Nothing to fear but the Eternal Sphere itself.
My first dive into Square Enix and tri-Ace's Star Ocean series was with the original PlayStation's Star Ocean: The Second Story. It was a near perfect mix of science fiction storytelling, fast paced action-RPG goodness, beautiful 2D art and environments, a large series of worlds to explore, and a sensational soundtrack. Its followup, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time on the PS2 was also heralded for its quality. However, Star Ocean started to drown in itself with the release of The Last Hope on last gen systems, and now it's trying to come up for air with its newest installment, Integrity and Faithlessness. While it does get its head above the waves, the series looks like it's still treading water.
Right away when you compare Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness with other JRPGs being released around the same time or in the coming months, you get the immediate sense that this is as budget as a retail JRPG release on a current-gen HD console can be. Firstly, the story of this Star Ocean's impact left me indifferent at best and bored at worst. This was mostly due in part because the game for the most part lacks cutscenes. Instead, happenings in the story occur in real-time scenes, with you having the ability to slowly saunter around as the other characters pantomime to one another. It comes across as incredibly amateur and disappointing, due to how much the Star Ocean series in the past has loved using CG and specially done cutscenes. It's also annoying because you can't just tap on the confirm button to make the dialogue go faster or even skip most scenes. No, you have to listen to pretty much everything each character says, making repeated play-throughs not likely at least for me.
|Worse than the Ethereal Queen, scenes that you can't skip at all!|
The world of Star Ocean 5 isn't a grand one either. This RPG is a 20-25 affair which has a limited amount of locales to visit, many of which you'll be backtracking to and passing through often just to get to your next destination. The ability to fast travel doesn't unlock until about three-fourths of the way through the game, only exacerbating this issue.
|From strolls through the Coast of Minos...|
|...to leisurely walks through Central Resulia.|
Completed quests earn Fidel's party experience points, currency, an occasional item, and skill points. The latter is spent on upgrading abilities and roles for Fidel and his friends. Abilities are helpful bonuses that can assist in everything from a higher skill level in alchemy, cooking, and compounding, to name a few; better chances for an enemy of a certain type to drop an item upon being defeated; and a better ability to get good stuff from harvest, fishing, or mining spots in the overworld.
|First rule of battle: always face your opponent!|
Battles in general are flashy, real-time affairs where a rock-paper-scissors-like triad system is used. Weak attacks break up strong attacks, strong attacks break up guards, and guards can counter weak attacks. Successfully using the correct attack or guard at the right time slightly raises something called the Reserve Gauge. Fill it up enough and you can use a powerful Rush Attack. However, when Star Ocean 5 eventually has Fidel's party at a full seven member limit, trying to see what a foe is about to do with all of the graphical special effects and magic on the battlefield does not come easy. I just ended up using special attacks for the most part, completing ignoring the rock-paper-scissors system altogether. I still ended up filling up the Reserve Gauge regardless, especially when later in the game I could just synthesize and augment weapons that allowed me to fill the Reserve Gauge at an extraordinarily faster pace.
|Man-Eating Tree meets Tree-Killing Man.|
|Miki serves as one of two main spell casters in Fidel's party.|
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is really a game that is late to the party. It's 2016, so its old school styling and tropes, ones that were fine for the era of game it's serving as, don't really fit this more modern era of gaming. Sure, there aren't any random encounters, instead offering battles that occur by engaging or being engaged by the enemy while fighting in the same maps you explore. But instead, there is a lot to not like, such as the cheap-feeling lack of cutscenes, the lack of autosave, the inability to skip most story sequences, getting a game over and then having to sit through the same scene before the boss that annihilated your party (especially one where you have to defend a brain-dead AI teammate), and some sudden difficulty spikes. At the same time, as a fan of games of this ilk, though knowing and dealing with all these negative aspects of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, I ended up enjoying the game overall. It's not at all worth its full MSRP asking price, but if you wait for it to drop a little, I think it's worth delving in to.
[SPC Says: C+]