Star Ocean’s had a rough go of it! The series started strong, setting trends on the Super Famicom and PlayStation. But after Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, things faltered. It almost feels like Star Ocean: The Divine Force’s existence is some sort of miracle. Even more so because, while there are some elements that can feel a bit dated and it isn’t exactly perfect, it’s generally a joyful and solid experience.
As is common with Star Ocean, The Divine Force begins with a technologically superior race crash-landing on a less-developed planet. One in which, as is common in science-fiction stories, they normally wouldn’t interact so as to not harm the denizens. However, it seems it might be just what everyone involved needs. Princess Laeticia, from the Kingdom of Aucerius on Aster IV, is on a quest with a trusted member of her guard to deal with a potential war. Ray Lawrence, a captain of the Lawrence Logistics ship Ydas, crashes on said planet while delivering a mysterious device known as D.U.M.A. When the two meet, they get caught up in each other’s journeys and problems, perhaps offering new insight and solutions.
Continuing the Trend of Two Sides to Each Story
Like Star Ocean: The Second Story, The Divine Force tells the story from two perspectives. Someone could begins the tale as Princess Laeticia and focus on the plights and perils of the planet below. They could also choose to follow Ray to focus more on the spacefaring mystery and to learn what’s going on with the strange D.U.M.A. technology. I did feel a bit like Ray’s story sometimes felt like the “main” one, especially given the two introductions. However, throughout both routes you’ll get to see lead-specific story segments, to balance things out. For the sake of avoiding spoilers. both options feel like a fairly standard Star Ocean story and you’ll probably see where things are going without too much trouble.
That means the game as a whole is filled with classic sorts of JRPG tropes. For example, we have a male lead who is reckless, daring and energetic, but means well. He’s accompanied by a more practical, pragmatic, and subdued young woman as the heroine. There’s an over-the-top Welch Vineyard again, complete with grating voice. To be fair, there were more than a few voice acting performances in Star Ocean: The Divine Force that got me remembering games like The Second Story. In most cases, it’s the NPCs that don’t really sound like they fit, but I noticed a few times when ambient banter involving characters like Ray, Albaird, and Nina could fall into that category.
A Varied, Though Sometimes Sparse, World
This isn’t to say that the major characters who will be your companions on Star Ocean: The Divine Force’s journey aren’t great. I liked them a lot. Even if they do seem to pull from JRPG staple roles and characterizations, they’re handled well and tend to have a bit of depth to them. I also very much appreciated that yes, Private Actions are here and they do influence relationships between the leads and party members. As in past Star Ocean games, when you’re in a town you will want to take a look around and seek them out. I know I’ve brought up Star Ocean: The Second Story a lot already, but the way in which they’re handled and how you’ll need to keep an eye out for them in The Divine Force reminds me of that installment in a good way.
As Ray and Laeticia venture across Aster IV with allies to accomplish their goals, it means exploring the expanses of the planet, heading into places like fortresses, mines, and ruins, wandering through towns, and of course fighting lots of enemies. There’s a pretty even division when it comes to transitioning from the general outdoors, villages, and “dungeons.” Plus the ability to sprint without stamina concerns, use D.U.M.A. to soar to higher areas or glide, and fast travel helped with getting around. The downside is, it can feel like there’s wasted space in the great outdoors. It isn’t an issue when you reach a city or are in a designated “dungeon” space. But in the general overworld, the crystals to improve D.U.M.A,, items, and even enemies didn’t appear as frequently as I would have liked.
Battles are Tight, Especially When D.U.M.A. is Involved
The Star Ocean series always relied on an active battle system in which you’d need to know which skills benefited the team as a whole, and The Divine Force continues that trend. When you head into a fight, your party members can unleash attacks so long as they have enough AP. Each fight, you enter it with five, and each attack uses one. When those run out, you need to fall back to regroup. It’s an active system, during which investing in skill tree nodes to improve stats or learn new abilities. As with past entries, you can switch between the characters in your party. You can also pause the action to use items, switch targets, or generally take a moment to think about things. Given you need to pace yourself and consider your equipped attacks and characters’ roles, it can get quite thoughtful in longer battles or be over before you know it during simpler ones. Also, I appreciated that button-mashing isn’t great, because fighting intelligently and performing actions like properly defending increases your AP temporarily so you can create longer combos.
But what makes it really entertaining is D.U.M.A. It is used for exploring the world by jetting up to higher areas as well as fight opponents. While exploring, you can get gems to earn DP that improve its skills in and out of battle. For example, you can make it a better scanner to find a treasure chest in the field. You can also make it better at offense and defense. Once you get into a fight with a substantial enemy, you could gradually build up power for Vatting, which lets you essentially perform a special attack. But what I liked best was the Estery Cage. Especially if you don’t have a healer like Nina around and are in the middle of a boss fight. This makes D.U.M.A. essentially protect everyone’s defense or make them strong for a time, at the expense of sacrificing those quick, focused hits for a specific character.
While battling and dealing with both main and side missions are obviously what you’ll spend most of your time doing, I did appreciate that the Es’owa minigame and crafting are also available diversions. The former reminded me a bit of Triple Triad and Tetra Master, in that I enjoyed getting to find new opponents in the world and build out my collection of pawns. It’s a bit tactical, due to character classes and positioning on the board helping determine if you win. Not to mention that it’s a fun excuse for character cameos and an additional accessory that can provide boosts or make allies strong against certain sorts of enemies. Crafting returns too and, while it is helpful, I can’t help but miss past installments’ take on it. Characters have specialties there, for example with Ray being good at smithing, but Star Ocean: The Divine Force doesn’t have the depth of Till the End of Time.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force’s Most Sinister Status Effect is Eye Strain
As I played through Star Ocean: The Divine Force, I started wondering if perhaps budget was something of an issue. It would certainly explain some issues with the empty spaces, more predictable elements, and some oddities with regards to character models. While I appreciated the effort to match mouth movements with the voice acting, it looks incredibly unnatural. Not to mention the more a character moves, the more unrealistic and exaggerated it all seems. When I met Nina for the first few times, for example, I wondered exactly why her hair and arms seemed to be flailing they way they did.
Honestly, my biggest problem is that Star Ocean: The Divine Force got me moving more in a one hour gaming session than Ring Fit Adventure. The font is comically small, and there are no accessibility options to mitigate that. Which means if you want to go through the skill tree (filled with tiny text), get into crafting (more tiny text), or do anything that involves any amount of reading, you’ll need to be within five inches of your screen.
It isn’t a stretch to say Star Ocean: The Divine Force is the best Star Ocean game in years. The atmosphere is great, even if it can feel a little unsteady sometimes or as though it is borrowing a bit too much from past entries. It’s enjoyable in the ways that matter. Combat is fun. Moving around with D.U.M.A is easy and efficient. Even the Es’owa minigame feels worth your time. It’s generally satisfying, not to mention an encouraging step forward for a series that was clearly in trouble.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force is available for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.