What’s in a name?
With the auspicious news that Tri-Ac began development on Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, I became hopeful for two reasons. The first reason is that Tri-Ace was still putting efforts into making full games, because they had been absorbed into a mobile gaming company. The second reason why I grew excited was due to the fact that, finally, I would be able to experience a new Star Ocean, and on a next gen console at that. My mind was fluttered with the possibilities of a combination of excellent ideas, strong mechanics, and a questionable streamlined narrative and matching presentation. So did Square-Enix and Tri-Ace keep their integrity and my faith?
That’s both a difficult and easy question to answer. Simply: Yes. I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent with Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, but I’m well aware of its flaws and limitations. With that said, and in retrospect, the ‘flaws’ that I speak of really are not significant. The game itself holds its own. But we’ll get into all of that in a bit, as the first aspect of Star Ocean I want to discuss is its narrative and presentation.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is a game about a young swordsman named Fidel, his childhood friend Miki, a signeturge (mage), and their journey to help out a young and mysterious girl named Relia. Capable of wielding unusual and unheard of magic, Relia catches the attention of Miki and Fidel. If not for the mysterious men chasing the poor girl, our protagonists would never have been caught up in the plot. With that said, here comes the most noticeable change made to Star Ocean. While Star Ocean IV could be argued to have had cinematics that spanned far too long, Integrity and Faithlessness just skips just about every cinematic. In Integrity and Faithlessness , when characters converse, they do so as you traverse the world map or towns. What this attempts to achieve is create a certain realistic flow to the conversation and experience of traveling with companions – and for the most part, the game accomplishes this. But I often found myself accidentally running through dialogue only to slam straight into an invisible wall (denoted by a red semi-circle). These preventative walls made it impossible for me to skip the dialogue, even though I never wanted to skip it in the first place. The second issue I had – from a purely aesthetically mechanical viewpoint – was that, sometimes, Fidel would stroke his chin in thought and be allowed to sprint at the same time; this created an awkward looking thinking man committed to a comical run.
Still, Star Ocean doesn’t really suffer from either of these oddities. The storytelling avenue remained intact, and, while extremely naïve, the characters are believable. And having been a longtime Star Ocean fan, I found pleasure in the fact that I knew Emmerson and Anne were not from your world. While this is a story that seems to play out in every title, it was cool to play from the perspective of those unfamiliar with interstellar travel or the rules of the stars. Oh, and speaking of visuals – this game was absolutely beautiful. From the terrain to the character models, I found the majority of the game pleasing to engulf. There isn’t much better than a beautiful setting.
Now, Star Ocean and Tri-Ace are known for much more than just crafting large narrative worlds. If anything, Tri-Ace is famous for creating some interesting battle systems – and Star Ocean is arguably their most noteworthy creations. Integrity and Faithlessness takes their successful formula and waters it down a bit. Where Star Ocean IV broke into a battle screen, Integrity and Faithlessness simply draws your weapons and attacks. I particularly enjoy this, as it doesn’t redirect your focus from a breathing environment to a disembodied arena. My biggest complaint about the battle system was its simplified controls. Sure, it was fun to mash the Square and O buttons and combine those with my special attacks, but I missed the epic counters I could pull off in IV. With that said, however, the battle system still mostly excels, and it certainly accomplishes what it set out to.
Sound in Integrity and Faithlessness divided my heart. On one hand, the menu sounds were classic Star Ocean files. And normally, this would work. In this case, however, I felt the sci-fi beeps of the menu were too advanced for the likes of Fidel, who seemed to live in a fantasy/middle ages world. It cut the believability factor short. On the other hand, though, the actual soundtrack was superb. Battle music was fast paced and intense, reminiscent of Dynasty Warriors. Town tunes or piano melodies that were scattered throughout the remainder of the game were not only memorable but wonderful pieces.
Prior to Integrity and Faithlessness, the Star Ocean franchise consisted of games that lasted for well over 60 hours with levels that far exceeded the 100 mark. For this iteration, the streamlining of gameplay seems to have shortened that number significantly. I still got through over 30 hours of gameplay (I tackled the majority of the quests and spent time synthesizing and crafting), but I would imagine a single run through would tax you no more than 45 hours. Of course, any given player could probably finish the main storyline in approximately 25. As far as value is concerned, Integrity and Faithlessness is lacking when compared to its predecessors.
In conclusion, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness offers an impressive experience that accomplishes what it sets out to do. While the bulk of the game is relatively short (though with how the actual plot runs its course, that seems to make logical sense), the gameplay more than makes up for it. The story itself isn’t anything new, and I often found myself not invested in the exposition. Fortunately, Integrity and Faithless has a pretty fleshed out world that is awe inspiring to explore, and the soundtrack only builds on the visuals. Should we be graced with another Star Ocean title in the future, I can only hope that Tri-Ace is near to perfection in its execution.