Review: Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (PS4)
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is quite the mouthful. Currently I am still baffled by the subtitle of the game and I wonder if it is more resonant with how I feel about the game after finishing it. My faith, or at least my hope for the series, has been shattered by this game. I went in hoping for a rich JRPG with a rousing tale, interesting characters and enjoyable, strategic combat. That is not what this game provides.
Can I play as Captain Kirk please?
I can’t help but feel that Emmerson should have been the protagonist. He makes bold choices, his happy go lucky attitude hiding a calculating, decisive man. Several times over he saves hundreds of people through clever decisions and crazy moves and he is one of the more enjoyable characters in the ensemble. Maybe it is because he is a carbon copy of Captain Kirk, from womanizing to daring adventures and putting himself at risk to protect those who serve him. His flagrant disregard of the rulebook as well as an unhealthy proclivity to launch into danger. Hell, he even narrates the end of the game before going off on more adventures. Instead we follow the story of a young swordsman who has daddy issues, who for the most part just does what everyone tells him to do while protecting a little girl he just met. If you want cliches, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness has them in ample supply. Prepare for tropes like bosses with multiple forms or phases; long, complicated dungeons in places where there is no reason for one to exist; enemies hell-bent on power at any cost; a tiny girl with unimaginable power and many more.
One of the favourite things in Star Ocean has been the idea that your mission spans more than one world or a single solar system. You feel like you are travelling around the galaxy to stop a great foe or unravel a mystery before it is too late. You explore new lands with strange creatures and people, a new vista greeting you every time you make progress in your quest. This game deviates from that, restricting your journey to not just one planet, but a single continent too. Two cities and three towns are all you get to visit, with shops and quests available in each. The game rushes you back and forth between these four points for most of the game as a war brews on the western front of the land you call home. After your village is attacked, you go to seek soldiers and aid to protect your village, and are quickly caught up in the war. Then you rescue a little girl with unheard of powers (that she can’t control) that the enemy is really desperate to get back. The story doesn’t really get more complex or nuanced than that and 16 or so hours later, you are left watching an ending that doesn’t make up for the frustrating path you have taken to get there.
This JRPG has tried to keep a lot of things old school in its approach. Save points are few and far between, with massive boss fights often wiping out 30 to 60 minutes of play. As a rule of thumb, the path from the entrance of a dungeon to just before the boss just doesn’t have enough XP to prepare you for the fight that is about to happen. If you grind on the way back. Save and rest up (if you can!) then head back to the boss and maybe, maybe you will be able to survive that fight, if your party AI plays along nicely.
Oh AI, why?
Considering that a full party in combat is seven people, the AI needs to be able to do the brunt of the work for you, right? Sadly the AI is woefully inadequate. You can no longer tell your party to conserve MP or defend themselves or to pull back. Instead you assign a bunch of roles to them and hope that the AI follows those roles. Each can only equip four roles and, considering there are roles that give extra health or attack, you will be hard pressed choosing the roles. Even then, your characters will do… odd things. For example I set one character to have four healing roles. What is she doing though? Oh she is casting damaging spells and standing right next to the enemy with an AoE attack. Thanks healer. She spends most fights on the floor thanks to enemies making a beeline towards her and nobody bothering to go help. Get ready to babysit healers and even control them for most boss fights, because they are mostly inadequate if left to their own devices. At times the game will force you to defend one character who doesn’t dodge or attack for an encounter. If they get dropped to 0 health, it is game over. Enemies will head straight towards her, which is really annoying. Get ready to equip every item that increases health and defense on that single character. She will need it.
Combat is flashy and extremely busy with so many characters in your party. Most boss fights I ended up feeling like maybe I was the monster, attacking like a mob. In the chaos of so many characters tossing spells and flashy attacks, you need to try concentrate on a weakness system that works like Rock, Paper, Scissors. Light attacks can interrupt skills, strong attacks break a block and blocking a light attack lets you counter-attack by hitting block again at the right time. It sounds like something you would expect in a fighting game or in a system with a lot of depth, but most fights revolve around a spam rotation of strong attack, light attack, strong attack etc. The interrupt is handy, until you fight bosses who can’t be interrupted and who punish almost every combo you try to use.
If you were looking forward to learning more about your interesting party members with the PA system, you are about to be disappointed. Most of these moments aren’t conversations between you and a party member and instead tend to follow the format of you overhearing them thinking aloud or talking to someone else. Running across town to hear one person looking for a cat feels like a waste of time, and I saw zero change in the characters by following their PAs.
A bland, cliched story following characters that you never really care for or like with a frustratingly simplified combat system and damage sponge bosses with one-hit kill attacks is the last thing I was hoping for in the latest Star Ocean. Several design choices in this game left me outright baffled and the people in charge of encounter balance and AI have disappointed with a needlessly clunky role system. The game feels incomplete, set in a tiny area that is mostly devoid of life and things to see and interact with, which is only brought into focus by continued backtracking over the same area again and again. There is fun to be had here, but approach as you would a B-grade movie.