Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Year: 2016
I'm not sure where to even begin with this one.
This was not the game that was promised and it's heartbreaking. Like most JRPGs that isn't named Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, understanding your legacy and what makes you unique is what will keep you afloat in a genre that is quickly killing off series left and right. Star Ocean is a game that doesn't understand its legacy and it runs the risk of dying along the likes of Grandia, Breath of Fire and Phantasy Star.
Fans of the series didn't deserve this and Star Ocean certainly doesn't deserve this.
A RETURN TO FORM
Integrity and Faithlessness was tri-Ace's attempt to go back to the roots of the series and rebuild what made Star Ocean great in the first place. Within that attempt demonstrated just how little the developers actually understood the series from the get go.
It's hard to talk about Star Ocean without mentioning its estranged sibling, the Tales series. One of them clearly did better than the other and it's easy to explain why.
Star Ocean was never really about the cast of characters, as much as it wants to pretend that it is. There isn't a single cast of characters in this series that is memorable aside from Claude and Rena from The Second Story. What made Star Ocean great was that it's the first example of a series where the Japanese actually understood the mythology that they had established and built on top of it without breaking much continuity.
There is no other JRPG like it.
The Tales series, on the other hand, had always done characters better and as time went on, the developers figured out how to craft likable characters that will outshine the main narrative in many regards. Whether it's the random banter that occurs at the end of every fight or the skits you encounter through out the game, you learn a lot about the characters and their relationships to one another. They feel like your friends. You'll love them. You'll hate them. You'll laugh at them and you'll even cry for them.
Star Ocean doesn't do this and it has spent the last decade or so doubling down on this to match its sibling and at its best, we have The Second Story. At its worst, we have Integrity and Fatihlessness.
In the developer's desperate attempts to elevate their cast of characters to the same lofty heights as the Tales series, it fundamentally ruined the game because they literally threw away the uniqueness of the series.
I HAVE QUESTIONS, MAYBE? IT'S UNCLEAR
One of the most intriguing things about Star Ocean is the sci-fi setting that the series takes place in. You have the Pangalactic Federation, the Underdeveloped Planet Preservation Pact, the Kenny family and all of this other stuff that creates a universe of interesting places and characters to meet.
It's all explained over the course of four games and it only takes one to discard all of that.
While Integrity and Faithlessness does mention all the elements within a Star Ocean game, it also fails to bring it all in wholesale and players will be left utterly confused if they have no exposure to previous games. In fact, characters will mention the "UP3" without much utterance of what that is. A seasoned Star Ocean player will understand that immediately from Till the End of Time and The Last Hope, but a newer player to Integrity and Faithlessness will have no idea what that means and is left to assume what it is through context alone.
Characters will also whip out futuristic communicators and computers left and right, bring guns to a knife fight and laser cannon spaceships to battlefields... and the crazy thing? Characters will simply "accept" that this is reality and it's happening. They will hardly acknowledge that something out of this world is happening and will go about their business without thinking much of it.
How in the world does a spaceship shooting a laser cannon simply accepted?
Think about it this way: Rena in The Second Story sees Claude literally shoot a Bear with a Laser Pistol and immediately assumes hes a God.
You would think that these characters will have the same assumptions given that they are clearly outclassed in every sense of the word... but they don't.
Without much context or explanation or obligatory exposition about the sci-fi elements or insight to character's thoughts just ruins the story because you really have no idea what is going on, at all. I'm not even entirely sure why we went on this journey in the first place because the reason behind it was that flimsy. I'm literally left to assume each character's motivations and take a leap of faith that I understand their intentions.
And honestly, that's the problem because you can beat this game in 6 hours.
Yes, you read that right. If you do no side quests and go from point to point as the game asks you to do, you can finish this game in 6 hours.
I finished this game and replayed it on the hardest difficulty. I'm roughly an hour into it with all enemies having twice the amount of HP and MP with a 50% boost to their attack power and I'm already 1/4th of the way done with the game.
ALL YOU NEED IS DOUBLE SLASH
If you're at all familiar with the Star Ocean series, you'll know what Double Slash is. It's a weaker move you learn early in First Departure and a ridiculously strong ability you get way later in The Second Story. In this game, however, you start with it. It is hilariously broken.
Double Slash is an ability that will knock up non-heavy, non-boss enemy into the air with its first swing and knock down the enemy into the ground on its second swing.
Given that most enemies in the game are lightweights, you can essentially Double Slash your way to victory while ignoring most mechanics of the game entirely. I was roughly 20-hours into the game when I realized that you could Guard-Counter and use Reserve Rush... which is a fancy way of saying Limit Break.
Did I mention Double Slash hits incredibly hard?
You may even argue that you can't spam Double Slash, but Integrity and Faithlessness has a ... kind of "Gambit System" from Final Fantasy XII called "Roles". Each Role comes with AI Parameters and buffs that will improve or hinder your party depending on how ridiculously strong it is. You can raise your ATK stat by a set amount or you can boost it by a percentage. You can set a Role that will reduce your MP usage or make it so you recover MP, effectively removing any need to use any MP Recovery items. You can even make your party members stupider for a massive damage boost.
Incidentally, your party's performance is intrinsically linked to this system. Their ability to make good choices is based on said Roles. If you set Roles that will make your Healer attack more frequently, they will routinely ignore the fact that you're dying and continue to attack relentlessly and often times will leave you for dead. It probably doesn't help the AI will let you die regardless of what Role they have anyways. Watching Miki stand there doing nothing while your HP is in the double digits, in a game where you have over 40,000 HP, stopped being infuriating and instead, became a drinking game. Will she heal me? Is she going to do it? Oh wow, she finally did it, bottoms up.
Would you believe that my build for Fidel involves reducing his MP Consumption / increasing MP Regeneration so I could use Double Slash for days? Because I did exactly that and I beat the game just like that: With the ability you start with because it hits hard, it hits fast and it can stun most enemies.
THIS DUCK CAN EXPLODE FOR EXACTLY 1000 DAMAGE
Something that I found really weird about Star Ocean is that there is no shortage of useless items. Over the course of the game, you'll unlock the ability to create items and one of the things you can do is craft these items that will do "x" amount of damage in battle. How this was useful in the slightest is anyone's guess given that most enemies have over 100,000 HP... that's just another shining example of just how thoughtless the developers were in creating this game.
On the other hand, you can augment your items with absurd stats such as boosting your ATK by percentages. This should not be something that is possible in an RPG, but here we are. If Double Slash wasn't incredibly broken before, how does 100% Critical Chance and +3% and +5% to ATK in every piece of equipment in every possible slot sound?
Because I did exactly that.
Fidel was swinging Double Slash with 100% Critical Chance at 6,500 ATK.
My next best character barely broke 1,800 ATK.
Throughout my play through of this game, I wanted to love this game. I desperately tried to find any redeeming factor in this game. Anything, something for me to love so I can talk about it and forget that the rest of the game is uninspired... and that I couldn't relate to any of the characters... and that I broke the game so shamelessly because I could.
But there isn't.
I love the Star Ocean series. I own every single game and beaten all of them. I even own both copies of Star Ocean: The Last Hope on the PS3 and 360.
Integrity and Faithlessness could be the death knell to an otherwise fantastic series and I hope that isn't so.
Also the music is terrible.
If it had a soundtrack, I don't think I even remotely heard it or my brain failed to register it.
After thought, that's this entire game.