Star Ocean: The Divine Force Review – A Sequel With Lofty Ambitions
Star Ocean: The Divine Force is the newest instalment in the Japanese developer tri-Ace’s space opera franchise. In many respects, this seems like an ambitious and expanded game attempting to achieve previously unseen heights for the franchise. It contains two protagonists for its story, a long main campaign, and ups the ante on exploration by allowing players to soar into the air, allowing for both vertical and horizontal mobility. It also spices up the battle with many significant changes that drastically alter the combat dynamics. Several playable characters may be switched in real-time not just during a battle but also throughout exploration.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force is a necessary step in the franchise’s evolution. Tri-Ace looks to have an ace under their sleeve with this game, following the somewhat disappointing Star Ocean 5. It’s rather ambitious, with the dual protagonist system delivering a mix of sci-fi and fantasy depending on which character you choose. The premise is intriguing, but the pace was my primary gripe. It takes a long time for the game to get going, and the first few hours feel like a grind, or rather, a massive tutorial. However, once we’re in the thick of things, this sensation swiftly fades. In my view, this is the finest combat in a Star Ocean game.
In the story, there are two main protagonists. The prologue will differ depending on the option you select. On the one side, we have Raymond Lawrence, a merchant spaceship captain, and on the other, Laeticia Aucerius, a princess of a kingdom on planet Aster IV. I chose Raymond for this review and I didn’t get the chance to play through Laeticia again, but from what I’ve gathered, Raymond’s story has a more sci-fi feel to it. In the opening, we find him crash-landed on the planet Aster IV, where people have no concept of what a spaceship is. Meanwhile, Laeticia, a princess from a kingdom on this planet, provides a distinct fantastical viewpoint on the story. She meets Raymond shortly after his crash on her planet, and the two forge an unexpected friendship.
Private Actions return in this entry, with the player able to converse with several characters at key points in the story. These are optional conversations in the game, but they assist to develop the characters’ relationships. The characters who join the party vary depending on the protagonist. Each character has its personality and weapons for combat. Malkya and her unique melee-focused combat skill piqued my interest. Elena is another intriguing character that can wield a combination of weapons, adding to the combat’s variety.
I’ve got to hand it to tri-Ace; they’ve nailed the mobility in this game. Despite the presence of numerous characters on screen, the combat feels smoother. There are issues with the camera when it can block the action on screen, but it was rare. The ability to fly away to any area on the screen feels fairly refreshing to utilize, and tri-Ace has sought to make use of it by hiding collectibles in the world. It is also employed in combat against enemies with weak points that may be targeted in this manner. The D.U.M.A, a little robot companion that enables the usage of a set of skills known as Vanguard Assaults, serves as the basis for this entire system. This allows the player to soar about like using a jetpack or to surprise enemies, giving them an advantage in a fight. Because we can practically target enemies from a distance with Vanguard Assault, it reminded me of the warp strike from Final Fantasy XV.
D.U.M.A. is incredibly crucial in combat. It not only allows the player to utilize VAs, but it also allows you to obtain a defensive boost if you wish to be on the defensive side. This may disable the ability to conduct VAs on enemies, however, it appears to be vital in a tough position. It is also interwoven into the exploration. It makes the simple task of going from point A to point B in the game less boring since the player keeps an eye out for any potential hidden areas around the map. This adds to the excitement of exploring the game’s rather linear areas. D.U.M.A may also enable coordinated attacks for party members, which can do significant damage to enemies. It is required for some of the more difficult boss battles and adds a new degree of strategy to the battle system.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force’s combat system is fantastic. It is an extension of the old Star Ocean system that allows you to plan your attacks in a chain of combos. Players may customize their unlocked moves by assigning them between the three buttons for a total of six customization possibilities. Each move may be employed at any moment during an attack, but character placement is vital to remember because it depends on the distance from the enemy. These techniques require the consumption of AP, which depletes after each use, however, they may be extended by performing a Blindside on the enemy with the D.U.M.A Vanguard Assault.
My problem with the game was its pacing. Despite having a lengthy campaign, it seems sluggish. The beginning merely goes through some boring dungeons, and it takes a bit before the story truly gets interesting, which I think contrasts with some recent JRPGs like Valkyrie Elysium. If you stay with it, Star Ocean is an excellent JRPG with a lot to offer. The progression mechanism is based on skill points earned by each player as they level up. There is no purpose to retain a character in the party just to get experience points, as this applies to anybody who is currently available. This cuts down on unneeded grinding for other characters.
A Skill Tree is used to improve skills or stats. It has a similar vibe to the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, and it is critical to choose a certain path, either opting for stat-boosting nodes or learning active or passive skills. Each character can equip a number of these skills, which provide them with additional advantages in combat, such as the ability to restore HP or improve the defense. Because there is no respec, determining which path is optimal before investing skill points is critical. D.U.M.A features its progression system based on collectible skill points discovered around the world. Some of these are in difficult-to-reach areas and necessitate the use of the Vanguard Assault ability. These are used to enhance or expand D.U.M.A’s skills.
There is a lot of secondary content in addition to the main story. The side missions I attempted were underwhelming. The majority of them are basic fetch quests that serve no purpose. There is also an optional tabletop-style mini-game called Es’owa. Characters throughout the game can challenge the player to a game of Es’owa. The game requires a set of collectible pawns fashioned after iconic Star Ocean characters or from tri-Ace games such as the Valkyrie series. Although this minigame will take some time to unlock, it may be an enjoyable diversion.
I played Star Ocean: The Divine Force on a PS5, which allowed me to choose between 30 FPS resolution mode and 60 FPS performance mode. In terms of controller response, the contrast between the two settings is truly night and day. While the visuals are a little hazy with 60 FPS enabled, it improves the battle and exploration experience. The game also supports VRR, at least on my display, so any frame rate reduction during combat or exploration is mitigated.
So, is this the Star Ocean game that fans have been waiting for? That’s what I’d say. While I didn’t find the writing or story to be very compelling, the combat and gameplay in this entry are enjoyable. Even though I believe the game needs proper balance, the progression system keeps everything fresh and fascinating. The difficulty can spike at random during some boss battles, but nothing too serious that a little grinding can’t remedy.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force Game Information
- Price: $59.99
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: tri-Ace
- Platform: PS5 (Reviewed)
- Disclaimer: A review code was given by the publisher