It must be tough being Star Ocean. In many ways it’s the forgotten child at Square Enix, left out in the cold while Final Fantasy relaxes in warm comfort, secure in its stature and immense budget while Star Ocean developers Tri Ace try to construct an epic JRPG with meagre funding. Star Ocean: Integrity And Faithlessness began development as a PS3 title – a version of the game only seen in Japan – with this PS4 version a port, and while it has its moments, it feels both out of time and out of touch with what’s expected of a modern RPG.
Mixing fantasy and sci-fi, you follow main protagonist Fidel Camuze and his friend Miki, as you’re drawn into a world of conflict. The planet Faycreed plays host to an ongoing war which is then further complicated by the arrival of an alien race. This is where you encounter Relia, a mysterious little girl who lies at the heart of everything.
Combat is action-orientated, with standard light and heavy attacks stacking into combos, while holding either attack button will unleash a powerful Battle Skill. You can easily switch between characters with a tap of the D-pad, jumping from martial characters to magic-wielders. Magic here is called Signeturgy, and relies on the use of signets though ultimately many can be mapped to the attack buttons in the same way as ordinary Battle Skills, though additional spells lurk within the casting menu.
Combat often devolves into a button-mashing mess, with the auto-targeting meaning you barely have to take any control of where your character goes. It’s certainly not the worst battle system, as there’s some fun to be had with it, but it could have been so much better. While it shares a common heritage with the Tales series, the combat there feels far more controlled than what is on offer here.
You can set roles such as attacker or healer for each of your characters, with up to four set at a time. Depending on your choices, you can enhance your character’s attributes to suit the way you play, with new roles appearing throughout the game as you progress, all of which can be upgraded to make them even more powerful.
Amongst the bevy of early annoyances, you’ll find a mini-map with two equally useless settings that force you to always jump into the pause menu to see your next objective. If the game doesn’t want you to go somewhere, it doesn’t formulate some plausible barriers to block your way, opting instead for invisible walls and an ugly red “no entry” icon. All it would have taken was a poorly parked horse and cart or a burning barrier, but the budget seemingly didn’t even extend to that.
At this point in modern game development you’d expect that shoddy cameras would be a thing of the past, but here you’ll find a camera that struggles at times to frame the action, and ultimately wants you to do all of the hard work, even during cut-scenes. Worst among its flaws are its movement as you climb or descend any undulating surface, which causes the camera to rock backwards and forwards, so much so that it forced me to stop or look away from the screen at times.
Harvesting plays an important role, and so too does the crafting of these elements into useful items. Harvest areas are denoted by green, yellow, or blue spots which you’ll find as you explore the game world, though your character has to have the matching speciality in order to gather from there. As a Monster Hunter player, I’m used to the importance of harvesting, but there’s none of that drama here. You’re unlikely to be attacked while searching, you just walk up to the glowing marker and hit X.
The simplicity of such graphical elements extends across the whole game, and while a few things look alright – such as your character’s clothing – overall it’s just bland, with empty, faceless areas that are wholly unlikely to wow you. Whether from its PS3 roots or a lack of resources, the game doesn’t stretch as far as the development team’s ambitions of creating a sprawling epic.
When Miki describes an ordinary-looking gate as “stunning”, you can’t help but feel that there’s a touch of wishful thinking at work. The opening location of Sahl isn’t particularly attractive and that sets the tone throughout, though to give it its due, the overall design is fairly interesting, with thick stone walls nestled beneath a cliff.
It actually feels more like an MMO than a singleplayer-focussed title, from the pared back visuals through to the NPC speech boxes when you’re in town. It is especially cool when your whole party travels the world with you, even if they do get in the way of the camera. Sadly, it then misses out on the camaraderie of working with others, and your AI companions are worse than just being hollow vessels, often forcing you to take as much as possible into your own hands.
The soundtrack fares a touch better than the visuals do, and there are some very pleasant violin-led orchestral pieces at various moments. However it is wholeheartedly eclectic, shifting from 80’s prog rock through to hyperactive hair metal, but sadly much of it feels dated, harking back to a bygone era of gaming. The effect is doubled by the overwrought English voice acting, which when combined with a poor script only helps to once again cheapen each event. Leave the Japanese voice track on for a better experience.
The only real boon is that this isn’t some stretched out 60-hour narrative, but then the 25-hour runtime for its central plot ultimately shows just how narrow its scope is, particularly within the JRPG genre. Add in some graphical performance issues, which simply shouldn’t be happening in the PS4 version, infrequent save points, and unskippable cutscenes, and you’re looking at one of the most underwhelming releases of the year.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness carries a weight of expectation that it is incapable of satisfying. A legacy JRPG franchise, published by Square Enix, should have some meaning, but here it translates to pure mediocrity. Series fans may find some brighter elements to latch onto, but for JRPG stalwarts there are far better examples of the genre.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4