Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness Review

The Star Ocean franchise still carries the mantel of being one of my all time favorites. I won’t defend the melodrama or paper thin characters, whose stories and names often sound like something from a mad lib. However I have always loved the worlds, the combat, and the adventure into space every title has brought me. While Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness does rekindle some of that old series magic, it unfortunately feels like something that went unpolished in more than one area.

Star Ocean starts off by positioning the protagonist, Fidel, between two warring nations. This is par for the course given the history of the series, but then it throws a small child, Relia, into the mix. Relia has no idea who she is, how she got there, what her powers are, or why she’s being pursued by soldiers. Of course, it is now the task of Fidel and company to solve all of these mysteries surrounding Relia and protect her along the journey.

The story is enough to keep me engaged and curious, and that’s all I need a Star Ocean game to do. Fortunately, comically evil villains and their accompanying dialogue rambling about a small, magical girl is not all there is to the fifth installment.

It does offer that one moment that sort of cues us into its namesake, and for a while after that my enjoyment of the story picked up exponentially. It happens in all of them. There’s the protected civilization on an unknown planet, unaware of the massive technological empires that exist out in space. Then at some point, a catalyst is thrown in that forces the two to collide and the game shifts into the real heart of the story. The music, plot, and characters were remarkable for that brief moment of awe in Star Ocean 5, but it all levels out again into its usual pace.

Star Ocean’s story may have been a little easier to enjoy if it didn’t demand I tread the same ground back and forth ten different times. Revisiting an area is fine, but Star Ocean has big, empty spaces that you will grow tired by the third time X nation needs your help or Y character needs this resources.

Integrity and Faithlessness tries too hard to follow the old parts of RPG formulas that are just unnecessary. Why force players to run across the same map, fighting the same enemies so many times? Give me a ship. Why not allow players to skip cutscenes and save when they please? On more than one occasion, I died after watching several cutscenes and in between save points. Watching any of these scenes more than once serves no purpose, other than to punish. It harkens back to days when we saved sporadically, and lost an hour of progress to one mistake. There’s no logic in this formula though, as this is an aspect of game design since improved upon.

Yet, even with all of its shortcomings, I did find plenty to love about the new Star Ocean in other areas. The battle system makes some of that backtracking much more bearable. Fights are now seamless, the HUD simply shifts into view when the party is within range of an enemy. There's also the addition of the Cathedral of Oblivion, a sort of mini dungeon that occasionally spawns out of nowhere on the map. It's a short challenge for those feeling up to pushing their party to the limits.

The skills and battle roles definitely satisfy my need to have something to collect and complete in a RPG. The return of the old grind routine, but in more directions than just vertical progression -- something Star Ocean also gets right. Roles that give direction to characters can be leveled up, but leveling those up occasionally unlocks others along the way. While that’s happening, there are skills and specialties to contend with. Skills can be improved upon for characters in battle, while specialties allow you to craft or harvest resources. Trying level them all isn’t easy, and in my time with the game I probably didn’t even see half of them. Managing all of these different attributes and testing them over and over in a game of trial and often derailed me between objectives, but it’s that sort of micromanaging that I enjoy.

Star Ocean’s excels again with its sights and sounds. While many of the environments did feel kind of empty, they were still gorgeous. Star Ocean isn’t very long, but in its short story it introduces you to a variety of scenic masterpieces that are worth stopping and taking in. Angling the camera around for a half hour in different locations became one of my favorite parts of the game.

Sound design in Star Ocean has always been excellent, so it’s no surprise that the soundtrack is enjoyable. I feel it’s at its best during space sequences, but the work as a whole will be one of my favorites of the year. My only complaint is that it suffered from the occasional glitch in scenes with voiced dialogue. More than once, I experienced character’s beginning to cut each other off when they spoke. It happened in a few cutscenes I had to repeat, but I couldn’t recreate the experience every time. Thankfully, I always play with subtitles so I made it through with minimal confusion.

Then of course, there’s the endgame that accompanies the series, which is always the biggest draw. I’ve only just scratched the surface at the time of writing it, so I can’t weigh it heavily, but there’s plenty there to explore and add to the value. When the battle system is the game’s best feature, anything expanding on that is all positive.

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness feels like a solid title that got trapped in old gimmicks. It’s beautiful, but empty. There’s nostalgia, but in the wrong places. I still enjoyed much of my time with it, and I’ll even revisit it soon for the bonus dungeons. So many little things hold Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness back, but there’s still something under the flawed surface that’s worth giving a shot.