Star Ocean: The Divine Force Review - IGN

Star Ocean: The Divine Force Review – IGN

Six years after Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness disappointed fans of the sci-fi JRPG series like me, Star Ocean: The Divine Force feels like a long-awaited comeback in many ways. Its revamped combat is a lot of fun, breathing new life into a system that certainly benefits by evolving a bit over time. Unfortunately, other areas are stagnating, like its lackluster visuals and horrible user interface. But a respectable story full of likable characters makes for a sequel that I’m still very happy to have navigated through the stars.

The Divine Force tells a standalone story that isn’t directly related to other Star Ocean games, but it does contain quite a few references to past events and characters that were rewarding to catch as a veteran of the series. This particular tale follows a sensible young space trader with a really bad haircut named Ray, who crash-lands on the underdeveloped, medieval planet of Aster IV. There he meets Laeticia, the primal and proper princess of the kingdom of Aucerius, and agrees to help her fend off a nearby empire in exchange for help finding his missing teammates. I enjoyed that the story starts off on a smaller scale than you might expect from a space adventure, but things only grow impressively from there, as the conflicts on this planet remote end up having astronomical consequences that go beyond the stars.

An interesting twist is that you actually have the choice of either following Ray or Laeticia as the main character, with a handful of instances where they part ways and you only see what happens with the side you choose. You’ll be able to follow the overall story just fine anyway, but there are a few little moments that won’t make much sense without knowing what happened to the other part. For example, I chose Ray’s path, and at one point there was talk of an arranged marriage between two nations that I had absolutely no context for. However, if I had chosen Laeticia instead, I would have understood this conversation, but I might have missed something else. It’s an interesting storytelling mechanic that encourages you to rewind for a second part of the campaign of around 30-40 hours, though that’s not enough to make up for the lack of a New Game Plus option. I’d love to see the story events I missed with Laeticia, but not being able to transfer my party’s levels, skills, and gear is a real drag.

Starry evening

The cast of Divine Force characters is a lively cast of both Aster IV residents and off-planet folks. The dynamic between your main group is particularly fascinating as half of them come from a civilization that hasn’t even discovered the concept of gravity yet, while the other half are familiar with warp drives that allow spaceships to travel light years away. This results in many entertaining and unexpected moments, such as when the party tries to find a cure for a disease that is wiping out the population of Aster IV. Ray’s robotic but surprisingly caring first commander, Elena, is able to create an antidote based on a few samples of bird droppings, but it also involves teaching Laeticia and her comrades about the concept of bacteria.

You can also learn more about each character through Private Actions, which are cute cutscene moments you trigger by talking to your party members as they’re scattered around the various towns around the world. Private actions show much of a character’s personality and quirks, giving them the opportunity to talk about more than just the events of the main story. In particular, I really enjoyed learning about Laeticia’s Guardian Knight, Albaird Bergholm, and his fondness for sweets – he loves them but keeps it a secret because he finds it unworthy of a knight.

The problem with private actions, however, is that they are very annoying to find. Just like in previous games, Private Actions are pretty well hidden and you have to do everything you can to detect them, with no icons or indications to tell you when a new one has popped up. I hated wasting so much time fast-traveling to other cities, running around them, and talking to everyone in my party in hopes of triggering some private action. Conversations were generally worth having once I found them, but I wish this feature was simpler.

It’s also disappointing that the character animations and faces don’t live up to the otherwise lovely environments you find them in. The characters have that porcelain doll-like look to their expressions that always comes off as a bit unintentionally creepy. This is in stark contrast to Akira Yasuda’s beautiful 2D character art that mostly appears in promotional materials and box art. Virtually none of this is in the game itself, which is frankly baffling – the clean lines and crisp, realistic detail in the eyes and lips are so aesthetically pleasing that I wondered how the 3D models could end up look so poor in comparison.

Combat evolved

Star Ocean’s previous combat system received a nearly complete overhaul in The Divine Force, and it’s the one that worked for the best. Here it plays very similarly to the action-combat of a JRPG like 2009’s Tales of Graces, which was ahead of its time with the wide variety of flashy skills at your disposal. Divine Force allows you to assign up to three combat skills to each face button in sequential order, and pressing a button three times during a fight will perform those three moves in the order in which you perform them. have listed. This new system feels much more flexible and fluid, especially compared to previous games. Previously, you could only set a few skills due to the old ability point system and ended up spamming the same two to four skills in battle as a result. But now that problem is completely gone, and the wide selection of different combat abilities you can equip keeps battles from feeling outdated. (It’s also helped by the excellent soundtrack, with Ray’s battle theme electric guitars making the fights all the more exhilarating.)

But the real game-changer here is the DUMA system, named after the party’s companion robot. With DUMA, the party member you control will be able to rush an enemy and close the gap between them at high speed. You can even change direction while dashing, and if you turn away from your target’s sight, you’ll activate a Blindside – a return feature introduced in Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Blindsides are as powerful as they are fun, momentarily paralyzing enemies and allowing your whole party to wail over them. And while DUMA adds a ton of adrenaline and momentum to combat, it can also be used defensively. For example, you can trade your dash ability to allow DUMA to reduce the amount of damage your party takes. Being able to switch between modes on the fly like this makes battles more dynamic and exciting.

Not only is DUMA invaluable during fights, but he also plays a role outside of fights. You can use DUMA as a sort of jetpack to help you scale buildings in the city or up mountains in the wild. You might find hidden purple gems while doing so, which are fun collectibles to track down that help upgrade DUMA’s various abilities. This exploration of the semi-open world feels natural while flying DUMA, but the landscapes are also somewhat empty and lack personality. Vast environments have lots of big open fields, but they seem big only to be big. There are no massive elevation changes, and the fields are mostly just flat with no noticeable landmarks. The environments and skyboxes may at least look good, but the layouts of each area fall short of what a game like the impressive Xenoblade Chronicles 3 showed on the Switch earlier this year.

Vast environments are only great to be great.

The menus aren’t easy on the eyes either. In the party member screen, you are greeted with boring and dull black boxes. To make matters worse, every time you hover over a character, you see their poor 3D model instead of those nice 2D portraits. For all of Integrity and Faithlessness’s flaws, one aspect that worked well was its menu, which showed giant 2D illustrations of party members around each other, very similar to the menu in Tales of Arise. It’s a shame The Divine Force didn’t attempt to replicate that style.

Perhaps surprisingly, the worst offender when it comes to menus is actually font size. It’s honestly the smallest font I’ve had to read in a game in recent memory, and I literally had to squint to read the subtitles, tutorial information, and skill descriptions legibly. Most games these days have an option to increase the font size, but The Divine Force doesn’t. I really hope Square Enix fixes this in a post-launch patch, because it’s really distracting, and not having even the most basic accessibility accommodations is unacceptable.

That said, the UI issues aren’t that bad that I’m looking forward to optimizing my party’s gear for the post-credits content that Star Ocean games are known for. Each character has a specific item crafting talent, such as Ray’s natural affinity for Smithery to craft weapons and Laeticia’s composition skills to craft medicine. The process is simple and easy to understand – for example, combining two blueberries makes a blueberry potion – which saves progress from feeling like a chore. It’s not crucial to get the most out of this crafting during the regular campaign, but I know I’ll have to spend some time mastering the system if I’m going to be properly prepared for the toughest fights The Divine Force has to face. to offer.

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