This year we’ve seen the return of several beloved franchises. Valkyrie Elysium gave the Valkyrie franchise a new coat of paint, Silent Hill received multiple announcements, Tactics Ogre is set to release in a couple of weeks, and here we have the return of Star Ocean. Given the last title wasn’t particularly beloved, Star Ocean The Divine Force tries to go in a new and exciting direction. With new characters, powerful hardware, relationships to forge, and monsters to kill, it’s in a good place, but is it enough to warrant the adventure?
Star Ocean: The Divine Force starts with a mysterious object, mistaken for a shooting star, crashing on their planet. This pod holds Raymond, a mysterious man from a more advanced world. With Princess Laeticia and Raymond on a mission, they decide to work together to achieve their goals.
As generic as it sounds, the initial premise has a solid hook. Raymond’s disconnect from the world excites him, and the natural distrust for someone they’re unfamiliar with makes for an uneasy alliance that eventually develops and grows. Beyond this, the cast of characters slowly extends, with players gaining help from various people, be it the cute doctor Nina or powerful Midas.
In addition to the main story, these characters have side stories that greatly enhance the experience. Some will give lore, others insight into who these characters are, or simply show relationships advancing. These are sprinkled across the world, making them a fun discovery, even if many of them are easy to miss. These also have their conclusions, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for opportunities to speak to key characters.
Between stories, segments are some rather large areas to explore. Most of these areas have a wide variety of things to discover, often challenging players to creatively use their surroundings. D.U.M.A., a mysterious robot you meet early on, unlocks the ability to fly briefly, a power that significantly enhances your ability to explore. Sometimes you’ll need to pass on top of a building to save a cat, whereas other situations might require a creative flight to get a rare resource. It’s a lot of fun, even if you’re flying from rooftop to rooftop.
Certain Areas Have Great Designs
These areas are also a delight to explore since the world is so colorful and exciting. Sometimes I would look at the sky just to see the various effects of the alien landscapes. Places, characters, and even locations have feelings, making each area feel like an adventure. It’s a shame graphics sometimes fall a bit short, though it’s clear they did the best they could while trying to hit their performance goals.
Along the way, you’ll encounter various enemies. The way this works in Star Ocean The Divine Force is pretty simple. Despite being an action RPG, it implements multiple instance-based battles. While some enemies can be ignored, several will require a fight. This can be accomplished by rushing them and hoping for the best or slowly advancing without being detected. If you ambush the enemy, every enemy within a small range will be stunned. This makes them easier to kill, gives some bonuses like extra experience, plus makes it easier to kill the remaining hostile enemies.
Customize Your Attack and Defense
Once a fight occurs, players have access to roughly six actions. Each of these can be customized in various ways, be it a set combo or an easy way to use an item. As players level, more options will be unlocked. Several characters further this by having different play styles, so one character can heal, another tank, with the remaining forces fighting for survival. There are many options, something that becomes increasingly important in higher difficulties. If enemies are too powerful, moving a certain distance away will result in fleeing from that battle. It’s a helpful tactic when things just aren’t going your way.
Skilled players are also greatly rewarded in Star Ocean The Divine Force. Since attacks use a resource called Action Points (AP), some thought needs to go into each move. Depending on what it does, these will cost more or fewer points, with it quickly regenerating when you stop attacking, running, or dodging. Performing specific attacks will increase the count from the default of five up to an impressive 15. Likewise, playing poorly will remove this advantage, making it extremely important to play smart. This also persists when changing characters, though characters controlled by AI are limited to the default of five.
One downside is combat can be a bit hit/miss. Be it locking on an enemy or hacking through the hoards, there will be times characters behave weirdly. I’ve missed a few moves doing this; other times, you’ll randomly attack another foe, often resulting in one enemy exploiting this mistake. Certain enemies can be tough to deal with. Speaking for myself, magical hoards tend to sync up in the worst possible way. A flaming pillar might hit you, with two or three more juggling you before finally hitting the ground. Thankfully, this rarely results in your immediate death; just quicken the path to it. There are also a lot of neat skills and abilities that make it possible to recover without relying on items.
There are also some unique elements in Star Ocean The Divine Force. One is the flying above, which can be used in combat. It’s a great way to close the gap between foes, hit multiple targets, or with some skill, blindside enemies by confusing them for additional damage. Another welcome change is something called Stop Mode. When activated, the world stops as if you paused the game. You can now survey the field, swap characters, use an item, change commands or just take a breather. It’s a neat option that significantly increases accessibility.
Despite playing on prioritized framerate, performance sometimes dipped. Most of the time, Star Ocean The Divine Force played fine; during intense scenes, things went south. Typically these lasted for a moment or two, so nothing too wrong. That being said, load times are fantastic. These dips likely relate to how things to load, making for a solid tradeoff in the grand scheme. Another mode is dedicated to those looking for better picture quality. Having tried it for a bit, I see the framerate takes a sharp decline, and I do not suggest it.
Players can engage with certain NPCs when exploring a city and play a mini-game called Es’owa. On paper, the game is straightforward. Both sides have several life points, and you need to reduce your opponent to zero first. Throughout the adventure, you’ll unlock new figures that function differently. Some debuff, others do more damage, and you get the point. Blocking your opponent in a corner will also cause them to lose their pieces. This makes controlling the map extremely important, as one poor play could defeat you. It’s fun in short bursts, though shallow for in-depth play.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force Review Verdict
Star Ocean: The Divine Force: Star Ocean The Divine Force has a lot going for it. The world is unique, exciting to explore, and filled with colorful characters. Combat is a lot of fun, at least most of the time, with many options to dominate your foes. It would be nice if it were a little nicer looking, though overall, Star Ocean The Divine Force delivers a good experience. It's enough to give players plenty of options, with more than enough to spend hours finishing everything it offers. – Mark