“At this point in history, between the second and third games in the series, the Pangalactic Federation is nearing the fulfilment of its mission to bring peace and order to the galaxy. However, the embers of conflict begin to stir once again six thousand light years from Earth, on the planet of Faykreed, as a new story begins in the cosmic sea.”
– The STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness official website (http://staroceangame.com)
STAR OCEAN has never been one of those RPGs that has shone in the limelight, especially when compared to other Square Enix titles like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. I’ve actually known plenty of big RPG fans who’ve got little to no experience with the series, though the same could easily apply to me – I’d never played any of the games until the third entry, STAR OCEAN: Till the End of Time, on the Playstation 2.
After the enjoyable STAR OCEAN: The Last Hope on last-gen consoles, the series is back with STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness (what a mouthful) launching exclusively on the Playstation 4. Newcomers to the series needn’t worry; whilst the game follows the same timeline as in previous entries, you don’t need to have played any of them to enjoy the game.
STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness casts you in the role of Fidel Camuze, a young swordsman who helps protect his small coastal hometown of Stahl. When Stahl comes under attack from a group of bandits, Fidel heads to the capital city of Resulia to seek assistance from the Commanding Officer of the Army, who just so happens to be his Father.
Due to an ongoing war between Resulia and the neighbouring nation of Trei’kur, plus the fact that Trei’kur have gained the upper hand thanks to their use of a mysterious powerful weapon, Fidel’s request for reinforcements gets denied. Whilst making his return to Stahl, Fidel sights a strange looking object come crashing down from the sky. Upon investigation, he discovers a young girl who is under pursuit from a mysterious and technologically advanced group of men. After managing to escape from them thanks to a strange power used by the girl, Fidel makes his way back to Stahl in one piece. Whilst these events are seemingly small to begin with, they all build into an epic adventure that sees you travel across the land and eventually into the grand reaches of Space.
In honesty, there’s nothing about the story of STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness that you wouldn’t have seen before, though it’ll certainly do enough to keep you entertained on the adventure. I’ve always been a big fan of the way that the series mixes a medieval style world with incredibly advanced technology, especially when the clashes between them both often bring so many enjoyable scenarios.
STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness does a good job of keeping the story progressing though, with little to no filler content adding unnecessary hours onto the game’s story. A consequence of this is the game clocking in a lot shorter than other modern RPGs, with it easily completed in around twenty hours. Given the shorter length of the game, story progression occurs much more quickly; you always need to pay full attention to what’s going on if you want to get the most out of the game.
Even though the story will keep you entertained, the lack of proper in-game cutscenes is a little disappointing. Rather than actually offering a cinematic cutscene, everything plays out in real-time instead. It’s a little off putting that important story points are being revealed in-game whilst you still have the freedom to move Fidel around willy-nilly. You never really know when a cutscene is initiated or when it ends either, leaving you with awkward moments of silence as you wait to see if something is going to start happening in the game. It caused a lot of big moments in the game to lose their impact – it was hard to really appreciate a big plot point or a character’s emotions when they were shown from such an uninteresting perspective. It’s a shame, especially since the characters in the game are so likable.
The game doesn’t allow you to skip any of these scenes either – whilst I generally refuse skip any form of cutscene, there were occasions in STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness where I’d get a game over and have to play through a long cutscene all over again before being able to return to the point of my defeat.
One thing that I was glad to see return in STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness were the private actions. These are little interactions between characters that offer you an often humorous insight into their personality. They’ll occur randomly in-game, but you can also initiate them in some of the game’s towns. These little moments between characters show you a side to their personalities you might not have necessarily seen throughout the main story. Without them you certainly wouldn’t learn of Victor’s grudge against spinach, Anne’s obsession with cats, or even the fact that she also sees dogs as genuine rivals in life. Sure, they can border on being absolutely bizarre at times, but they’re well written little segments that add an innocent sense of light-heartedness to the game.
STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness’ combat all occurs in real-time, with groups of enemies freely inhabiting each of the game’s environments. Anyone who has played a STAR OCEAN game will be right at home with the combat, but those who are uninitiated will find it plays in a similar vein to Bandai Namco’s Tales Of series.
The game features an action-based battle system that sees you mashing buttons to unleash attacks and deadly combos against your opponents. You have a standard attack, a strong attack and a block – each one nullifying the other in a ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ kind-of way. A standard attack can counter a strong attack, a strong attack can break a block, whilst blocking will defend you from all standard attacks. It’s important to keep an eye on opponent’s actions during battle, as carefully countering their moves will certainly give you the upper hand.
Each character in-game also has access to special moves known as ‘Sigenturgy’. These powerful attacks are performed by holding down either the standard attack or strong attack button, offering a visually impressive and much more powerful move that’ll cause some decent damage to your opponent. Each character’s Signeturgy moves are unique to them – swordsmen like Fidel and Victor have more physical based attacks, whilst magic focused characters like Fiore and Miki will wipe out opponents with their enchanting sorcery.
