Star Ocean: In­tegrity And Faith­less­ness

EDGE - - GAMES -

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

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