I feel that the Star Ocean brand has been somewhat forgotten in the wealth of fantasy and Japanese RPG’s released throughout the past few years as it was seven years ago that its 4th entry in the series, Last Hope, was released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. While Last Hope wasn’t a hit commercially, it did see some favorable reviews and yet the franchise went into a slight hibernation. Years went by before there would be any talk of another Star Ocean game in production, and while Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is enjoyable, it looks and plays slightly outdated.
While I had a great time with Star Ocean: IAF, the title is average at best. The phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ is fitting here as while nothing about this game is bad in any real way, it just doesn’t excel or innovate despite the gap in time since the last installment. While the title is available on PS3 and PS4, only Japan has access to the PS3 version.
The PlayStation 4 has been a port-to system for a great deal of its Japanese made RPG’s. Tales of Zestiria, Sword Art Online: Lost Song, and Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth are just a few of the titles on PS4 that are ports from either a PS3, Vita or PSP version of their respective games. Star Ocean: IAF is another one of those ports and it shows. While the PS4 version does look better than the PS3 version, you’d be hard pressed to tell unless you had them side by side, and even then it can be difficult to see the differences.
Visually the game is alright, with nothing much here to praise or complain about. Characters have a very soft look to them, albeit a bit simplistic, but it does capture their anime designs well. I still prefer a cel shaded look for anime characters ala Guilty Gear Xrd, but the 3D models here are fairly OK considering this is a port of a PlayStation 3 game. Characters have fairly decent range in their facial expressions even if the models themselves aren’t detailed enough to fully let them emote like most current gen games. Combat attacks are flashy and can often hide the battles themselves, I can’t tell you how many times my character was lost in the fight due to so much going on.
Environments themselves are far simpler in design than the characters and look extremely dated. Some levels at night make it rather hard to see your character well, and during battles with all the effects, it can be occasionally frustrating. The level structure is your standard hallway-to-box and then hallway again type design, having you run into a loading zone to get to the next area. Those looking for any type of open world style design won’t find that here.
Star Ocean: IAF has a fantastic cast of characters that will make up your 7 member party.
- Fidel Camuze: The son of a renowned Resulian swordsman. He feels that he sometimes lives in the shadow of his all important father. Fidel transformed the chore of swordsmanship training into his passion and quickly became one of the most talented fighters in the region. He is a very caring person who will stop at nothing to protect his friends.
- Mika Sauvester: Orphaned very young, she grew up with Fidel and his family. Mika considers Fidel as a bit of an older brother, but is starting to have some strong feelings for him as well. Mika has the ability to wield magic, a force called: Signeturgy. As a Signeturge, she has signs imbued on her back, which activate magical powers. Despite the danger surrounding her village, Mika insists that she be by Fidel’s side, no matter the cost.
- Victor Oakville: A student of Fidel’s father, he is the leader of the King’s Chosen, an elite force of the Central Resulian Army. He values the lives of those he is sworn to protect and only resorts to fighting should it be required. He is the first member to join Fidel and Mika as they travel to the Capital to request support to help their village from being attacked.
- Fiore Brunelli: While also known as Lady Brunelli, and hailing from the Eastern Lands, she was born and raised in Santeroule, the capital nation for Signeturgy. She is also a researcher for the Royal Institute of Signeturgy Studies. She is probably the most gifted of all who wield the power of Signeturgy, while still looking to learn more about the subject. Her outfit is designed to be able to show off her imbued signets through her leggings and mini-skirt.
- Emmerson: While coming across as a bit of a womanizer, Emmerson is actually a very capable fighter who looks to protect all that follow him. He is very protective of Relia and travels the land with Anne. Emmerson uses tech not seen by Fidel and his friends and is instrumental in assisting with uncovering the truth behind Relia.
- Anne: A master of martial arts, learning the skill from her military trade. A top of her class graduate, she is a force to be reckoned with. She is extremely intelligent and both her and Emmerson hide something from the group, at first.
