To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have much hope for the latest installment in the Star Ocean franchise. I wanted to be optimistic, the same way I wanted to be optimistic about the Assassin’s Creed movie or Final Fantasy XV—but near every time I go for optimism, reality has its ways of disappointing me. Integrity and Faithlessness came out after The Last Hope, and The Last Hope is anything but a good game. The plot made no damn sense, the characters are all unlikable, and the massive amounts of sexism and rape culture on top of everything made the game more than unenjoyable.
The Last Hope’s failure ensured that the budget for Integrity and Faithlessness was small, and it sure as hell shows. We only get to visit one planet, the monster designs are all reused from previous games, there are hardly any cutscenes, meaning that it’s possible to walk away from important dialogue, and the plot itself is a little lackluster. It’s not hard to see why the game only has three stars on IGN. Despite all that, though, Integrity and Faithlessness did a really good job with what it had. A lot of effort went into its characters, and following a group of well rounded people more than made up for any of the game’s other shortcomings.
Our story follows the characters Fidel and Miki, two teenagers from the undeveloped and war-torn planet Faykreed. Their lives take an even more interesting turn, however, when they see a spaceship crash and pull a young girl named Relia from the wreckage. Relia was born as a genetic experiment from a space-faring civilization and as a result has the ability to distort space and time. Her creators plan to use her in order to start a war. To protect Relia, Fidel and Miki team up with a Symbologist (person who studies magic) named Fiore, a knight named Victor, and two members of the more advanced Pangalactic Federation named Emmerson and Anne.
Although I was hesitant about these characters before playing the game, due to both their designs and the way Star Ocean has presented characters in the past, their development proved me wrong. What the story lacks in impressive worldbuilding, it makes up for with some good characterization. Every single one of them is well developed, even the characters that I didn’t particularly like all that much. Most of their dialogue takes place as you run around Faykreed, and what they talk about humanizes them and presents them as real people. Victor starts out a socially awkward person who overthinks everything, Anne is a science genius with a cat obsession, Emmerson is the womanizer, Fiore is an outgoing researcher, Miki loves eating and cooking, Fidel has an inferiority complex, and Relia is quiet and soft spoken due to her abusive upbringing. Interacting together, we slowly learn more about all of them—Emmerson and Anne have worries about interfering with an undeveloped planet, even though Relia’s presence on Faykreed means they have to, and they are often awestruck by what the other characters’ lives are like without machines doing everything for them. They don’t know how to cook, or clean, or even hand-wash clothes. Everyone else, though, is interested in what space is like and how convenient certain future technologies are. By having characters with such vastly different backgrounds and letting them learn about each other and interact, the game takes what otherwise would have been some boring cardboard cutouts and turns them into some well-developed characters, with nothing but a few lines of dialogue.
Everything can’t be perfect, however, and there are a few things that I can’t say I’m too happy about. Good female representation is important to me, but this is a Star Ocean game and the franchise is hardly known for feminism. Unsurprisingly, there are more than a few things about the female characters I don’t like. Miki, for instance, is the group cook because she’s a girl, and she also views other girls as competition. That’s not to even mention her unrequited crush on Fidel. This bothers me, certainly, but nowhere near as much as I had expected, especially since in every other regard Miki is a well written character. Unlike its predecessor, Integrity and Faithlessness manages to be much more aware of feminist issues, and as a result, some of Miki’s words come across as internalized misogyny due to her upbringing. I’m sure part of this is just a failing on the narrative itself, because it never takes the time to address whether or not she has internalized misogyny, but I can say with all certainty that I was not expecting this game to have any well written female characters, let alone four of them.
Miki’s character doesn’t seem like a stereotype because while she is in a stereotypical role, the game takes the time to give us multiple female characters all with different backgrounds and viewpoints, and it’s also well aware of the type of bullshit women have to deal with. At one point, Emmerson tries to tell Relia that sometimes when a girl says no, she really means yes, and Miki is right there shutting that shit down as fast as she can. If I had to pick a main character I liked least, it would be Emmerson. Emmerson fancies himself a good person who wants to do what’s right by protecting Relia and preventing a war. There’s never a point when he stops his bad behavior, but there is a point where we learn more about him and why he behaves the way he does. He comes from a prominent family, and he sees his behavior as his way to rebel against that background. While Emmerson is very sexually active and objectifies women, there’s never a point where he lets his ego get the best of him and demean women for not wanting him back. He accepts rejections and often views his own actions as a joke. I can’t say that this made him more likable, but it certainly made his character believable, and it helps that none of the female characters ever use that to write off his behavior. They don’t appreciate his womanizing, and it’s how they respond to him that tells me that at least some effort went into giving this game a more feminist message.
Strangely, the character I was most worried about, Fiore, ended up being the character I loved more than anyone else. Characters are fictional and cannot dress themselves, and all too often female characters are sexualized for a perceived male audience without any consideration to the character herself. This was surprisingly not the case with Fiore. Her character actually has a personality that justifies her outfit, and her clothing choices are addressed in the game itself. We even learn that she keeps the same outfit in multiple sizes in case she ever puts on weight. When Emmerson tries to hit on her and say how much he loves how she dresses, instead of being flattered, she offers to make him an outfit that will fit him too. I know that part of this offer was genuine—Fiore certainly would make him clothes if he actually wanted them—but this was also her way of shutting him down and letting him know that she doesn’t dress that way for him or anyone else. She wears those clothes for herself and herself alone. And due to the lack of cutscenes, the game never wastes any time whatsoever on camera angles meant to objectify Fiore. Integrity and Faithlessness managed to create a sexual female character in a revealing outfit without objectifying her—color me impressed.
Fiore’s characterization doesn’t stop there, though. She is a genius who knows more about Symbology and the study of magic than any of the Federation people who come from a society with hundreds of years more research than Fiore’s own. At the end of the game, while all the main characters get accepted into the Federation, the Federation builds a new Symbology academy just for Fiore.
Because Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness has its failings and was certainly hindered by its own budget, it had to take a lot of shortcuts in its storytelling. But what it does do is succeed with its characters, and if you’re looking for a fun, simple game with characters you can relate to, this game is for you.