"Integrity and Faithlessness is, for better or worse, a Star Ocean title through and through."
Here just in time to kick off a summer filled with RPGs, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness marks tri-Ace's long-awaited return to the world of full-length console game development. Set on the medieval planet of Faykreed, Integrity and Faithlessness tells the story of childhood friends Fidel and Miki who, on an operation to defend their village of Sthal from a ruthless bandit group, end up in custody of a mysterious little girl named Relia, able to command powerful magic the likes of which the world has never seen before. I've gotten through the first few chapters of the game, and while there's still a road stretching out between me and the end credits, I wanted to fill you in on what I've seen so far.
The early chapters of Integrity and Faithlessness are a fairly linear affair, content to confine Fidel and Friends to a relatively small area that must be traversed several times. After learning of the encroaching bandit threat, Sthal's mayor sends Fidel and Miki off to the capital of Resulia to recruit the assistance of the military. To do this, I had to travel up a straightforward rocky area called the Dakav Footpath. Once my plea for help reached the capital and I was joined by elite soldier Victor, it was back down the Dakav, then back up it under the cover of darkness to wipe out the bandits, then back down again to report our success to the mayor, and finally back up it a fifth time in search of the next plot beat in a neighboring town. The Dakav, though straightforward, was pretty time-consuming to traverse, so these constant trips felt a little excessive.
Although constant toing and froing quickly wears out its welcome, the same can't be said for the game's battle system, which improves on the series' trademark action-based combat. Fighting in Integrity and Faithlessness feels a little bit slower than past Star Ocean titles, but also feels far more deliberate and balanced. Instead of simply buzzing around the field frantically mashing buttons to inflict damage as quickly as possible, Integrity and Faithlessness employs a sort of Rock Paper Scissors system in which each type of attack can be countered with the correct action. Quick attacks can interrupt strong attacks, strong attacks can break guard, and guarding can parry and riposte quick attacks. Players also have access to a quickstep dodge, to quickly get out of the way of a strong attack that can't be interrupted in time.
So far, I've had a lot of fun observing my foes to learn how best to deal with them, though the battlefield does tend to get obscured with the high number of busy lighting effects that fire off when most actions are taken. In a first for the series, battle transitions are seamless and take place on the map, à la Tales of Zestiria
. And, much like that game, this leads to the pitfall of cramped battlefields and a hyperactive camera when enemies are encountered in close confines. In the time I've spent with Integrity and Faithlessness thus far, the camera has proven to be one of the most terrifying foes of all.
On my way to the capital, I encountered a swirling, black vortex smack dab in the middle of a field. Curious, I wandered up to it and found myself transported to the Cathedral of Oblivion, a challenge arena that warned me if I went any further, I wouldn't be able to leave until completing it. I briefly wondered how bad it could really be, before I decided to throw caution to the wind and head inside.
My first challenge was against a group of scrub enemies who I'd fought hours earlier and were at least ten levels below me. I made quick work of them and moved on to the second round, which provided me with an equally effortless win. The third (and assumedly final) challenge was heralded by a shift in music to a remix of the Valkyrie Profile battle theme, and pitted me against an eldritch monstrosity loaded to the gills with laser beam-shooting eyeballs and grabby tentacles. This beast, the appropriately named Eyebalone (har har), proved to be several magnitudes more powerful than my team of four, who found themselves made short work of by its rapid area-of-effect attacks.
As my last man standing fell to his knees, it dawned on me that I was several hours in between save points, and wondered what penalty my curiosity would infer. Unfortunately for me, death in Integrity and Faithlessness means a trip back to the title screen. I cursed, not knowing who to blame. Integrity and Faithlessness is, for better or worse, a Star Ocean title through and through.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is available now. Be sure to check back soon for our full review.
"RPG fans can judge for themselves when the game comes out at the end of the month."
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness comes out at the end of this month, but that didn't stop Square Enix from featuring it at their E3 booth this year. Based on my brief time with the game, I will say that the fifth installment is a valiant attempt to revive a former flagship series, but largely falls short. When I picked up the game, Fidel and friends were traveling through an abandoned cave to join a military operation against an invading alien race. My party of four consisted of two swordsmen, Fidel and Victor, and two mages, Miki and Fiore. Between the four of them, combat was hectic and a little confusing. It probably did not help that I dropped in mid-game with no tutorial, but in reality the system is not that complicated; melee characters can alternate between guarding, weak and strong attacks, and two special attacks. Fighters earn bonuses for executing into their next attack early, called cancel bonuses, but that is really all there is to it. What makes combat confusing is the overly flashy effects and the complete lack of feedback about how attacks are landing. I often lost Fidel in a sea of blue explosions and had to use my best guess of when to guard or attack.
