This review is being conducted before completion of the entire game; I’ve played to a point that I feel comfortable having experienced the full scope of the game’s systems. – V
Star Ocean stands as one of the most storied and popular JRPG franchises in video game history, boasting a following that rivals both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Combining the somewhat more traditional “swords and sorcery” gameplay style with the depth and expanse of a Science Fiction epic or space opera, Integrity and Faithlessness looks to return us to the franchise somewhere in the middle of the overarching story presented in previous games. But how does it stack up against the other games? How about on it’s own? The answer to these two questions is quite different.
Story and Setting
While the cast is large and varied, arguably the main character is Fidel Camuze, son of the legendary Master Camuze who is renowned for his martial prowess. Fidel resides in the seaside village of Sthal while his father is instructing the King’s army in the capitol. After bandits threaten to raid Fidel’s village, he mounts an offensive with childhood friend Miki and manages to successfully repel it. Through various twists and turns, Fidel and his companions learn that they aren’t alone in the universe, and are quickly embroiled in a galactic conflict centering on a child and her immense power.
This story isn’t exactly anything new, and that’s the first issue that many fans of the series take. I cannot claim the same dedication and zeal toward this franchise, so I feel somewhat unqualified to speak as to whether or not this is true; however, I will say that many people feel this way, so obviously it extends from somewhere. Fans of the series may be disappointed by a somewhat predictable and linear story, but from what I experienced during my 20 hours of playthrough I was quite pleased with.what the game had to offer. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with using a story that works, however “plain” it may be. If you were looking for a new or more exciting direction for this series, however, this game may not be what you were hoping for.
Environment design in the game was pretty fantastic, with some of the locations looking quite gorgeous. The visual design for some areas did look a bit terrible, namely the sides of hills and sand dunes where the texturing was stretched across the low-polygon surface. In a game with such detailed character models and ability animations, this seemed lazy to me.
Overall I think fans of JRPG, fantasy and science fiction will all be quite pleased with what the story and setting have to offer here.
Combat and Systems
This is a particularly strong suit for the game, as I felt combat was enjoyable if not a bit limited. Battles generally occur inside of a circular area, and you’re allowed to actively control one character at a time. Control of the other members of your part is relegated to the AI, though you will find yourself switching to them in order to issue commands, use items, and other similar actions.
The basic combat and use of abilities itself is fairly streamlined, with attacks being assigned to the Square and Circle buttons. You’re allowed to assign different attacks or abilities based on range (close range or long range), so this lets you customize your combat functionality a bit more as well as the abilities of your party. Combat felt quick and responsive, though blocking seemed rather useless at times.
The Reserve Rush system is very interesting and provides players with a risk and reward system. As the RR bar fills up, you can various bonuses to things like money gained, experience points and skill points; the more the bar is allowed to fill up, the greater the bonus. Should you chose to do so, however, you may unleash a very powerful “super” attack that depletes the gauge and causes an effect based on the character that used it. Have one of your attackers use it and let loose a massive attack; have your healer do it, and you’ll instead Raise Dead and Heal your party. Use of this bar (or lack of use) is a tactical decision.
Where things get incredibly intricate is with regards to the Skill and Role system.
As of the time of this writing, I had unlocked 27 roles for my characters to use. These roles are spread out among five different categories (melee, healing, caster, etc.), and there are dozens within each category. Melee has Attacker, Brawler, Ace and many more. These are all very different, but share the common thread of being focused on dealing damage up close. Healing is obviously focused on keeping your allies alive, and has roles like Savior. Roles will primarily help the behavior of your AI-controlled allies as it will dictate their behavior in combat. However, the benefits help actively controlled characters as well, providing stat bonuses and affecting various levels of performance for your abilities.
Skills are determined by the use of assigned roles, and they help further flesh out your character. Some skills are earned or upgraded by leveling up the equipped roles your characters use, while other avenues of advancement exist in the form of skill books or programs. You can only assign active battle skills for use on buttons; that is, abilities that cause damage in combat. But any ability you have assigned to a character will be used by that character when controlled by the AI.
Much more nuanced and, well, ‘special’, specialties are things that modify your characters journey through the world. Examples of this would be Treasure Sense, that reveals the location of treasure chests on your map; and Harvesting, that allows the collection of raw materials from nodes in the world. The grid for these things is huge, but I’d only discovered two in my time with the game.
It wouldn’t be much of an RPG without an equipment system, and this one is relatively simple. Each character may equip a weapon, a piece of armor, and two accessories. Each piece of equipment offers different bonuses, and certain weapons are locked to different characters based on their role or default behavior.
As I’ve mentioned previously, long time fans of this series may very well be disappointed with this particular offering, but I’m still of the opinion that this game is well crafted and worth playing. While it may not be the best game in the series, there’s only room in an entire franchise for one of those, and that doesn’t mean that every other iteration needs to be excluded from consideration based on that judgment alone. That isn’t to say, however, that the opinions of the long-term fans are wrong. In fact, they probably know more about this franchise than I do, and perhaps they are justified in their concerns. From the perspective of someone who enjoys RPGs and JRPGs in general, this game is absolutely worth a playthrough.