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Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Japan only), PlayStation 4 (review platform)
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is an unfinished game. Not in the way you might have heard before; as a complete product that is 20 hours long (far too short for a JRPG of this type, and in the Star Ocean series to boot) and not in the way that Drakengard 3 was unfinished; that game only needed a few bug fixes, a bit of optimisation and a budget to speak of….No.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is a completely unfinished game.
I am going to try and keep this review from becoming a tedious list of things that are wrong with the game. But that task, I feel will be almost as difficult as accepting that no less than three of my favourite JRPG series’ have now been crushed into the dirt by the awful business practices of Square Enix.
This 5th and worst entry in the Star Ocean series, is a perfect storm of bad ideas. What is clear very early on, is that developers Tri-Ace did not implement a single idea in to Star Ocean 5 that other games in the series didn’t do significantly better. The combat being the biggest issue & perhaps the most important, so I’ll start there…Prepare to spend 90% of your time in battle tapping X then O then back to X. These are light and heavy attacks, and both your characters and the enemies can use them as well as block with Square.
Light interrupts heavy, heavy breaks a guard and guarding allows a counter when hit with light attacks. The problem is, the enemy AI is barely functional & animation speeds are incredibly unbalanced. Enemies will not act very often. When they guard, they simply stand there just asking to be hit by a heavy attack. Their light attacks barely take away any HP and guarding is boring because you’re just standing there waiting. Star Ocean 4‘s brilliant timed dodging mechanic is gone. Most frustrating of all, when enemies use heavy attacks, their animations are always faster than pretty much any of your actions. So again, there seems to be no incentive to do anything in battle other than spam your basic attacks and hope the enemy doesn’t use heavy attacks over and over. (They often take the same action over and over) Most enemies can be caught in an infinite loop this way. Enemies like the man eating tree, a major nuisance in Star Ocean 3, can be brought down without it being able to make a single move.
The bonus gauge makes a return. But while you were given different bonuses for performing different actions and mixing up your battle styles in Star Ocean 4, in this game the gauge gives a gradually building bonus to everything. It goes up when you hit enemies and goes down when you get hit. Again, nowhere near as in depth as it was previously. One addition to the bonus gauge system is the ability to use some of it for powerful ‘reserve rush’ attacks. These attacks are a horrible mess of particle effects. They don’t look good, they are only useful on very rare occasions and I usually prefer the bonus exp gained from not using the gauge.
The simplicity of the combat makes the otherwise decent levelling system of the game rather pointless, along with any tactics that might be derived from the battle skills learned. These battle skills are merely a way to expend MP for a more powerful attack with no special functions beyond this. Movement had a massive role to play in the two previous games, not so much in Integrity and Faithlessness. Moves like ‘side kick’ allowed the player to outmanoeuvre tough enemies, whereas here it seems brute force will always prevail. You may also have been excited at the idea of having six characters partaking in battle at once, but the result is pure audio-visual chaos. The character’s even shout their victory phrases all at once at the end of battle, is this an early access game?
Characters can also be equipped with ‘roles’ which give specific bonuses and according to the game, affect the AI of the computer controlled characters. These roles can be levelled up which eventually unlocks new roles. Abilities such as harvesting and mining are returning features, though these features again feel broken and unfinished as there are no animations in place for them (Star Ocean 4 had these animations!). Harvest points are still just glowing particle effects rather than something that looks tangible, like it’s actually there.
The visuals in general look nowhere near as good as a PS4 game should look. No attempt has been made to craft a world, as landscapes are barren open spaces with seemingly no plant life beyond the hideous grass. Grass that tends to pop in to existence a short distance away. This pop-in is apparent in all areas of the game, take a walk down a town market street and you will see loading textures absolutely everywhere. I’d even go so far as to say that Star Ocean 4 looked better than this game! For a start, the lighting was really striking and unique to each planet. The lighting in Integrity & Faithlessness…well some areas don’t even have lighting. It’s just so bland.
