Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness – Flawed Ambition

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is the fifth full entry in the venerable Star Ocean series, which has taken gamers across the galaxy, even through time itself, as you explore the series’ epic storyline. In Star Ocean 5, you play as Fidel Camuze and his childhood friend Miki Sauvester, who come from a remote town on the planet of Faykreed.

Fidel is the son of the kingdom’s military leader and a reputable swordsman in his own right. His town is attacked by bandits, and he has to organize the townspeople to repel their assault. Afterwards, while going to request military aid from the capital, he and Miki stumble upon a strange little girl named Relia, who has no memory of her past. They immediately decide to take care of the lost child, and this decision ripples out, changing their lives and the course of their kingdom – and even their planet – forever.

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A Touching Tale Yet Out of Reach

The characters mentioned above are the cause of most of the joy I got out of this game. Fidel, in particular, was interesting to watch. It was a nice change to have your ‘young protagonist’ not be an untested, untrained child. His standing within his town, and his level of training is apparent from the start – and it avoids that kind of awkward ‘why am I able to beat these bandits/soldiers/etc. when I have no training?’ phase most games have. The relationship between him and his father is a bit weird, and it results in a few awkward scenes during should’ve been one of the game’s key moments. Aside from our three protagonists though, we have a relatively solid cast of side-characters as well. None of them are quite as well-developed as Miki, Fidel, or Relia… but they’re all interesting and they all fit well into the game.

The character story involving Relia,  Miki, and Fidel is fantastic. It creates some very real tension, you get to see some very real bonds building between these characters, and it does a great job of grounding the game. Which is important, since the game tries to tell two intertwined stories and fails miserably at the second of the two. Alongside the simple, down-to-earth, touching story of Miki and Fidel trying to protect and care for Relia is a grand tale that Star Ocean 5 assumes you’ll care about simply because it involves Relia.

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Unfortunately, aside from brief glimpses into the greater tension amidst the galaxy, you get so little exposure to it that even Relia’s involvement can’t make it feel like it matters. I quite simply didn’t care about whatever war they were telling me was brewing… I just wanted to rescue Relia and leave the galaxy to rot. It’s unfortunate, because there was clearly a lot of thought invested into the greater galactic backdrop, but since you spent virtually the entire game on Faykreed, leaving it for the final dungeon just felt wrong. Not only did Star Ocean 5 try to bring me into the grand scheme of things too late, but it took away any chance at a satisfying conclusion to the smaller scale story that I had come to actually care about.

Disparate Goals

Visually speaking, Star Ocean 5 sits in a very strange place. All of the game’s art was relatively appealing, but none of it quite worked. The characters looked distinct, had fairly good visual style, and I did enjoy the anime aesthetic. We’re not talking the greatest visual fidelity in the PS4’s history here, but they did look good. The same can be said of the environments, the backgrounds, and the ability animations. They all look good. They’re all easy to look at. There were even a few scenes that were absolutely breathtaking. The problem… none of it worked together. It looked like the characters were done in one style, the backgrounds in another style, and the ability animations in a third altogether. Everything felt out of place.

There also seemed to be a bit of conflicting aims when it came to combat. They simplified a lot of systems overall, resulting in a generally streamlined combat system that worked pretty well. The controls were also fairly responsive, and I rarely found myself doing the wrong thing without understanding what I’d done. But at the same time, they amped up the animations and uncapped the party size limit. These two combined to ensure that you could never really accurately read what was happening, especially during larger fights. It also meant you were even more reliant upon less-than-stellar AI. I really did enjoy the combat system, when I wasn’t too confused to keep track of what was going on.

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Final Thoughts

If I had to pick this game’s biggest failing, it was the camera. It’s hard to describe how frustrating the camera was, but every part of the game’s camera seems to do nothing but cause frustration. The angle is awkward, the controls are unreliable, and it makes it way more difficult to appreciate the scenery artwork than it should. The one positive note regarding that… the transitions were seemless. It was great to not have loading screens transitioning into battles. The last thing I wanted to mention is that the game’s overall soundtrack is pretty mediocre. It has its moments where you see just how good the audio could have been… but most of the tracks are simply bland.

Overall

It almost seems like they weren’t sure what they wanted to do. They amped up the animations, the number of characters on the screen, and the size of the enemies… but they forgot to clean things up to ensure it was all readable. They created quality art for all facets of the game, but didn’t check it side by side to make sure it meshed. They created a set of really engaging characters and a good, down to earth story for them… but they then had this unheralded, awkward grand universe story that barely matters to them. They created a seamless transition between field and battle, but coupled it with some of the worst camera controls I’ve seen. They clearly put an effort into this game, but at the same time it leaves me wondering if there was any plan for where that effort would be noticed the most. I enjoyed Star Ocean 5, but it could have been so much more.

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