Star Ocean: The Last Hope featured some of the most embarrassing, cringe-worthy dialogue ever heard and that's why we were surprised when Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness wasn't as bad in this regard. Now, however, it has slipped into the realms of mediocre rather than the comically awkward.
The premise of the story is simple; childhood friends Fidel and Miki live in a village that comes under attack from a band of raiders. The couple goes to the capital to plead for help, but since the nation is at war with its neighbouring country to the west there's no help to be had. While on their way they see a mysterious "spaceship" crash, a little girl stepping out of the vessel with alien figures following. Soon it is revealed that the girl, Relia, possesses mysterious powers and Fidel and Miki focus on solving the mystery. On their quest for truth they come across a bunch of colourful characters, but exactly why many of them decide to join you and risk their lives for a random girl who barely speaks is unclear; the game doesn't waste much time on trivial matters such as motive or fleshing out characters.
Developer Tri-Ace have tried to weave dialogue and events seamlessly into the gameplay. There's seldom any traditional cutscenes and more often than not the characters slow down and talk among themselves instead. In many scenes they stand in a ring formation to talk while the player gets to move about in a locked walking tempo, an invisible barrier preventing you from moving too far from the conversation. It's nice that Tri-Ace is trying something new but as a result we find ourselves even more disconnected from the story. Most of the time we don't even know who's speaking and there's never ever any sense of drama when the characters for the most part just stand, walk or leans forward and babble on with barely distinguishable facial expressions.
Tri-Ace has built a decent visual front, however. The game is far from Uncharted 4: A Thief's End visually, but it runs smoothly at 60 frames per second and offers a polished façade. The environments would have benefited greatly from a little more detail, but the designs of the characters, monsters and some of the locations elevate the overall impressions of the visuals.
The battle system is passable and is similar to Final Fantasy XII and any "Tales of" title in the sense that you control one of the characters but can switch between them with a simple button press. There are different roles for you to learn how to use them and when it is best to do so. Someone is assigned the role of healer, another is a warrior. The roles are - at least according to the game - supposed to make it possible for you to customise the characters behavioural patterns during the fights, but we can't say that it's particularly functional in practice when the going gets rough. Even if you put a character on defence they persist with acting like a battering ram in the next brawl.
The game's tutorial keeps emphasising its rock-paper-scissors principle where a certain attack is effective against another, that in turn is effective on a third. In the chaos that ensues when seven characters are unleashed at the same time and the screen explodes into a barrage of lighting effects, however, it's impossible to play in accordance to some rock-papers-scissors concept. Instead it gets all hack n' slashy, and admittedly it often works just as well. Despite the mechanics being somewhat superficial and kind of broken the combat is somewhat entertaining. The transitions between exploring and skull bashing is lightning fast and the battles keep a high pace, look good and often feeling rewarding enough.
Among the game's most annoying aspects are some of the boss fights and when your party has to protect a specific character from biting the dust. In Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness the task of protecting an NPC is handed out frequently as they for example difuse a bomb or open a door. The mere concept is annoying, but Tri-Ace manages to make it even nastier by letting the boss rush the character that isn't supposed to die. Even more frustrating is the fact that several of these moments follow after a long, boring and unskippable dialogue sequence. If you die - or rather, if the character that isn't allowed to die dies - you have to suffer through that same talking again. It becomes tedious quickly, to say the least.
To put this into car terms you could look upon Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness as one would a boring old Saab. It works, it takes us there, but the actual travel experience is pretty uncomfortable and there's neither air conditioning nor radio. Translated into gaming terminology; the visuals are okay, the controls are passable, the music typically JRPG cosy and the battle system is solid. At the same time the game is hindered by a kamikaze AI that removes any kind of depth. There's all too much back tracking where you have to run back and forth through the same corridor (disguised as a forest or canyon) and the story and characters are less than captivating.
In the end, there's really only one thing that truly stands out here: the title, Integrity and Faithlessness. It's a hideous title and a definite contender to "ugliest title of the year" along with Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue. And that should say all you need know about the game in its entirety, really. That the subtitle is the most unique thing about it.
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