteration of Star Ocean stands when compared to its predecessors.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is available now in North America and Europe exclusively for the PS4. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for this review.