Star Ocean: Integrity & Faithlessness is an action RPG developed by tri-Ace and published by Square Enix in 2016 for the PS3 and PS4. The story plays out on the planet Faycreed, where the swordsman Fidel gets caught up in a war influenced by an extraterrestrial force hellbent on reclaiming their lost science experiment.
For being a JRPG with an extensive selection of cutscenes, it's astounding just how small the narrative feels.
There are a few reasons I feel like this. First of all is the fact that the characters are rather down-to-Faycreed, in spite of looking so anime. In fact, they're all sensible and resonable, meaning that there's next to no friction in the party. That's not inherently bad, but there's usually some party drama in these games and the Sci-Fi setting lends itself to differing opinions clashing.
Then there's the fact that almost all of the scenes that actually showcase the character of the characters are cordoned off into the miniscule and numerous Private Actions. These are a staple of the series, but there's an insane amount of them in this game and getting them all demands a ludicrous amount of back-and-forth, since they're time sensitive and must be cleared in certain orders.
And even then, the game opts for quantity over quality. I'd be much more on board if there were fewer of them that involed more characters and weren't just three lines a pop. You can learn some fun things about the characters via the PAs and I'd love to see a few of those things getting some proper screentime. The fact that they hide some of the best roles to equip is also a pisser.
And lastly, the scope of the plot isn't that big. I mean, it concerns the fate of the universe, but it doesn't put down the work for that. There's only a select few locations and characters, with the villains and side characters not even having any screentime outside of short appearances in main story cutscenes. Say what you will about SO3 (I certainly did), but that game at least incrementally increased the scale of the story and introduced enough characters to fit the setting. Mostly.
I'm split on the presentation. The artstyle is extremely ”solid”, making it stand out from other anime games and the character design is rather spiffy. I even warmed up to Fiore's ridiculous chessboard/witch/catgirl suit, as she is pretty cool. Still, one would think she'd have a dope science coat, going by her profession.
Where is falters is in the budgetary department. Most cutscenes play out in gameplay, not unlike Half-Life 2, meaning there's no direction to the cutscenes and people just stand around in their neutral animations. I'm almost certain they did this to hide the terrible mouth animations, which come out in full force during the endgame, where you get some actual cutscenes.
Still, the game is rather colourful and seems to run very close to 60 FPS, so it's not all a wash.
SO5's combat system is a continuation of the series' unique combat. Naturally, it has some ideas of its own as well.
The first thing that stands out is the fact that you have a gigantic active party consisting of 7 members. And to balance this, you're often up against giant hoardes of enemies, which checks out, save for those infernal snow squirrels that could probably kick the shit out of an army.
The game runs on a rock-paper-scissors system. Weak attacks disrupt battle skills, battle skills go through blocks and blocks lead to a counter of weak attacks. The problem here is that the game still uses the rigid weak attacks like in SO3. They're not as terrible, but you're still locked into a somewhat lengthy animation.
And with battles being extremely chaotic and enemies being pretty fast, even when using battle skills (that feel next to impossible to disrupt), it's not really viable to pick the correct type of move to use.
Instead, you're better of spamming battle skills (fueled by the cancel bonus, which I finally figured out in this game) to high heaven, which the game seems to be telling you to do. Not only are they strong, varied and fast, they're also stupidly cheap MP-wise. It's incredibly just how long it takes for you to even burn through half of your MP after a few levels.
The bonus gauge is back once more, this time with a double purpose. It still awards you with more battle rewards if you do well. But it's also the gauge used for the Reserve Rush, a super attack I've felt was missing in the seres up to this point.
Rewarding players who don't need super attacks is cool (if somewhat boring, since super attacks are fun), but there is one big hole in the design. Filling the bonus gauge awards you a considerable exp bost and fillling the gauge takes FOREVER.
I'm talking at least an hour of play (unless you grind against enemies with more predictable patterns). And even then, it's easy to lose in rock-paper-scissors due to luck and lose a decent chunk of the gauge. Frankly, bonus exp is a much better deal than one super attack per hour. I think I used it once in the main game.
