Star Ocean is a series that I haven’t given the attention that it rightfully deserves. It’s a curious beast in that it manages to blend two distinct periods of RPG together. The classic swords and magic fantasy is often the starting point of the series before it launches itself head first into some spectacular high concept ideas.
One might be forgiven for thinking that Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is going to be a standard swords and magic affair from the beginning if somehow, you manage to skip the opening screen, the title of the game, or any entry in the series previously. Your village is being plagued by bandits who threaten to destroy your almost assuredly doomed hometown for reasons best known to themselves. You and your childhood friend set out to the capital of the Kingdom to request reinforcements, but with the unfortunate timing that seems to crop up whenever I need a favour from someone, the Kingdom is at war with a neighbouring Kingdom who have developed a strange super weapon that no mage of the Kingdom can determine the operation of, save that it ruins anyone’s shit that gets in its way. Plucky hero, caught up in circumstances beyond your control, mysteries abound, your character bravely resolves to… Go home and take the news back to home that, well, sometimes life gives you lemons and your village is no Cave Johnson. It’s on the way back that events pick up pace, and the revelation comes that things are not quite as simple as you first imagined.
I could go on a bit more, but my classic ‘spoilers for an x year old game’ warning doesn’t work when the game isn’t even out yet at the time of writing.
A thing that really struck me about this game is its skill with escalation. Not a lot of games can manage it, so let me gush a little when one does manage it. You start off as the only competent sword in a village, close to its sole competent protector. Your driving force is to get to the King and get his help defending your hometown. That’s super important for you, your motivation. The King, on the other hand, has an entire war to deal with, and doesn’t have the time to divert troops to handle your problems. It’s a reminder that, main protagonist though you may be, you are but one minor cog in this whole story of nations. Then, not a few minutes later, your own problems suddenly become minor in comparison to events transpiring. Weirdness is going down, and your character finds himself in the middle of it, but remarkably, crucially some might argue, your character has the ability to prioritise. Weirdness can wait, the situation with your village needs resolved first. It’s oddly humanising in the face of characters who will drop their entire lives at the sudden intervention of ADVENTURE in their lives. Your character recognises what is and what isn’t within the boundaries of their life experience to effectively handle, and isn’t afraid to go and get help or outside expertise on a matter.
I am going to look like such a tit if this thoughtful analysis is rendered moot by later events.
One thing I can comment on with some authority is the battle system, which is a tactical blend of action and strategy. You are armed with light attacks, heavy attacks and blocks, which form a weapon triangle in the sense that light attacks interrupt heavy attacks, heavy attacks break guards, and guards block light attacks and with appropriate timing, render the opponent open to counterattack.
I very, very rarely had appropriate timing.
In addition to these basic attacks you also have both special attacks and magic, which are linked to your light and heavy attacks. Holding one attack button down will unleash a preset attack, depending on your range from the enemy, leaving you with four attacks to chose from. You can learn new techniques by getting new skill books, which can be use to teach new skills or to upgrade pre-existing moves. Where the battle system shines, however, is its integration with dungeon exploration. You engage enemies on the world map, no transition to a magical arena or long loading times. You simply start smacking monsters around and move on immediately afterwards. RPGs succeed or fail on your player’s willingness to engage in combat, and I can report that I was actually seeking out random battles, which is always a good sign. Good performance in battle is rewarded with a limit break mechanic that you can choose to hoard in exchange for bonuses to experience, money and skill points, rewarding good play and discouraging a sense of button mashing.
Outside of combat, however, are skills and roles, which you can level up with skill points and unlock through side quests and role development. Skills allow you to gather and use resources to break the game. I made a wind-based sword which was miles stronger than any weapon on sale through a little grinding on enemies.
If you’re beginning to note a tone of hubris in my review after so long talking about Square Enix, then rest assured that this game had a rebuttal for my shenanigans. Oh, how the mighty fall.
You see, as you progress through the game, there’s a chance you’ll run into a black portal on the field map. Choosing to run towards this black hole leads you to a bonus dungeon area of sorts, promising rewards in exchange for a series of difficult battles. It promises that a warrior should feel no shame in retreating. Only a complete twonk should be rushing into this at this point in the game, a mere five hours in.
Ho humm. Armed with my shiny new sword, I plunged right in.
The first opponent was just random encounters from the very location I had been in before I entered. The second opponent was a little harder, but disciplined combat won the day. You would imagine that the third would be a gradual step up from that, wouldn’t you?
Yes well, so did I, and then Confidence in the Domination played.
This, if you aren’t aware, is the boss music from Valkyrie Profile. It is a short hand to inform you that your head is now the nexus point for a good kicking. And a good kicking it duly received as the boss ripped through my everything. Even a miraculous one-time full team revival didn’t turn the tides. Only a bell-end would have gotten into the situation, and like a bell-end, I received my just reward.
I honestly recommend that you pick this up if you want an RPG that’s an equal mix of old school RPG conventions with a few twists and turns in a familiar scenario. I’ll hopefully have more to talk about as I progress, but I think I have enough now to give an opinion.
Finally, Square-Enix, I only bash because I love. This is a tri-Ace game though so… I don’t know where we stand. Good, I hope?