Star Ocean is one of those franchises that, despite its age, has been sneakily chugging along for over a decade. The first Star Ocean was an SNES game, after all. And now, after two and a half decades, Star Ocean: The Divine Force might be one of the more interesting games to come out in 2022. Of course, the most important question surrounding Star Ocean: The Divine Force is whether it’s all about the nostalgia of playing a seemingly-classic-looking JRPG, or whether there’s actually a decent game to enjoy.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force is unique in that it allows you to pick who your primary protagonist is going to be for the rest of the story from two options: space merchant Raymond, or princess Laeticia. While this choice doesn’t have much of an effect for most of the story, there are moments throughout the game where the two characters are separated, having to solve their own problems and figure out their own path forward, and that’s when you’re only getting half of the story.
"Generally speaking, the story has its slow parts, but is generally quite a blast to get through, owing in large part to the great cast of characters. Even the three characters you play with in the opening—Raymond, Laeticia and Albaird—have a surprising level of chemistry between them, both in terms of banter, as well as just how genuinely sincere most of the dialogue between them sounds."
In this way, Star Ocean: The Divine Force encourages a second playthrough if you want to get the whole story, which can be a tough pill to swallow considering the sheer length of the game. Since it’s a JRPG, you can expect anywhere from 40 to 100 hours for a single playthrough, depending on how much of the side stuff you decide to end up doing.
The story itself starts off with a bang; as Laeticia and her retainer, Albaird, are traveling to a distant kingdom, they find a mysterious young man named Raymond who somehow fell from the sky. The duo are instantly impressed and confused by the impressive technology Raymond seems to have at his disposal. Interestingly, both Raymond and Laeticia have their own goals, and despite having little reason to trust each other—especially early on—they decide to team up and help each other out.
As the game’s name might imply, you’re not going to be spending the entirety of the game on one planet, and eventually, as is often the case with JRPGs, the plot escalates to celestial proportions.
Generally speaking, the story has its slow parts, but is generally quite a blast to get through, owing in large part to the great cast of characters. Even the three characters you play with in the opening—Raymond, Laeticia and Albaird—have a surprising level of chemistry between them, both in terms of banter, as well as just how genuinely sincere most of the dialogue between them sounds.
Despite its two protagonists, however, Star Ocean: The Divine Force has a rather different unique selling point. Using a mystical device called DUMA, Star Ocean: The Divine Force allows you to fly. Not only can you take flight in fights, allowing you to swoop in for extra damage against unwitting enemies, but even the game’s vast open world encourages buzzing around all over the place by using the flight mechanics.
While you’re not really going to be able to stay in the air indefinitely and just fly everywhere—even with all upgrades, the flight is far from permanent—you’re encouraged to try and figure out how to get to those hard-to-reach spots, often rewarded with DUMA points that can be used to upgrade the DUMA, new equipment, consumables like healing potions, or even just crafting resources. There is a large emphasis on exploring as much of the 3D spaces the open landscapes of Star Ocean: The Divine Force offers.
"Unfortunately, despite all characters using different kinds of weapons, the nature of the real-time combat mechanics of Star Ocean: The Divine Force is that they never really feel unique in any real, tangible way."
Speaking of gameplay, Star Ocean: The Divine Force features a real-time combat system that revolves around constantly switching between characters, using aerial attacks and defensive abilities of the DUMA, and most importantly, juggling your AP to be able to pull off any offensive abilities whatsoever. Each character starts out with access to three different attacks, all of which cost some amount of AP, and all of which can be combo-ed quite easily into each other, assuming of course that you’re still in range of the enemy.
Unfortunately, despite all characters using different kinds of weapons, the nature of the real-time combat mechanics of Star Ocean: The Divine Force is that they never really feel unique in any real, tangible way. Just about every fight boils down to mashing out attacks until you run out of AP, and occasionally dodging enemy attacks. It also doesn’t help that a lot of battles, especially the random fights that are bound to happen as you explore the game’s open world, feel like complete messes. Early battles were especially bad about this; around half of the fights I got through felt like I won them by complete accident.
Unfortunately, this means that even boss fights tend to be largely forgettable, and more often than not, just come down to dodging some obviously telegraphed attacks as you continue to mash out attacks of your own, waiting for your DUMA bar to fill up so you can use the hard-hitting aerial attacks, and in a pinch, maybe even the DUMA shield.
While a commendable attempt in its effort to be more modern in its approach to real-time combat, Star Ocean: The Divine Force is a far cry from something like Final Fantasy 7 Remake—a game with some real weight to its combat and filled with memorable boss fights.
Despite all of this, however, Star Ocean: The Divine Force has a certain charm to it that just constantly kept me coming back. While the combat was lacking and there wasn’t much in the way of memorable boss fights, the game’s characters are the true stars here. Rather than relying on cliched anime tropes, every major character in the game feels fleshed out, and when you think about it, there’s little else that’s really needed for a 40-hour journey through magical kingdoms, and even space.
"Star Ocean: The Divine Force is far from one of the best looking games out there. In fact, it looks rather ancient, especially when you compare it to other AA-level anime-styled games, like Scarlet Nexus or even Code Vein. Despite its lack of fidelity, however, Star Ocean: The Divine Force certainly has its moments."
Star Ocean: The Divine Force is far from one of the best looking games out there. In fact, it looks rather ancient, especially when you compare it to other AA-level anime-styled games, like Scarlet Nexus or even Code Vein. Despite its lack of fidelity, however, Star Ocean: The Divine Force certainly has its moments. While polygon counts are alright and textures often look muddy, it’s hard to argue that there isn’t some level of competent art direction going on. The game’s locations often look quite cool, are designed in ways that feel logical to the game’s settings, and every character is instantly recognisable.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force may not look like the most impressive game out there, and while its combat may be passable at the best of times, something about the game keeps making me come back to it. It’s got an entertaining story, sure, but I think the best aspect of Star Ocean: The Divine Force is its cast of characters. Both Raymond and Laeticia make for compelling protagonists, and even if it were just one of them leading the show, they could’ve pulled it off quite well. The inter-character writing is also quite fun, giving the game some heart.
The lengthy story, especially if you take into account the possibility of needing two playthroughs that, while largely the same, will give you a more complete picture of the story, might sound like a tough pill to swallow, but with characters like this, the pill starts sounding quite sweet.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Great characters; Fun story.
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