Review: Dealing with Star Ocean V’s lack of integrity and faithfulness

Once upon a time, Star Ocean games were something to look forward to. They were JRPGs that examined the difference between two worlds – one steeped in magic and fantasy, the other in technology and science. Installments made you think critically about the nature of life and identity. Instead of continuing that trend, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness devolves. It steps back into something that’s more akin to a generic JRPG than anything. We’re all poorer for it.

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithless attempts to do something different. In most entries, the Rena route in Star Ocean: The Second Story aside, players follow a more technologically advanced human who happens upon a planet filled with people noticeably less-so. Here, the situation is reversed. Fidel and his childhood friend Miki are residents of the planet Faykreed. Each one is a traditional warrior and healer, doing their best to protect their hometown from bandits and monsters. When it comes under attack, they head to Resulia Kingdom’s capital to request aid. It feels like a traditional fantasy JRPG.

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Once Fidel and Miki arrive in the capital, the premise shifts. Instead of following people making first contact with an alien world and tampering with its issues, our characters are natives dealing with the influence and effect of alien races and technology on their planet. Normally, this would feel like a refreshing change of pace. Except, it’s executed in a way that doesn’t set it apart from any other RPG where an underdog faces stronger enemies who’ve stumbling upon unknown magic or technologies. The plot plods along as players attempt to keep Trei’kur from invading and defeating Resulia with their suddenly overwhelming abilities, all while protecting a mysterious girl with exceptional skills being targeted by that same enemy.

Star Ocean games usually feel like they’re doing something new, despite following tried and true JRPG formulas. Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness doesn’t.

Imagine you’re looking at a beautiful city skyline. Buildings are towering and majestic, set against a gorgeous landscape. It’s wonderful until you zoom in and see the rodents creeping around its corners, broken windowpanes and crumbling walls. That’s Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. Keep your distance and limit your time with it, and you won’t realize the mess it truly is. The story seems fine and characters and environments look decent enough, until you manage to win a battle with the camera for a closer view of the people and places around you.

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Story segments that should be interesting and engaging are instead distracting, as they take place in-world. You have to constantly move Fidel into positions to see the people who are talking, hoping the camera angle lets you watch the speaker. Heaven help you if that character isn’t a recognizable party member or person of interest, because the subtitles aren’t going to tell you who’s saying what. Not that it matters, as there’s quite a bit of meaningless and uninspired dialogue. Unfortunately, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness doesn’t give you the option to avoid these annoyances, forcing you to be present for each conversations. Instead of feeling immersive and realistic, it comes across as cheap. Instead of impressive, animated cutscenes, we get unskippable discussions with people we might or might not get to see, depending on the camera’s current mood.

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Speaking of cheap, I often felt like I had perhaps taken the easy way out and went with a beginner difficulty level, despite choosing to play Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness on the normal difficulty. The series is known for being rather challenging, with real-time battles that make you think about who you’re taking with you into a fight and how their movesets will benefit your strategies. This entry removes any sense of deliberation and makes it far too easy to exploit overpowered abilities and button-mashing combos.

The roles system is the one thing in Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithfulness that made me feel like I was accomplishing something revolutionary and meaningful as I played, even though it’s as imperfect as the rest of the game’s elements and systems.

Either our heroes are obscenely strong or their opponents incredibly weak, because no one posed a threat to my party until the I’d reached the endgame. Characters like Fidel and Emmerson have ridiculously overpowered Dual Slash and Avian Rage abilities. Anne can break the game with her Hammer Fall and Fists of Fury attacks. A fully leveled Dead Man Walking, obtained after reaching the level three Necromancer role, can even help you easily survive the final few boss fights. I didn’t feel like I was earning my victories, as I had in other Star Ocean games.

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While unbalanced skills played their part in my party besting every encounter, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness‘s general battle system didn’t help. While previous installments required you to think on your feet, due to no pauses in the action, things have become far more frantic in this installment. Every character has weak and strong attacks, as well as the ability to guard. Strong attacks break through a character’s guard, guarding deflects weak attacks, and weak attacks interrupt a strong attack. You also have skills tied to holding the weak and strong attack buttons. It’s relatively simple, allowing for quick combos. This means it’s easy to fall into a tedious trap where you consistently rely on special attacks or repeated weak assaults.

Difficulty aside, the real problem with the battle system comes from all seven party members participating in each one. Keeping track of who’s doing what, so you can swap and take direct control, can be impossible. We’re robbed of a clear and manageable view of the field in every situation, allowing players an opportunity to plan and act with a sense of purpose. Chaos reigns. Combine that with the overall lack of difficulty, and almost all of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithless’ encounters devolve into monotonous button-mashing. You don’t feel like you’ve earned most victories, because all you did was assault the cross or circle buttons.

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Which would be tolerable, if it weren’t for occasional battles where you must protect someone. In some situations, you’ll face a fight where a specific character must be kept alive. Everyone is everywhere and the AI doesn’t instill a sense of self-preservation in the person you’re trying to guard, making it easy for an opponent to pick off their target. You can’t turn to strategies that would let you make use of the rock-paper-scissor weak-strong-guard system, since you have to keep track of both your charge and the enemy. They’re challenging in the wrong sort of way and these moments perfectly highlight the battle system’s flaws..

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness feels rushed and cheap, and it demeans the series.

The roles system is the one thing in Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithfulness that made me feel like I was accomplishing something revolutionary and meaningful as I played, even though it’s as imperfect as the rest of the game’s elements and systems. You can earn, unlock and invest in roles while you play. These abilities determine the AI tactics for allies you don’t directly control, while simultaneously boosting their stats or offering characters a beneficial trait. Now, the AI isn’t perfect, but the boons that come from equipping up to four roles to each can make a very real difference. The effort needed to collect new roles often felt like my only real reward for weathering boring battles and events.

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Star Ocean games usually feel like they’re doing something new, despite following tried and true JRPG formulas. Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness doesn’t. It’s uninspired and makes no attempt to hide that. From the moment the story begins, you can tell exactly where the plot is going. Battles are tedious, easy and cluttered. Technical issues keep you from enjoying story segments, and you can’t even skip them. Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness feels rushed and cheap, and it demeans the series.

Star Ocean rode high with entries like The Second Story and Till the End of Time, but Integrity and Faithless truly represents a crash landing.

Score: 4/10
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: June 28, 2016
Developer: tri-Ace
Platform(s): PlayStation 4
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