Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (for PlayStation 4)

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Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness ($59.99) is the newest action-RPG from developer tri-Ace. Launching internationally on the PlayStation 4 this summer, Integrity and Faithlessness is also the first game in the series released on current-gen hardware. This Star Ocean incarnation drops the movement-centric action of the last game, A New Hope, in favor of the defense-heavy combat from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. This is a welcome change to the series, but Integrity and Faithlessness still suffers from some of the flaws that plagued earlier games.

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A New Hope for Action
Integrity and Faithlessness, in many respects, feels like an enhanced version of Till the End of Time. Combat uses the same rock-paper-scissors mechanics, combo-chains are still the most effective way to deal damage quickly, and even many of the attack animations are the same. As I was not a fan of the sloppier, movement-focused combat of the previous game, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, the return to Till the End of Time's combat style is a change I welcome. At the same time, many of the flaws of that combat style are preserved as well, which sours my anticipation.

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On the one hand, combat makes use of seven characters, any of which you can switch to on-the-fly, with the touch of the shoulder buttons. Each character has its own attacks and special skills, giving you a very beefy offense during combat. When not being controlled manually, allies are AI-controlled, and you can adjust complex series of AI settings to dictate their behavior during a fight. Combat is also seamless, so you transition from exploration to combat on the same map rather than getting transported to a themed combat arena like in earlier games.

Defense is manual in Integrity and Faithlessness, so you can block attacks with the touch of a button. In Till the End of Time, you would need to stand still to block, and guarding was automatic. This had the adverse effect of slowing down what was otherwise a very fast-paced game. By dedicating a button to defense, Integrity and Faithlessness lets you defend much more smoothly and quickly.

Stale Ocean
These are all great improvements, but the positivity ends there. Based on my experience with the demo, Integrity and Faithlessness recycles too much from previous titles and doesn't inject enough new gameplay to keep things fresh. The most egregious example of this is the reuse of attack animations. For example, protagonist Fidel uses the same attacks as Fayt, the protagonist from Till the End of Time. Light attacks, heavy attacks, and special attacks are all shamelessly ripped from that game, with zero changes to the animation from what I could tell. I found this to be the case for many other characters in the game. Because the core appeal of Star Ocean is its combat system, the reuse of attack animations is extremely disappointing, and it makes for very stale fighting.

Many of the enemy models are recycled from older games, as well. I appreciate that many games have enemies that are recycled throughout their respective series, like the Dragon Quest's iconic slime monster. But in a franchise with absurd intergalactic, faster-than-light space travel, it strikes me as odd that so many planets across the universe have evolved the same fauna. The tree monsters in Integrity and Faithlessness are pulled straight from Till the End of Time. The giant insects are pulled straight from The Last Hope. The Star Ocean series has never much cared for consistency, I suppose.

Magic is grossly underpowered, and has been an issue in the series since its inception. Anything that a magic-casting character can do, a melee character can do faster and more efficiently. There is no real reason to control your mage characters during combat, which seems to me like squandered potential. You waste more time charging up a spell than you would just running up and attacking with a melee character. Yes, the ability to chain spells to deal extra damage is nice, but it never feels worthwhile, since you have to put more effort into making your mages effective than you would with a melee character. So you're better off letting the AI control them and focusing on damage as a melee character, which is more engaging anyway.

Amazing Art, Bland Visuals
It's clear that Integrity and Faithlessness was designed as a PlayStation 3 game, despite being slated for an international release as a PS4 exclusive. There is absolutely nothing about the visuals that impress: The environments are expansive, and the texture work is decent, but I did not see anything that was any better looking than what was already in the PS3/Xbox 360's The Last Hope. The 60 frames-per-second gameplay is nice, but that's the only positive thing that stood out to me.

My greatest disappointment with Integrity and Faithlessness is the slapdash character models. The faces in particular look downright horrid. Integrity and Faithlessness features key art by Japanese artist Akira Yasuda, aka Akiman, whose works include the iconic artwork from Street Fighter 2 and Final Fight. His art contributions are fantastic, so it bothers me that the modelers at tri-Ace reproduced the art so blandly in game. You can clearly see the parallels to Akiman's key artwork, but the faces look like horrible anime stereotypes: massive eyes, undefined noses, thin, shapeless lips, and so on. All the personality from the artwork is devolved into impersonal anime blobs.

Hope and Faithlessness
The derivative combat, compounded by the reuse of assets, and the ugly modeling all leave a bad taste in my mouth. Star Ocean's plots tend to be nonsensical tripe, so I'm not expecting much from the story this time around, either. If you're a fan of the series or are in the market for a new action RPG, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness may be your cup of tea. But the flaws present in the demo so far don't leave me particularly excited. We'll see how Integrity and Faithlessness shapes up when it launches later this summer.

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