Editor’s Note: This is a review coupled with a video review. You can watch the video review above, or read a transcript of the video below.
While it may not be my favorite console, the PlayStation 2 is by far the most treasured device in my collection of video game hardware. Though the early 2000’s era of gaming it belonged to was known primarily for mainstreaming the hobby (and bringing Microsoft into the fold), it was also the golden age of the console JRPG…and Sony led the charge with a dizzyingly large pile of high quality games that defined the genre for an entire decade.
With the power granted by the sixth generation consoles, JRPGs went from top-down, often isometric affairs to full-blown 3D epics that allowed the player to move around and battle within sprawling landscapes in third person viewpoints. Sure, you may laugh at me making such a mundane feature seem world-shattering, but to JRPG fans who were lucky enough to own a PS2, that era remains one of our most fondly remembered, and part of that is due to the gigantic leap in quality the genre experienced during the generational advance.
JRPGs hit their stride during that era, and one of the most celebrated of that group was tri-Ace’s Star Ocean 3: Till The End of Time. Though fans are split on whether they enjoyed the ending or not, most agree it had the best gameplay of the series – if not the entire PS2 JRPG library.
Unfortunately, as the PS2 era grew smaller in the rear view mirror and Japanese developers began adopting western RPG gameplay mechanics, the hope for another middle-era JRPG (as opposed to the retro 8bit indie stuff we get by the droves) began to fade.
…and yet here we are, witnessing not just the rebirth of Star Ocean, but the possible rebirth of the PlayStation 2 style JRPG as well.
Chances are good, if you’re a diehard JRPG fan who tears up at the mention of Sony’s second console, you are buying (and playing) Star Ocean 5 already. If not, and you wonder if the nostalgia trip is worth $60, you came to the right review.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness takes place between the 2nd and 3rd games of the series, and tells the story of Fidel Camuze, the planet’s most renowned swordsman and son of one of its most powerful politicians. After his hometown is attacked and he runs to the capital city to request aid, he finds a mysterious girl with odd powers whose safety overrides any other obligation or sense of duty he has. The story then revolves around the mystery behind this young girl and the proxy war that is being fought in her name.
There are points where the story does drag a bit, especially near the middle where the party is constantly splitting up and the girl is shuttled in-between the different factions involved in the conflict, but it’s not so bad that it becomes cringe-worthy. If anything, it’s the two leads – Fidel and Miki – who make it worthwhile.
The developers claimed they wanted an older, more mature protagonist to better reflect the age of Star Ocean fans who have, naturally, grown a bit older since the last entry. What this gives us is a lead character who doesn’t whine, who is a competent leader, and who doesn’t exhibit the kind of flakiness his predecessors did. Fidel is a confident man in his mid-20s whose only fault is the emotional distance between him and his father; a divide mainly caused by his desire to not be accused of using his last name to gain unfair social advantages.
His childhood friend, Miki, is also a bit more mature than most JRPG lead heroines. Frequently exhibiting a very strong and obvious maternal streak, most of Miki’s private action scenes revolve around her being the party’s “den mother”. Whether it’s gathering up towels and clean clothes for a long trip or calming down other party members who cave to their emotions, Miki is a self-actualized young woman that – in my opinion – really stole the show.
Of course, Star Ocean fans know the meat of the series has always been its “private actions”. The little snippets of character development that occur at specific points in the game’s towns are back again, only this time they’ve been streamlined a bit. Perhaps even dumbed down.
You may still enter into a “private action” phase whenever entering a town, but the scenes themselves are nowhere near as involved as they were in previous games. The vast majority of them simply have you and the other party members standing in place and gesturing, with actual interaction being depressingly rare. Those expecting to have in-depth conversations where they can select their own responses to guide the character’s relationship levels will be disappointed. Though there *are* some decent private action scenes (Victor has the funniest, in my opinion), they are too few and far between.
One thing where the game unequivocally excels would be the visuals, which unlike the private actions or predictable plot, are solid throughout the entire game.
Having made a PS4 version of the game paid off, because the 60 frames-per-second smoothness and lighting effects are the best I’ve seen come from a JRPG, and those who have had to subsist on NISA and Compile Heart RPGs for the last few years might have to take their heart medicine before putting the disc in the system.