The only decent visual elements are the characters themselves, all of which have really vibrant and varied designs. The doll like facial features have been toned down but the aesthetic of the character design is classic Star Ocean.You may have heard of the censorship made to Miki’s underwear. It is completely baffling to me that the developers would waste their time thinking about crap like this when the project was clearly short for time as it was. Now let’s take a look at another main character in this game:
I actually really like this character’s design but it just niggles me that time was spent crafting her bouncing breast physics when you can literally clip through any character in the game. Oh, did I not mention that. Yes, something which isn’t even an issue in any Playstation 1 games that I can think of, is an issue in this game.
Enemies are also pretty decent looking, but they are mostly the same enemies we’ve seen in the other games with slightly better textures. There is no visual coherence in enemy placements which you would expect of a PS4 game. What I mean by that, is as you explore the world you come across more open areas with a completely random assortment of enemies in them. It’s all set up superficially for the battles. Ignoring the idea that these are supposed to be the living creatures inhabiting this planet. So immersion breaking. So much squandered potential. Think of what Final Fantasy XII managed to achieve with its seamless combat system and enemy placements. That was 10 years ago, think of how far JRPGs could have come!
The camera in Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is one of the worst I have ever encountered. Not only in battle, where the constant low angle sometimes pushes the player’s view behind objects which completely obscure the screen. But also just walking around, it reacts to every little bump in the ground your character walks over. The battle camera cannot even be changed between low and high angle like in the previous games.
Some of the elements in the game stem from a misguided desire to emulate the polish of Western “AAA” titles. (That’s their excuse at least) What I’m mainly referring to is the decision to scrap cutscenes almost entirely. This achieves nothing, as when dialogue starts you are given a small circle to walk slowly around in. Characters will also sometimes stand in odd positions facing away from the the speaker. The creators claimed they added this “feature” as a way to keep cutscenes from interrupting gameplay, but there is no gameplay. In my opinion, the real reason, is that Tri-Ace were being rushed by Square-Enix and just didn’t have time. They didn’t have to create the animations or think about camera angles. Just have the characters stood there talking. During these scenes, characters will often join the party without really giving a reason why they care about what you’re doing. Or sometimes they’ll leave the party without so much as saying bye…it’s all very confusing.
This of course sucks a lot of the excitement out of the story. Not that the story is particularly good in any way. Again, Tri-Ace’s lack of development time shows here, as the story reads like a first draft from a high school English student. Throughout the game I usually either had no idea what was going on or what the characters were meant to be doing. Or I knew what they were doing but their actions were simply stupid. Prime example: a spaceship crashes near the main character’s home town, they rescue a passed out girl from some people shooting laser beams. They return home and hand the girl over to the doctor. However, nobody questions who this girl is or mentions the giant spaceship that crash landed about a hundred feet from the town gates. This is the planet’s first contact by the way so this isn’t some regular occurence.
Don’t even get me started on the awful names that Tri-Ace come up with for everything: Fidel Camuze, Miki Sauvester, Planet Faykreed…Sthaalh Villiage? The character’s names especially seem to get more ludicrous with each new game. All these characters have really generic American voice actors just like all JRPGs seem to have recently. Japanese audio is an option but comes with problems of its own as the subtitles are poorly translated, full of errors, look low resolution and sometimes clash with other elements of the UI.
The best thing about Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness? Well, the soundtrack by Motoi Sakuraba is great, as always. So fitting to the Star Ocean series and unique to video games in general with its complex time signatures and distinctive instrumentation. But what stands out about Star Ocean 5’s soundtrack?…Nothing! Most of the tracks are note for note re-arrangements of tracks from the other games. Motifs do not match the places they have been used for, because they were composed for places in other games and hurriedly attached to the areas of this game.
I could probably double the length of this review if I wanted to but I can’t see any point. This has been a list of things wrong with the game, because if there was anything to love about it – as a massive fan of the Star Ocean series – I would have found it! Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is a massive insult to the fans from Square Enix, who continue to pump money in to Final Fantasy at the expense of their other franchises. This time though, I feel the developer is also to blame. They could not have possibly believed they were putting out a game worthy of the Star Ocean name. This game is shallow, boring & broken.
Please Tri-Ace, don’t make another one.