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Star Ocean: The Divine Force Review

The average energy

Star Ocean: The Divine Force is an attractive course correction in the six-title series from developer tri-Ace and publisher Square Enix. A marriage of traditional JRPG fantasy tropes with characters and world-building of a sci-fi universe, the series has ebbed and flowed in popularity over the years – forever in the shadow Final Fantasy

Players are introduced to the world of Aster IV with space merchant captain Raymond crash landing and taken under the protection of wandering princess-in-hiding Laeticia. Raymond relies on Laeticia and her allies in order to find his other crewmates after the mysterious crash and gather while waiting for his brother to arrive and whisk them off the planet. Laeticia’s reasons for hiding in plain sight are later revealed after an alien plague (thin-layered COVID plot) forces a plot twist involving political tensions boiling into war. This is obviously followed with coups and layered backstabbings but is delivered through such wooden character animations that the plot boils down to a series of mindlessly enjoyable JRPG plot tropes. 

The first choice is whether Raymond or Laeticia will feature as the main protagonist on your journey. Your choice determines the opening cutscene and the focal character when these protagonists occasionally part. This should entice a second playthrough but for the avalanche of minor frustrations that take the shine off the experience by the time the credits roll 40 hours in.

D.U.M.A. lets you soar briefly to reach floating debris and treasure

Series fans might be expecting more of the ‘stars’ in the title and a greater sci-fi bent. The game’s scope, world, and characters resemble the ambitious yet dated Star Ocean: Till The End Of Time from 2004. This means that the intergalactic traveller Raymond, his robot D.U.M.A companion that scans environments and lets characters fly about, and the other occasional futuristic beats that pop up are a sci-fi garnish on what is otherwise a classic fantasy JRPG. Having Raymond crash on this alien planet and get embroiled in some human tragedy and political scandals, all before finding a way off-planet while fighting an alien threat are all beats covered in 2004. 

Surprisingly ambitious for a JRPG is the voice acting. For both the Japanese and English dubs, all lines are voiced including that of NPC quest givers (a rarity!). Even better is the lip-syncing that matches up between both the very good Japanese and relatively decent English dubs. The editing of delivered lines can be off, leading to characters mashing lines together with no pauses. Less forgivable are the repetitive voice samples. Many characters will only have one voice line for particular actions, such as crafting. Some side missions may have players craft dozens of times in a row, all with the same half-enthused sample blaring at you. This carries over to combat and exploration, though can be ignored in favour of the epic soundtrack and passable quality of the actors’ delivery.

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Combat looks visually impressive throughout, until the frames dip

Combat allows players to assign a three-input action combo on three of the face buttons. Each of these three buttons can also have a ‘held’ ability for holding the input for a moment. This means that characters can only utilise a maximum of 12 actions in combat, which only accounts for a portion of most characters’ total pool of combat and support abilities. Items, of which this game has a seemingly endless supply, can also be applied to these precious slots. This creates an arbitrarily limiting tactical consideration about what abilities or items to have assigned across as many as eight different characters, typically leaving the player micromanaging items and resources on the sidelines as the fully combat-ready support characters fight in front of you. This is at odds with the otherwise acrobatic and quick battles that have players swiftly gliding about with D.U.M.A to land blindside attacks on enemies’ peripheries to stun and deal extra damage. Fights are swift and punchy at lower levels, but in the latter half of the game these are a distant memory as you play the item bitch keeping your dumb automatic party members alive as they go to town in front of you. 

Combat also lacks the necessary telegraphing of enemy attacks that contemporary active-time RPG systems boast as a standard. Star Ocean expects players to emphasise position and dodging without any indication that enemies are preparing to strike. With indicators all but absent aside from the occasional enemy-type maybe striking a pose or doing a shake – a difficult dance to observe beneath the colourful and sharp battle effects.

Crafting is also pulled from the series’ third game. While innovative in 2004 to have countless crafting items packed that can be used in conjunction with recipes or randomly experimented with – this is now a saturated survival system that all gamers have encountered at some stage in a better capacity. Early on, experimenting with smithing or crafting will yield upgraded and useful weapons or armour. Unless you keep investing valuable skill points in this very random system, later in the game it becomes a useless distraction that pumps out junk that can be sold back to vendors.

Esowa is a neat little chess-like about surrounding your enemy’s pawns with your own for map domination

All these craftables then fill out your horrible inventory system, where nothing properly stacks and all your crafted junk spills over. The menu often doesn’t tell you which character’s inventory you are looking at and lays out stat comparisons for all characters with no ordering consistency. Worse, characters come and go from the party frequently, unequipping items as they go. These then need to be recalled and reassigned from a menu of hundreds of items that have no practical ordering systems for common variables like value or new versus old. 

Exploration is generous if unceremoniously rewarding when stretching one’s legs and curiosity around the world. From treasure chest, to skill points for your D.U.M.A droid and utility items, every rooftop, back alley, and valley will see players sufficiently rewarded for straying the path. Just don’t expect to come across any dynamic world events or exotic tools to employ, this is a decidedly old-school Star Ocean, JRPG experience. Nor should players expect frequent high-flying hijinks with D.U.M.A allowing the party leader to jet about the world, as what can best be described as orange force fields (or invisible walls with a makeover) pop up constantly. The world quickly reveals itself to be filled with pretty corridors that have some nice daytime lighting and environments but suffers from constant frame stutter and enemy pop-in. Worse still are the cities, with some tanking the frame rate and NPCs popping in within feet of the player. At least D.U.M.A allows the player to get some vertical air and appreciate the world at a distance, with some gorgeous skyboxes to seal the deal.

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The best battles can involve over a dozen units slicing into each other en masse

The final nail in the coffin from the otherwise well-presented sixth game in this cult favourite series is the shit mission structure. Although there is a generally reliable marker guiding players along the critical path, side missions are generally given with a couple of context-lite gripes from an NPC that is vaguely related to some fetch favour or elimination request. An old woman asked me to retrieve her hat stolen by a bird. No description of the bird, a vague direction the bird was headed, and an item description. Unsure whether this mission required me to hunt the bird or of where to even go, I eventually found the hat as a generic item in the world by accident. Many side quests are so directionless that they cannot be completed through anything other than sheer circumstance or a walkthrough, expecting players to wander in circles endlessly.

Final Thoughts

Tri-Ace has passed the bar with its latest Star Ocean entry, with The Divine Hope bottling the essence of one of the series’ best games in Till The End of Time. While the visual and audio presentation is among the best to feature in a JRPG in this year, an avalanche of pace-killing holdovers from the 2004 classic inhibits what could have been an ambitious revival for the series.

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Star Ocean: The Divine Force Review
Sea of Weebs
Star Ocean's 25th-anniversary title celebrates its beloved PS2 classic with a spiritual remake, but its adherence to archaic series’ design will ward off new players.
The Good
Voice acting, lip syncing
Occasionally pretty environments
Battles are fast and flashy
The Bad
Confusing menus
Combat is dated and lacks visual information
Litany of minor annoyances
Performance wobbles and character pop-in
6.5
Has A Crack
  • tri-Ace
  • Square Enix
  • PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / PC
  • October 28, 2022

Star Ocean: The Divine Force Review
Sea of Weebs
Star Ocean’s 25th-anniversary title celebrates its beloved PS2 classic with a spiritual remake, but its adherence to archaic series’ design will ward off new players.
The Good
Voice acting, lip syncing
Occasionally pretty environments
Battles are fast and flashy
The Bad
Confusing menus
Combat is dated and lacks visual information
Litany of minor annoyances
Performance wobbles and character pop-in
6.5
Has A Crack
Written By Nathan Hennessy

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