Impressively, STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness allows you to take seven characters into battle, each of which (excluding Relia) you can switch between on the go. If you’d prefer to play as a magic user from distance you can, whereas if you want to stick to up-close melee combat you can too. Heck, you can even choose to play as a character based upon how cool they look if you like. It’s impressive to see all of the team working together though, showing off how epic combat in team focused RPGs can be.
To make up for the fact that you only control one character at any given time, STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness allows you to assign specific ‘Roles’ to each of your party members. These roles apply specific instructions that each party member’s AI will then follow in combat; for example, you could have Miki work exclusively as a healer, whilst Victor could focus primarily on taking out the most threatening opponent in battle. You constantly unlock new roles as you progress through the game, whilst you can also level them all up so they provide better boosts to each of your characters too.
Despite the wealth of options you have for each of your characters in combat, I found that most battles could easily be won by spamming one of Fidel’s Signeturgy moves. More often than not I was left button mashing and spamming the same attack over and over again, typically resulting in a quick victory. Whilst I do admit that it may have been owed to the fact that I’m often guilty of over-levelling my characters in RPGs, the lack of any real thought process to the game’s combat may put off some gamers. It didn’t stop me enjoying it though – sometimes it’s nice to feel so powerful.
Just to warn players though – get ready to be frustrated by the ‘protection’ battles that task you with protecting a specific character from all enemies. Given the sheer size of enemy parties, plus the fact they specifically target the character you are tasked with protecting, it led to plenty of incredibly frustrating ‘game overs’ during my playthrough. These situations were ALMOST as bad as ‘escort missions’… almost!
Visually, I couldn’t help but to think that the game looked a little like a last-gen title, albeit running at a typically steady 60fps. There’s nothing that really takes advantage of current gen technology, whilst there’s an abundance of dull textures that manage to take some of the shine away from what is otherwise a spectacular world to explore.
I loved the locations you visit in STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness. You have locations like Stahl, a blissful place that feels so idyllic with its medieval like appearance and giant windmill overlooking over the sea. Meanwhile, locations like the capital actually look like impressive cities with giant structures towering over you and an ton of folk inhabiting it. The more technologically advanced locations look great too, including the ‘Charles D. Goale’ – the Spaceship that you’ll use to travel in later in the game.
The dungeons you’ll fight through are great too, with a variety of environments that range from exotic seaside areas all the way to barren and lifeless deserts. Each dungeon typically has a large area or multiple routes to explore too. It’s fortunate that they all look so good – STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness has you backtracking A LOT, whilst fast-travel doesn’t unlock until much later in the game. Fortunately enemies level up along with you in each environment, so you’ll never be tackling under-powered enemies that take just one hit to kill.
Character and enemy design is on point too, with each character taking on the typically whimsical appearances we’ve gotten used to with JRPGs. I loved how much Victor reminded me David Bowie’s ‘Goblin King’ from Labryinth, whilst I was also a little naïve in thinking that Fiore’s outfit was simply coloured nude and black – I soon realised though that she wearing what I could only describe as a diamond chequerboard of ultra revealing flesh and fabric. You’ve got to see it yourself to believe it.
The game’s soundtrack is top notch, with an adventurous vibe that manages to fit in perfectly with the tone of the game. There’s a good mix of uplifting tracks along with the more sci-fi themed tunes for the technologically advanced segments of the game. The game’s voice actors do a great job too, with next to no moments where I was left cringing at a character’s performance. Sure, the script was as cheesy as ever, but you wouldn’t expect anything different from a JRPG. My only beef with the voice acting was that it was often difficult to work out who was talking, particularly with the female cast – the game’s real-time approach to cutscenes doesn’t show characters actually speaking and since a lot of the female characters sound quite similar it was often difficult to distinguish a particular voice. It’s a minor qualm though with what is otherwise a well delivered performance.
Whilst STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness is fairly short by JRPG standards, there are plenty of sidequests that’ll offer hours of extra gameplay. They typically consist of menial tasks like defeating a specific enemy, delivering certain items, or even finding a particular character – there was one instance where I had to hunt down a character named Ruddle who’d gone from town to town looking for a hangover cure. There’s also the mysterious swirling black-hole that’ll randomly appear, taking you to the tricky optional ‘Cathedral of Oblivion’ dungeon. It’s not impossible, but I wouldn’t recommend players tackling it too early in the game.
STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness is far from perfect, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an enjoyable experience. Whilst I was never blown away by anything it offered, I was constantly entertained and never wanted to put the controller down.
It has a very distinct old-school JRPG feel to it, something that has been missing on this generation of consoles. Whilst some gamers might expect some form of evolution from their JRPGs, STAR OCEAN: Integrity and Faithlessness will certainly remind you that there’s still a lot of fun to be had with a more traditional feeling adventure.