- Relia: While you are unable to play as Relia, or equip weapons to her, she is the 7th member of your group. Relia cares very much for everyone in the party and looks to Fidel and Mika like a daughter would to her parents. Not much is known about her, and in fact, she is even clueless about her origins. Mysterious forces are tracking her down and you’ll spend the majority of the game uncovering those secrets.
I really enjoyed this cast of characters and found that each one brought something great to this game. I will say that Fidel can come across a bit generic some of the time, but that is typical in anime games as the template for male hero is usually copied and pasted from game to game. You can chat with the group between missions in what are called Private Actions, and Mika has some of the best conversations, which are usually all about food. Emmerson is usually talking about women, and Fiore is always shopping for someone.
You can also have moments where you will answer questions and this builds affinity with certain party members. Depending on who has the highest affinity with Fidel by the end of the game will share in a special cutscene. My favorite character in the game was Fiore, not just in looks, but in the way she was written. Her dialogue was great and I enjoyed the moments in the game when something would surprise or impress her. I also enjoyed Anne and Emmerson as they would often be in the corner during cutscenes having their own little conversations. There is so much to learn about the characters and their pasts during the 30 hour adventure.
The main story of Star Ocean: IAF is about Relia, and the mysteries regarding her origin. You’ll learn all about Relia, and the truth’s about her on your adventure as you explore a fairly decent size map. I found it rather odd that there is no over world map, so trying to find locations outside the local map can be a nightmare. Once you unlock fast travel, it solves this issue only somewhat. Early on for the first few hours, you’ll be tackling the local wars that plague Fidel’s village and some larger scale skirmishes that threaten the Capital. In the end, most of the conflict throughout the adventure is the result of mysterious forces attempting to capture Relia and use her unknown power for their own needs.
Combat here is extremely fun, but can be a bit too chaotic sometimes. The battlefield is a real-time one, with basic attacks and special moves being your main method of dishing out damage. You can swap back and forth between characters in battle should you not be a fan of the basic Fidel. Once I unlocked Anne and some of her moves, she was the only character I would usually play as, she’s just a beast with her martial arts skills. You press left or right to swap between the characters and should you not want a character acting out, you can set them to manual, but I’m not sure why you would want to do that. Often I would switch to Mika to heal, then swap back between each character pulling off a quick move and then swapping back to Anne.
What’s great about the combat system is how fluid the menus are during this. You can instantly get Mika to heal and before the animation starts you can swap to Fidel, pull off a move, swap to Victor and use an item and then back to Mika as she’s just finished the animation. It makes quick heal a breeze and a true highlight of how fun this game can be. You can pause battle at any time with the Triangle button to use an item, change your moves, select healing spells or a variety of other things, and while this menu is up you can also swap to another character, making battles less cumbersome than swapping back and forth during tough moments.
Each special attack your character gains is from some sort of book. The same book can work for different characters, so picking and choosing who gets an upgrade can be difficult. Sometimes the books will upgrade that attack as well to make it more effective. Certain characters are limited to physical attacks like Victor and Fidel, where other characters like Fiore and Mika who also have special attacks, but also have access to the game’s magic system: Signeturgy.
Signeturgy is a huge factor into the game’s story as it is a special type of magic that is imbued into an individual at a certain age and is represented by marks on the body, which is one reason for Fiore’s outfit design. These Signeturgical spells are things like Healing, Reviving and Status removers. You can also find Signet cards that will allow non-signeturgical characters to use those spells without knowing them or even being able to wield Signeturgy in the first place.
As you battle you earn battle exp to unleash a mega attack called Reserve Rushes. These are attacks that each character can perform depending on the situation. Mika’s Rush will heal party members depending on how much Rush is built up, and other characters merely strike with a big attack or boost certain stats.
