While the game eases players into the burden of command over time, the PAX East demo of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness demonstrated just how hectic and intricate it can be to have seven characters all fighting at once, using commands you’ve previously issued to them, in the game’s live battles.
Things started off calmly in the city of Sthal, where Fidel works as leader of the training hall, a roe passed down by his famous father. Fidel had a friendly sparring match with childhood friend Ted, one where players were introduced to the basics of the game’s rock-paper-scissors style of active combat (weak attacks interrupt strong ones but can be guarded, strong attacks break guard but can be interrupted by weak attacks, and guard can block weak attacks, as well as open the opponent to counterattacks if done just right, but will be broken by strong attacks).
This light battle also introduced the concepts of short and long range attacks, and players could also get a feel for Fidel’s starting Special Arts, the game’s physical abilities.
After this little introduction to combat, players could wander Sthal for a short while, interacting with the townsfolk. Many of them would say whatever they had on their mind should Fidel walk close to them, making it easier to go through town and pick up on all the NPC’s had to say without actively talking to them. Fidel could also walk right through people, which would jostle them and made them complain (“Hey mister! Waaaah!”) even though he would pass right through them.
This short introduction to the town would end as players met Miki, another childhood friend of Fidel. She’s caught sight of members of Eitalon, a dangerous group who appear to be planning an attack on the city. The mayor, Aragogh, takes some convincing before he’s willing to set up defenses against the group, who soon comes to strike the city in the middle of the night.
This introduces combat against multiple enemies using multiple characters. Players can switch to whichever character they feel the need to control by hitting left or right on the d-pad, and can do this at any time to assume direct command. This means that players only take direct control of one character at a time, leaving several more characters to fend for themselves.
To work with this, players can assign up to four different battle roles to each character. These can tell the character to prioritize defense, focus on quick or strong attacks, attack insects first, and execute many other specific tactics. A given role can only be equipped on one character, though, so players will have to plan who does what very specifically.
Players are also given their first glimpse of Signeturgy, the game’s sorcerous arts, which require ideographs that are “imbued on the caster’s body.” They are equipped in the same manner as Special Arts, though, where players have attacks mapped to tapping or holding O or X, giving each character access to up to four attacks at a time.
Combat against the Eitalon could be harried, given that the game does not restore your HP, cure status ailments, or bring characters back to life once you finish a battle. Players will need to use items and healing magic to keep the party going, as the game has no intention of holding the player’s hand. Status isn’t restored on level up or at save points, either, as some games have done.
Players could lock onto a given enemy during a fight, switching through them and characters based on the player’s priorities. This would help keep certain foes in sight, especially bosses, but the player could also spin the camera to help keep their eyes on the fight as well.
Victory against the Eitolon makes Fidel realize he needs to find them, a quest Miki demands to join him on. This leads through the Passage on the Cliffs and to the Coast of Minoz, a series of areas outside of Sthal. Out here, players can continue to refine their combat abilities against the hostile wildlife out there, joining battles as soon as they approach an enemy.
Players can get the drop on those foes by running up and attacking them before they can react. This didn’t involve an attack animation in the demo, and only required that the player hit the attack button within the right range before the enemy had initiated combat. This would give players the chance to strike first before the enemy could get their offense together.
Outside of combat, players could also gather items from chests, or find hidden herbs and berries using one of the player’s possible Specialties. Specialties would give the characters powers outside of combat, although the herbal gathering one was the only such power available in this build, which let players find berries and useful herbs in the field.
Specialties could be unlocked and strengthened using SP that are gained from successful battles. That same SP is used to unlock new battle roles and to improve existing battle roles, so players will need to think about which is more important for them to strengthen with their limited pool of points.
It isn’t long before players meet Victor, a warrior who trained under Fidel’s father who shows up during the area’s boss fight. Here, it will help if the player has paid attention to the lesson on how enemies glow blue when about to launch a counter-able attack. Should they guard at the right time, it will stun the enemy and open them up for multiple hits.
Players will also notice here that they cannot spam items in battle. Using an item will cause a temporary timer to show up, and until it is gone, they cannot use a another item to heal or revive. Players can also only stock very specific amounts of most items, so even in the field, players cannot hope to just pound through potions to stay alive.
Upon victory, the demo changed to an area much later in the game. Here, players had access to all seven characters in battle at once, as well as more complicated battle roes. Here, it became abundantly important to know which roles to equip, which was much more challenging given the amount of foes in combat and characters to keep an eye on.
Keeping track of your own character while also keeping an eye on the health of six others is a daunting task, one that can go horribly wrong if players are inattentive or equip battle roles poorly. At the same time, it makes combat a thrilling affair as players whip through characters, issuing specific commands for a few moments before rushing to the next spot that needs their direct guidance.
The Rush Bar can be a welcome relief, here, The Rush Bar fills up as the player lands successful hits, and when it fills up with enough of a charge, players can launch extremely powerful character-specific abilities. These involve intense visual displays of beams, light, and energy as well, making them exciting to see as well as ways to turn the tide in combat.
Despite access to so many characters, there are times when players won’t be able to use them. At one point, Anne had to work a console while the other character defended her against waves of enemies. This brawl against dozens of opponents showcased just how hectic combat could get, requiring players watch Anne’s health and small pockets of enemies and player characters all at once.
Should players survive that, they would soon meet up with a mechanical boss that would test their skills with its high damage output. Again, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness has no intention of holding the player’s hand, and would stomp careless players flat, sending them back to an old save. There is no restarting in battle, as will happen in some modern RPGs. If players do not learn how to use the systems well, they will fail.
Even while being mercilessly beaten, the music from Motoi Sakuraba is motivating and invigorating. It’s equally pleasant when outside exploring the cliffsides or meandering through Sthal, able to create a soothing sense of calm or an intense feeling of danger and excitement in battle.
Demonstrating frantic combat, gameplay that will appeal to series fans and newcomers, striking music from Sakuraba, dual audio depending on which language players would like to listen to, and unique character designs from Street Fighter artist Akiman, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness’s demo shows that the game will have a lot to offer players on its June 28th release date.