In all seriousness, this new chapter of the Star Ocean series is tremendously gorgeous. The textures, the light rays cast by the setting sun, the flowing clouds, the draw distance showing off the vast terrain, very few games spurred me to obsessively take screenshots like this one did. Just stepping out into the Resulian plains, with its wide open and Xenoblade-esque look and feel, are enough to sell even the most demanding graphics nerd on the game.
Now, what about the gameplay? Well, combat is the core of every decent JRPG, and if the combat is lacking then it’s likely that no other feature, no matter how well done, will save the game. Though I have some gripes with Star Ocean’s combat, none of them were enough to drive me away from playing through it.
First of all, the combat still retains the mechanics of the two previous Star Ocean games. The cancel bonuses, the parrying (No blindside attacks like Star Ocean 4 though), and the switching between long and short attacks all return in this latest entry, only with one difference: Your party has ballooned to seven combatants.
While I do love having such a large party, I have a theory that it inflated the game’s internal numbers to such a degree that creating a balanced system was too much of a chore for the developers to properly tackle. This is most evident in the fact that the default starting difficulty – galaxy – is incredibly easy. Aside from a couple fixed fights and one boss who is incredibly cheap with his attack range, the entire game is a walk in the park for anyone who even remotely understands the game’s mechanics. Doubly so if you play as Victor and exploit his insanely powerful and wide-reaching distance attacks.
Making matters worse is the smallish nature of the combat area itself, which is so lacking in circumference that if you start the battle as a spell caster or ranged attacker, you will accidentally flee from battle due to being outside of its legal boundaries. It became so bad that after a few dozen forced escapes from battle, I decided to never switch to a ranged party member again.
If there were some way to create a starting formation that your characters would default to when combat starts they might have been able to avoid this. As it stands now, however, it’s almost impossible to “main” a ranged hero.
Another downside to the battle system would be the disagreeable camera, which seems to resist any effort to keep it raised at any decently viewable angle. The camera feels like it constantly resets, and when it does, it is far too low to the ground to see the character you’re controlling.
This is especially bad since with six other party members and around four or five monsters, it can be hard to distinguish who you are closest to and what enemy you are currently attacking. Auto-targeting remedies that to some degree, but it isn’t something I feel the player should be forced to use just to circumvent the poor line of sight the camera saddles them with.
So combat is easy and sometimes counter-intuitive…so what saves it?
The role system the game gives the player is probably the best new addition to the Star Ocean series. What these “roles” are is a set of A.I. routines that, besides governing how a computer-controlled party member acts, it doles out bonuses to certain key statistics or abilities. These roles, when set, can increase offensive magic, decrease guarding damage, shorten spellcasting time and everything in-between. It sounds simple, but when you have around a hundred of these “roles” and realize that each character can equip up to four of them, you begin to see how easy it is to exploit the game.
A good example is how cheap it can get is when you combine the “berserker” and “dead man walking” roles. With berserker more than doubling your damage and dead man walking nullifying the negative aspects it normally hampers you with, putting such a combo on a frontline fighter is akin to placing the game on easy mode…which might not be a good thing unless you’re trying to beat a post-endgame boss.
Combat becomes better once you’re able to select a higher difficulty, and when you fight the tougher adversaries in the post-endgame dungeon, so your enjoyment of the game’s battle system depends solely on how patient you are in waiting until you reach that point. Until then, however, you’ll have to endure 10 second fights and a roster of enemies that give you no real reason to heal.
So is it worth buying? Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is an RPG that is built specifically for the PlayStation 2 crowd who still pine away for the mid-2000s and the days when Japanese developers hadn’t yet played Skyrim. Those who want another JRPG from that era that is unashamed to be Asian (complete with Fiore’s bouncing breasts, which might make up for Miki’s “diapers”) and delivers on the promise of taking Star Ocean into the current generation shouldn’t be disappointed. Though it has quite a few annoyances to deal with, they are relatively minor and shouldn’t dissuade you from playing it. Though I wouldn’t blame less hardcore fans if they waited for a price cut.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 using a retail copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict 7.5
- Gorgeous visuals & 60 frames per second
- New “role” system is clever, fun to exploit
- Fidel & Miki are well written and easy to identify with
- Combat is highly enjoyable, at least in the late game areas
- Feels like an RPG from 10 years ago
- Far too easy through most of the game
- Large party roster causes formation/A.I. problems
- Private actions could have used more depth/interaction