Star Ocean: The Divine Force - Going Boldly
PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Star Ocean reminds me a lot of Star Wars. Not due to the space-relevant narrative, but because whilst there are quite a few entries in the series the quality seems entirely hit-and-miss, with even the most diehard fans outright hating some of the titles. The last game of the series I played, Integrity and Faithlessness falls into the latter. I wouldn’t consider myself a diehard fan of the series but I do enjoy it. That game left such a taste in my mouth that it joins the annals of Time & Eternity of games I definitely played but never want to think about again.
After letting the series simmer for a bit, we’re back with The Divine Force. I’m glad it has been six years since the last instalment, truly. You start the game by choosing your protagonist, between Ray and Laeticia. Whilst the choice won’t make huge differences, there are times where you will split the party and see one side rather than the other. Ray is a traveller so he tends to be interested in the planet, where Laeticia has a much more universal view, learning about all the other planets and space throughout her arc.
Combat feels a bit like a Tales Of game. It’s a bit of a mess and most battles are finished quite quickly. Flying around on the DUMA is really cool, inside and out of combat, but everything is based around Action Points (AP) usage. Skills, dodging, attacking and the like all use it, and once it’s gone everything just…slows to a crawl, where you’re running away from the enemies to allow your AP to regenerate. When you do have AP though it’s a dance between evading at a good time to earn that Bayonetta-style slowdown, and mixing up attacks so you can juggle your opponent, chain attacks into others and knockdown your opponent.
DUMA can also act as a limited shield in combat, and has some interesting mechanics based around ‘Blindsiding’ your opponent, which increases your AP gauge. It adds a bit of complexity to the combat and for longer battles like boss fights it’s an incredibly important mechanic to master. That’s why I said it was a bit like Tales Of, where normal fights just zoom by and you can more or less brute force them, but boss battles often require you to have mastered something which you may not have been practising. Take this as a warning, I guess. Unfortunately, where you are competent in battle as a player, the same cannot be said of your AI friends. They will run into attacks, they won’t dodge properly and in boss fights you’ll see an incredibly telegraphed attack which they will dodge, only then to run back in afterward and get hit by it, killing them and ruining their AP gauge. Ironically, also a fairly Tales Of callback.
I’ve spoken in other reviews how with a lot of games the joy of exploration is important. The DUMA system adds quite a bit in favour of this premise. It allows you to zip around the overworld map and there are plenty of rewards for doing so. It only gives you the short ability to fly, but it feels great to do it. Collectibles from older games, DUMA upgrades and restorative items certainly don’t hurt either.
One huge issue I had though was with the visual design. The characters look decent but they have a specific anime-styling to them, where the world and lighting is a lot more realistic. It’s a juxtaposition I find it hard to get behind. Combine this with some truly rough animations and the characters themselves end up looking super dollish, which can be quite off putting.
Overall, I had a good time with Star Ocean: The Divine Force. It’s tough for JRPGs at the moment as there’s just so damn many out there that a game has to do something really special to stand out. The Divine Force doesn’t do that, but some decent combat and especially the DUMA system shows that the game has some good bones. It’s not perfect. Hell, I’m not even convinced it’s great. Sometimes that’s ok though. Onward and upward, Star Ocean. Keep this up and we’ll forgive you your transgressions.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force was reviewed on PS5 with a review code kindly provided by the publisher.