Each character will also accept four different Roles to be applied to them. These serve like AI commands. The Heal Role will make a character instantly use a healing spell when characters take damage and Sage will reduce the time needed to cast spells. So while equipping these to characters will determine how they act in battle, they often come with perks that make them even more enticing. There are over 100 of these to unlock in the game. You’ll use SP which you earn after defeating enemies to purchase these Roles. You can level up most of these Roles as well and make their effects more potent. Some Roles can only be discovered by leveling up certain Roles, and some are found by completing side quests.
Aside from spending a ton of SP on Roles, you also have Specialties to unlock as well. These are mostly passive effects like having more loot drop from certain enemy types, raising your crafting or creation skills, summoning more enemies and unlocking locked chests you find around the map. Most of these, like the Roles, can be leveled up to gain more from their effects.
Once you complete the main game you can back track from the final encounter from the save point just before the final battle, and fast travel back to your ship. You can then play through The Maze of Tribulations. This is a challenging dungeon crawl that aims at testing the player’s mettle. You’ll face off against a lot of bosses, with some of them being from prior Star Ocean games like Gabriel Celeste and The Ethereal Queen. You can also get a minor taste of this style of challenge with the Cathedral challenges you’ll find here and there throughout the main game.
Running animations for Fidel are awful, with the whole set of running animations being a mere few frames repeating. The whole loop of running makes it look jerky and off, like he’s limping really fast. While you can switch to another fighter in battle, it will always reset back to Fidel once the battle ends, but when another battle starts up, it will instantly go back to the last fighter used, and sometimes that means you will be behind the battle line. This wouldn’t be a huge issue, but once you are behind the battle line, it will start to escape the battle, and I can’t tell you how many dozens and dozens of times that I accidentally escaped battle by this method alone. It’s frustrating that you cannot just run around as someone other than Fidel.
The camera is also really bad and those who experience motion sickness should avoid the game. Youtube video’s of the shaking camera are everywhere and upon uploading your video, the social video service will actually ask to fix your video because it found it too shaky. It didn’t bother me too much, but once you see it, you can’t un-see it. There is also a weird red ring that pops up when you can’t access a section of the map during a story cutscene, but most of them last just a few seconds and feel like they don’t do much than block you from a few feet behind story moments. Most of the time they don’t really get in the way, but some segments of the story, they just seem to block you for no reason what-so-ever.
As is usual in JRPG’s the saving system is usually some colored crystal that is placed in key sections that you interact with to save. Here in Star Ocean: IAF it is blue. When story sections or parts of the game where you are technically in mid-battle, it will prevent you from saving. There is a part later on where you are defeated and you retreat back to the inn to lick your wounds, and as you leave the room to go back into battle, the save spot is red, meaning you cannot save at this time, and this is after a small battle and a solid 5 minute cutscene. The boss battle that follows is painfully hard and I must have died half a dozen times, and therefore, had to watch that same cutscene over and over again.
Which brings me to the final issue I have with the game, the random spikes in difficulty. Most of the game is easy enough to fight through while still being challenging enough to keep you on your toes, but some bosses, and some basic enemies just prove to be far too difficult. The boss fight I just mentioned is one of those, as are the flying enemies in the sci-fi looking base. They have lasers that just destroy your characters and if your defense is not terribly impressive, you’ll see them drop each party member in just a few shots. I recommend air slashes like Anne has to deal with them. It was actually here that I fell in love with Anne’s attacks.
While Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness isn’t revolutionary or particularly innovative, it is still enjoyable thanks to its cast of characters, some great battles and a fun combat system. There are definitely issues within the game that really impact how fun the title can be, and how JRPG’s themselves just haven’t changed with the times. The Roles can be interesting but seem to be just covering for the poor AI your teammates have. The story is decent but at times feels lost in the overall abundance of side quests that fill your quest log like crazy. I did have a good time with Star Ocean and will jump right back in to tackle the endgame dungeons and experience all the private action moments between the cast. If you are looking to scratch that JRPG itch before Final Fantasy XV drops in September, this may help with that wait.