Star Ocean: Integrity And Faithlessness
Some way into Integrity And Faithlessness, we’re invited to look for something ‘a little off’. We already have a few suggestions, but for the sake of the mission we set them aside and begin the hunt for goodness knows what. Thankfully, our objective quickly becomes less vague, as we’re told to locate a physical impediment where none appears to exist; an invisible wall, in other words. And yet, when an unmistakable ‘no entry’ sign prevents us going farther, our colleagues tell us to search elsewhere. Confused, we trot off in the opposite direction, only to suddenly slow to a trudge. Our companions confirm that this time we’ve found the right barrier, and a hidden doorway is revealed. Bumping into the wrong kind of invisible wall may not be a major problem, but it is symptomatic of the failings of this unusually compact JRPG. It’s a game that promises much more than it can deliver, hinting at a wider world but keeping you firmly within its boundaries at all times. As often as it threatens to break the shackles of convention, it’s just as content to fall in line with JRPG custom, while occasionally lapsing into the genre’s worst habits. And its best ideas are consistently hobbled by inconsistent execution.
The game’s opening moments are a prime example. Though keen to get a move on, the first hour is trial by tutorial box, as the action is crudely interrupted by large text overlays. And while it establishes a likeable, if generic, lead pairing in swordsman Fidel and healer ally Miki, much of the first three hours or so is spent between the same few locations. Having established a conflict between two neighbouring territories, you’re essentially pressed into menial busywork between the more exciting sequences where you’re asked to defend your hometown from invading forces.
Integrity And Faithlessness’s realtime combat is frequently the glue that holds it together – though it’s a binding that’s not always fit for purpose. There’s an appealing effortlessness to random encounters, at least. It’s pacey and accessible, requiring you to simply tap one of two buttons for quick attacks, or to hold them down to spend MP on more powerful moves. Gradually, you’ll unlock better alternatives, giving you a choice of four attacks at any one time, depending on whether you’re firing from range or engaged at close quarters. As your party swells to six, with the ability to switch control to any party member in an instant, you have a wide range of options to deal with any threat.
You might reasonably imagine this would let you pull off spectacular combo strings involving several characters. Think again. In practice, the ability to swap is only useful on rare occasions. If a particular party member is in danger and you’re in no position to toss them a healing item – or your healer is down – then it’s time to assume control and manoeuvre them out of harm’s way. Otherwise, you can simply stick to your favourite hero and whale away. Only during boss fights do you need to think a little more strategically, though this barely amounts to more than ensuring you’ve hoarded enough restoratives and revives. There’s a brief cooldown timer on hitting pause to use items, but it’s short enough that you’ll rarely see more than one HP gauge reduced to zero.
There’s an exception to this in the form of battles that require you to keep someone protected, with enemies naturally turning their full force on the vulnerable. Despite this being a fairly easy game, these can mean game over unless you’re well prepared, which usually amounts to storing up your special meter, and allocating buffs to the right characters. These buffs come from investing points in Roles, which allow you to influence the combat behaviours of the party members you’re not controlling. While you can encourage weaker characters to defend more often and instruct ranged attackers to focus on accuracy over aggression, you can’t prevent them from blundering into an AOE attack. Switching might let you pull someone out of range, though often the character you swapped from will dumbly wander into the gap and take the hit.
Elsewhere, the decision to do away with cutscenes where possible is something of a mixed blessing – which is to say, heaven help us, we actually missed them. A good portion of the story is told as you walk along with others, occasionally coming to a halt within a small radius, with a red barrier appearing should you stray too far from the talker. It’s the JRPG equivalent of Marcus Fenix pressing his fingers to his ear, but worse: unless you keep turning the camera, the cast will deliver their lines while facing away from you and, with no subtitle identifiers, at times you’ll be unsure who’s talking, or who they’re addressing. While the cast are mostly archetypes, they’re likeable enough that you’ll be glad when it reverts to form and finally brings its camera closer to their doe-eyed faces – even if a verbose script leads to moments of unintended comedy.
Hackneyed though it is, the central thread of a young girl with mysterious powers tries hard to haul you through to the end. But too often Integrity And Faithlessness is simply a drag, nowhere more so than the moment a tacit promise of new worlds is revealed to be cruel chicanery. True, that’s almost certainly the result of ambition colliding with budgetary constraints; likewise, the way attractive character models clip through one another, and the sumptuous scenery that occasionally masks some pretty rudimentary textures and geometry. But the disappointment lingers all the same. A series whose name promises much has under-delivered once again: this galactic adventure is far too keen to keep you earthbound.
As often as it threatens to break the shackles of convention, it’s just as content to fall in line with JRPG custom