As expected of an open-ended JRPG of this nature, there's a bunch of quests to do as you trot along. These are mostly simplistic ”Collect 10 bear asses”-quests, with a few involving something more interesting.
The quests work to a point, but there are a bunch of things that drag them down. Even with the often ludicrous descriptions, the quests really lack character. It's very much a quantity over quality issue, as you only ever meet a few people involved in the quests. I blame the quest board for that.
The game would be better off with half the amount of quests if it meant that the game could make the ones that remain of higher quality with space for your party to showcase some more character.
Even if completing quests isn't stupidly annoying as I feared, going for all of them as they become available involves an unhealthy amount of backtracking across the game's relatively small world. I say relatively, because the areas are few, but pretty huge to run across. Fast-travel helps immensly in this regard, but there's a good chunk of the game where it's unavailable.
As you explore, you find harvest spots of differing types, and as long as you scoop up all the shinies you see, you get enough for many of the game's quests. And thankfully, there isn't a lenghty animation to go through every time!
Enemy drops are a bit more difficult to claim, but since the enemies consist of ”classes”, you can usually get whatever you need as long as you fight the correct enemy class with a level close enough to you. I still think the placement of enemies and the design of their drops (Droprates, who drops what and such.) need some refining, but it isn't terrible.
I get the impression that you're supposed to progress the story normally and cash in whatever quest you can. There's some good rewards to be had, but going for anything besides the ones that award you new specialites isn't really worth it, unless you're dead set on decking out all party members.
These games always feature weird crafting systems, but I think they've nailed it pretty well this time. How, you ask? By throwing away the randomized timewasting and just letting you craft stuff directly!
As soon as you get enough material (and level up the appropriate Speciality), you can craft, augment or synthesize items. That last one is sadly dependant on luck and knowledge of some truly gigantic combination tables, but that doesn't really matter, as creating equipment is rather useless.
Not only is the equipment not better than what you can buy, but there are a bit too many items to collect for crafting. The augmentation system is rather nice though, as you can slap special abilites on equipment for some fun specialization.
And that goes hand in hand with the roles you can assign to characters. These are a combination of stat boosts and tactics that shape how a character works. Any character can equip any role, but there are certain ones they are just built for. You wouldn't want Miki to go around slapping things with her staff when she should be healing, no? It's no Gambit system from FFXII, but it's sure as shit better than the rudimentary tactics in SO3!
There are a bunch of them to unlock (via trophies, PAs and leveling roles) and experiment with, but you can actually buy yourself to them quicker. With ingame currency!
SP is earned alongside exp and can be spent on either Specialites (for a bunch of out-of-battle support stuff) and the aforementioned roles, which get cheaper to buy out the closer you get to leveling them up naturally. It's a fun idea that's almost balanced correctly. Seeing as Specialites are used to increase drops for the most part and roles level up on their own, I find it better to focus on Specialities for the sake of quests. You can even disable exp gain and convert parts of it to SP, if you need it.
Going through the postgame dungeon was an interesting experience. It's much too grindy for my liking, but it shows what the main game could potentially be like and gave me some insight into the game as a whole. It's also approachable with post-final boss levels (unlike the dungeon in SO4), which is nice.
Bosses requires some actual strategy (and a stupid amount of leveling and time), but also depend on some truly unfair attacks that will murder your whole party in a flash unless you manually move them away. Your spellcasters often keep their distance, but it's aggrvating that no one will recognize an incoming murder spell and run away. A generic regroup command would serve the game well.
There also comes a point where it becomes wortwhile to craft weapons. There's even one enemy that requires one specific sword to beat. Hell, it even became viable to make bonus gauge refills. Both of these things make me wonder how the game would work as a dungeoncrawler with focused design (and a lower amount of drops) where you can't buy equipment and have to change around your setup every few bosses to exploit their weaknesses.
Feels like something tri-Ace could pull off if they would just abandon all of the legacy crap the franchise has aquired.