Combat was even more disorienting when I joined up with the military unit and my two remaining party members. It quickly devolved into a button-mashing free-for-all that I only survived thanks to my overpowered demo characters.
Other systems seem watered down as well. Crafting is no longer a complex matrix of intertwined skills; now it is simply a matter of dumping skill points into the relevant crafting category. Battle augmentations take the form of combat roles, but they are similarly scaled-down to one-dimensional stat boosts. For example, the Avian Fighter role improves attacks against birds, while Guardian improves defense. There is little more to do besides level up these skills for more effective boosts.
It sounds strange to say, but Star Ocean 5 has a reminiscent feeling not of prior Star Ocean games, but of Valkyrie Profile, and this undertone does not work in its favor. The function of combat roles is very similar to the runes available in Silmeria, and even the delay between button input and attacks feels like Valkyrie Profile. While Valkyrie Profile and Star Ocean are wonderful games individually, this half-hearted mash-up of the two is a disappointing hybrid. It lacks the thoughtful planning of Valkyrie Profile and the fast-paced action of prior Star Oceans. While the characters and story may be likeable to some, overall they are held back by reliance on familiar archetypes and tropes. I was not terribly pleased with my time on Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, but RPG fans can judge for themselves when the game comes out at the end of the month.
"Stringing together combinations of regular and special attacks creates a fast-paced, dynamic environment, particularly with a party of more than six characters. "
The Star Ocean series is a well-loved franchise dating back to the mid-1990s that seemed to have disappeared after the fourth installment in 2009. Then last year, after a six year gap between games, Square Enix's announcement of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness surprised and delighted fans who were eager for another jaunt into Star Ocean's unique mix of science fiction setting and fast-paced combat. With the game scheduled for Japanese release at the end of the month, here is everything we know so far.
Much of the plot remains a mystery, but we do know that the game takes place on a planet called Faykreed (also spelled Faycreed by some outlets) and falls chronologically between the second and third games. Fidel resides in the kingdom of Resulia, a prosperous nation with technology roughly comparable to that of medieval Europe. At some point in the game, a technologically advanced alien race attacks the kingdom, propelling Fidel and his party toward an adventure in space. The motivations for this attack are unknown, but they almost certainly have something to do with a young girl with amnesia and mysterious powers, named Relia.
Although we do not know how or why the protagonists begin their foray into space exploration, screenshots and trailer footage clearly depict them aboard a spacecraft called the Charles De Gaulle. It is unclear, however, which facet of the French historical figure the ship aims to evoke: the general, the leader of the French resistance, or the champion of French political and economic power. The ship belongs to the Pangalactic Federation and is equipped for both long-term exploration and military combat. Somehow, members of Fidel's party, specifically the signeturgy (magic) user Fiore, are able to pilot it, but we have no information about how it relates to the sinister looking aliens who attack Faykreed.
Fidel Camus: The 23 year old, blue-haired protagonist. Fidel is a son of a famous Resulian swordsman and makes his living as a fencing instructor. Although he cannot use signeturgy, he can expend MP to unleash powerful special moves such as Cyclone Blade, Mirror Blade, and Shotgun Bolt.
Miki Sauvester: The 18 year old childhood friend of Fidel who possesses the rare ability among signeturgy users of healing. For example, her Reserve Rush (super move) is called Arcadia, and it heals the entire party and lifts all status ailments.
Emerson: A wanderer with a loud mouth and a passion for booze and women. This 41 year old fights with a crossbow and dresses like an itinerant medicine man, but is in reality nothing of the sort. His reasons for traveling are unknown, but he goes everywhere with his companion Anne.
Anne: Emerson's 28 year old, level-headed travel companion who often finds herself having to keep him in check. She is intelligent and analytical, yet kind. She also has a deep love of cats. When it comes time to fight, she can blow her enemies away with her fists.
