By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Star Ocean is back! It’s been a couple of years, but now we have “Integrity and Faithlessness,” a Tri-Ace game released by Square-Enix. While I’m tremendously glad that it’s on the Playstation 4, my big complaint, probably my biggest one, is that it was also put on the PS3. A friend said to me that “Japan thinks the PS4 is a myth” and so keeps producing AAA titles for the PS3. This means the quality of the current-gen must suffer for the last gen. While yes, the PS3 was a lovely console, there are little things that push it back from being a 5-star game visually. The background looks gorgeous, but I don’t feel like I can ever reach it. It feels like it’s just painted there, no matter how huge some of the maps are. But the Star Ocean franchise is older than some might think. The original was released on the Super Famicom, not on the Super Nintendo. It wasn’t until the Sony Playstation that we got a Star Ocean , but the original was remade for the PSP; it’s really a fantastic series that blends fantasy and science-fiction in a pleasant and appealing way.
This is again, a beautiful RPG. While you spend a lot of time walking, at least you have a very striking view of the world. It’s empty, huge plains and things like that, but they are wonderful to look at, and it’s not like you get buzzed out of it suddenly for a fight [which we will get to]. While visually appealing, the draw distance seems a bit poor. Though I can see the harvest spots on the map, you won’t see them until they’re practically in your face. It’s a bit easier to see enemy packs though. While it is a little on the shorter side compared to current RPGs, I did enjoy the story a great deal. There’s going to be the argument that “It’s linear! It’s linear!” and yeah it is. It’s FFXIII-1-2: Hallway Simulator. Oh my God, if I had a nickel for how many times I had to run back from one area to another, across two or so zones, then back through them again… Eventually though you get a really cool starship, but it’s not like you get to travel the stars and go to other planets. Nope, it’s just an HQ. I was a little bummed there wasn’t much, if any of a world map – just zones to traverse, but that’s a personal preference.
As far as I see, the game shines with how combat works. While “simpler” than Star Ocean: The Last Hope, I love the most how it seamlessly shifts between combat and exploring. There’s only the barest moment between the end of combat and walking again. Also having up to seven party members attacking at once results in some fast-paced non-stop action. You control the main character, Fidel Camuze, but if you’d like you can use the direction keys to swap between the other characters to activate items, abilities, or simply a moveset that you prefer over his. You can only have two main abilities to activate at once though, defaulted to the Circle/X buttons, though technically you have four. You have two to activate in short range and two from long range. Reserve Rush is a really cool system though, where you have a meter on the side of the screen. It builds when you gain exp/fol, when you parry attacks, et cetera. However, enemies can lower the gauge by hitting you, knocking you down and things like that. Combat was easily my favorite part of this game. While it’s hard to use such a massive cast at once, it was certainly never dull.
Proper use of the Guard ability is key, from canceling abilities you didn’t mean to use to parrying attacks from enemies. But be careful, trying to parry a heavy hit will likely just knock you down and leave you prone. You can tell a hit will be heavy by the glowing blue flames. I also highly recommend when you acquire skillbooks to upgrade/learn new skills; Pay very close attention to who you are going to give them to, as there are no redos, and they are not infinite. But there IS something tactical and clever about the combat system. There’s a Cancel System in place. Your normal attacks are X and O [Light/Strong], but you can cancel attacks into other ones, provided the attack is different. So you could, if you want, Special -> Special -> Reserve Rush 1 – Reserve Rush 1! Each time you cancel there’s bonus damage, up to 200% [Five cancels total allowed per combo]. You will definitely want to versus certain bosses. Remember, not all specials have the same speed, and for optional bosses/superbosses/encounters where you might be underpowered, this is a technique to be aware of. I like to build a few quick hits, into a fast skill, and end with a heavy Reserve Rush for tons of damage.
While we’re on the subject of combos and customization, you can completely swap how your characters play on the fly, mid combat! Just pause and go to the customization/roles options. Upside: So many cool passives you can equip to characters, up to four at once. From actual “roles” like Defender, Ace, Attacker, Healer to special ones you can unlock by spending crystals to level the current ones up, you have plenty of variety to fully customize your team. However, you can only have one of these each and only one per character, so you can’t make everyone “Ace, Tank, Attacker, Defender” and just mop people up. Some of these passives give bonuses to attack, attack speed, intelligence, et cetera. It adds a level of strategy and thought to how you prepare your characters for any situation. I can appreciate that. You can also use items this way, and items are not only powerful, they’re pretty damn important. A lot of the healing items are found in the wild using the “Harvest” abilities you can unlock as you progress. There’s fishing, harvesting, cooking, and lots lots more. The harvest-style abilities allow you to also gain Fol, Crystals, Experience, and the items you were after. I spent time leveling these early so I could farm items for crafting while I was out in the world grinding.
But immersion… while not the biggest issue it certainly rounds out the top 5. You just never feel drawn in. While I enjoyed the immediate dip right into combat, having four to seven characters running around behind you, slapping into each other sort of bothered me. Not being able to run up simple hills because of hit detection or design really started to irk me. That’s one of the things that would have been addressed outside of the PS3 release. Whenever you come across a character that is important to the story, you go from a dead run, to incredibly slow RP walk. You know the walk. Step by step, pace by pace. You can’t skip cutscenes that I saw, and it can be infuriating if you have to watch them more than once or twice. Some of the dialogue, but not a lot, slurred together. The voice acting was good though. The story, though short, did hold my attention, and the character interaction was for the most part quite good.
Beyond The Stars
Game Score: Great; beyond its flaws lie gold.
I love the Star Ocean franchise, I really do. A lot of other folks have been lambasting it verbally as absolute shit, and I think those people are really being unfair. It’s fun. You don’t have to break the mold to have a good time. It’s not perfect even in the slightest, but can you think of a perfect RPG? I know I can’t. Even my favorite games have flaws. The AI is not as strong as it could be, and that can make juggling characters an absolute chore. Necessary, but a chore nonetheless. The maps are breathtaking and large, but you will backtrack across them time, and time, and time, and time again. Sure, there are things that aren’t amazing about Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, but it’s still far and away the best JRPG that exists on the PS4 right now. I may disagree with the PS3 release, but I understand it: The PS3 sold/sells better than the PS4 overseas, so games for it still make sense. For what the team had to work with, they put together a fun title with lots of poignant moments, solid combat, and overall a fun experience.
+ Excellent Combat.
+ Interesting characters/development.
+ Rush and Role Systems are really quite good.
- A bit short on the storyline.
- Having it on PS3 may have watered down the PS4 version.
- Walking Forever. You will always backtrack.