Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is the fifth instalment in developer Tri-Ace’s sci-fi fantasy franchise. While the series had been dormant since 2009, publisher Square Enix deemed that now was the right time to bring it back. Unfortunately, time hasn’t been kind: forgettable characters and plot, presentation issues, and egregiously incompetent AI makes for one of the most frustrating RPGs in recent memory.
The game focuses on Fidel, a character who ticks all the “young-man-in-a-JRPG” checkboxes, like fighting for justice and vying for his father’s approval. He’s also joined by Miki who – surprise, surprise – is a female support character and childhood friend with questionable nicknames for the protagonist. Neither of them have any interesting development or arc to them, instead choosing to stick rigidly to genre conventions like much of the rest of the game.
Life in their medieval fantasy world of Faykreed is turned upside down when a child falls from the sky with magical powers, and is hunted by a technologically advanced space-faring race. The set-up initially had me intrigued: very rarely do we get to see first contact stories from the lower-tech perspective. It would have been cool to see how such an event could influence the identity of a young civilization. Unfortunately, the game squanders this opportunity and instead reverts to the most surface level tropes, before abandoning them altogether.
Conventional cut scenes have mostly been done away with, and replaced with walk-and-talk sections. While marketing departments would tell you that this adds to the immersion, they are very clearly cost-cutting measures – as camera angles and shot composition don’t need to be considered. They’re interminably long too, as you watch characters wildly gesticulate from a distance, all without the ability to skip the scenes.
As you progress through the story, it becomes woefully apparent that aren’t many locations in the game; you’ll wander back-and-forth over the same featureless plains, and inside the same dungeons multiple times. This isn’t remedied by the introduction of your own ship either, as it’s used to ferry you to featureless enemy vessels to board. Soon enough though you’re back on the small world of Faykreed, and its handful of environments. None of this is made any easier when the side-content is composed entirely of boring fetch quests.
Visually there are some impressive elements though. Spell effects look especially pretty as they bathe the battlefield with blue flames and shafts of lights. When the game shifts from day-to-night at set moments, the lighting takes on a softer quality, giving the geometrically sparse environments a painterly look.
Star Ocean’s combat blends real-time action with traditional JRPG mechanics – HP, MP, and item use. It attests to having a paper-scissors-rock design to it – with light and heavy attacks, and guarding – but you can largely ignore this, and instead jam on attack buttons to your heart’s content. Trying to interface with the more nuanced elements becomes impossible, as it’s hard to read an enemy’s animations behind all the particle effects on-screen. You’re better off stocking up on restorative items, and just busting out high damage skill attacks.
The combat is inoffensive, but a little dull. The main frustration, however, arises from incompetent AI teammates. You can set roles for them -- like to cast healing spells more often, or act defensively – but they will consistently underperform. I can’t recount the number of times I had to micro-manage Miki to revive a fallen ally, even though her role said it would have that covered. Sub-objectives that require you to protect targets become especially impossible, as your teammates insist on leaving them open to attack, or wandering into deadly lines-of-fire.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is a relic from another era, desperately grasping onto design principles from a simpler time and slapping new coats of paint on them claiming they’re new. A forgettable cast, squandered plot, and combat that is dull at best – and frustrating at worst – all underpin this largely underwhelming JRPG. Star Ocean diehards deserve better than this.