Victor Oakville: The captain of a Resulian special forces unit and a practitioner of the same school of swordsmanship as Fidel. Though a dutiful soldier, he is conflicted over the prospect of taking another human life in war.
Fiore Brunelli: Even at the young age of 25, Fiore is one of the most powerful mages on Faykreed and a member of the prestigious Langdauq Royal Signeturgy Research Institute.
Relia (also spelled Lilia): This mysterious young girl with amnesia seems to exist at the center of the conflict in Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, but she is not a playable character. She does, however, support the party with powerful abilities that can freeze enemies in place or buff her friends' stats. She comes to view Miki as a maternal figure, and travels with the party to unlock her memories.
Welch Vineyard: Welch is a recurring character in the Star Ocean franchise introduced in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time and retconned into the remakes of the first two games. This time around, she operates an atelier and introduces the party to the wonderful world of item crafting.
Star Ocean is known for its involved and entertaining systems, and Integrity and Faithlessness appears to continue that trend in both the item crafting and Private Action mechanics.
Crafting broadly falls into three categories: Recipe Synthesis, Creative Synthesis, and Equipment Enhancement.
Recipe Synthesis is the classic Star Ocean method of creating items. It can be further broken down into seven types:
- Mixtures: crafting recovery and attack items
- Handicrafts: crafting other types of recovery and attack items with additional effects
- Smithing: crafting weapons and armor
- Craftsmanship: crafting accessories
- Cooking: crafting food to heal or boost stats
- Writing: crafting books or cards that teach new skills
- Alchemy: crafting additional recipes
Creative Synthesis allows players to combine up to six items for a chance a random (and hopefully better) item.
Equipment Enhancement lets players improve weapons and armor, imparting specific attributes based on the materials used.
The aforementioned Private Actions are an opportunity to speak more intimately with the rest of your party and build relationships, quantified as "Affection." Through Private Actions, you will interact with your companions and have a chance to build (or lose) affection through your responses. Experiencing certain Private Actions will unlock others later on in the story, and some will unlock automatically if your affection level is high enough. Players can initiate a Private Action by finding a golden circle with a whistle in a town or other locale. They will then find other party members disbursed throughout the location, and under the right conditions will carry out the Private Action.
Affection levels will have broad impacts outside of the Private Action system. Not only do they influence the content of conversations, but they help in combat too. When players with high affection levels fight together and one is KO'd, the other will get a large boost in attack power. Affection can also unlock new combat roles and influence abilities. Ultimately, Affection can alter the game's ending, as well.
Combat in Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness appears to build upon the success of its predecessors. On the battlefield, players are free to roam about and attack from whatever angle they see fit. They can also use a sidestep to set up parries and counterattacks, similar to Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Stringing together combinations of regular and special attacks creates a fast-paced, dynamic environment, particularly with a party of more than six characters. In fact, at times Fidel and friends will participate in large scale battles between the kingdoms of Resulia and Trei'kur, and the battlefield will expand even further.
Fighting is not just about beating the enemy over the head with Fidel's sword and shiny special attacks, of course. Each character can be assigned a "Role" in battle that will boost certain attributes and influence allied AI. There are two broad categories, Attack and Defense, and each role will have an ability boosting "Factor." For example, among the attack roles, Attacker will boost attack by four and prioritize the number of hits, Caster grants +4 INT and focuses on skills, Bazaar will target enemies that chip away at you, and Fighter will focus entirely on attacking to the detriment of defense. Roles can specialize in attack, defense, recovery, support, and there is even a special one that improves abilities. They will also level up with use, improving their Factors.
Characters can also initiate a unique "Guard Counter," attack. For example, Miki's Guard Counter, Overwhelm, pushes the enemy back with a shockwave creating an opportunity for a spell, whereas Fiore's, F-Punish, slaps the enemy and stuns them. Under the right conditions, characters can use a super move called a Reserve Rush, however it is not currently known how these attacks come about.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness appears to hit all the right notes for a triple-A JRPG from Square Enix. Though the characters seem to be stuck in the same familiar tropes and clichés (the childhood friend, the sexpot, the amnesiac little girl), only time and impending release will tell whether the storytelling can transcend these constraints or whether the combat and other gameplay systems will render them moot. Japanese gamers will find out on March 31st, while those of us in the West must wait until later this year.