Review – Star Ocean: The Divine Force
Star Ocean is a franchise that I’ve been interested in trying out but never really got the chance. A cult JRPG from TriAce and Square Enix has had its ups and downs over the years, peaking on the PS1 but becoming less and less revered with the passage of time. Still, it has managed to survive over the years, with new titles coming out at a somewhat steady pace, despite their mid-at-best reception. My introduction to the series ended up being with Star Ocean: The Divine Force, and to be fair, it wasn’t a good one.
The plot for Star Ocean: The Divine Force goes as follows: it is set on the planet of Aster VII, in the Kingdom of Aucerius. In it, lives a beloved princess called Laeticia, who is looking for someone (yes, that’s what we get at first – someone), when she suddenly runs into an outworlder called Raymond, interrupting her quest by basically crashing down near her. Laeticia and Raymond then team up and set out on a journey to find his crew.
This is actually a pretty intriguing set-up, and, at the start of the game, you do get to pick your lead character that changes a few scenes and how you are introduced to the world. Playing as Laeticia, I was introduced to these characters that weren’t aware of the goings on in space, with Raymond being their first encounter. However, the slow pacing of the plot means I was never really too invested in it.
Where Star Ocean: The Divine Force does serve a little bit better is in its combat system. Its flashy and fast-paced real-time combat is interesting to look at, with some varied combos among your party members. These can be assigned in the menu to create different combos for each button and a third for when you are holding it. Very early on you will also meet D.U.M.A, a robot companion who will assist you in combat and exploration. Being able to combine with your characters for powerful attacks to blindside, stun or surprise enemies in combat. Or to simply get around the overworlds much quicker.
During the battle, you will need to keep an eye out on your AP and DUMA gauge as well as switch between characters fairly frequently but this keeps it somewhat refreshing throughout each encounter. Despite this, there are some issues; namely in the clunky targeting system that doesn’t want to lock onto what you want to most of the time.
The gameplay in Star Ocean: The Divine Force at its best is a ton of fun. However, it does feature tons of issues. The open areas are lifeless and full of absolutely nothing to do or see other than random encounters scattered around the place. Quests are as basic and uninteresting as they get in a JRPG, and a lot of the time, Star Ocean: The Divine Force goes out of its way to make sure you are NOT having a good time.
Want to open up your menu and level up or fast travel? Wait for these random dialogue sections to finish. As long as characters are talking you can’t really do much but stand around and this happens a lot. Turning it quests, opening menus, interacting with the environment. That’s not to mention the crazy overuse of poorly put-together tutorials and user experience. Some are necessary to understand the game, but when a tutorial says “usable items can be used”, it starts to get silly.
There are also your standard JRPG features. With an extensive skill tree for your party members and D.U.M.A; each is also equipable with a variety of weapons and armour to boost their stats. It’s all pretty standard stuff and not really all that engaging thanks to some horrible user interface. However, if you are a hardcore JRPG fan there’s some fun to be had with Star Ocean: The Divine Force.
Where things really start to fall apart is in its visuals. Whilst the combination of sci-fi and fantasy blend together well for something that should look amazing it just looks dated already. Character models are awfully plastic, and the world feels barren and even maxed out on PC there’s something just blurry about the visuals. That’s not to mention some weird frame rate drops and performance issues. It’s a shame as well, because there’s some potential within the art style. Going from high fantasy one moment to something straight out of the likes of Astral Chain the next. The use of colour and environments could have looked fantastic.
Similarly with the graphics, the sound design is just completely unremarkable. I tried to play the game with English dubbing, but it didn’t quite work, with very stiff voice acting that made it hard to care about what was happening. So I would highly recommend switching to Japanese, which is marginally better. Not great, but bearable. Music, however is mostly excellent, with the battle theme being a highlight.
What a disappointing way to dive in head first into a new series. Star Ocean: The Divine Force is a stain on the history of a franchise that has a pretty solid cult following. While it does feature some decent combat, that alone doesn’t make up for its myriad of issues, such as the lacklustre story, bland world and incredibly poor visuals that look like they are from the PS2 era at the very best. It could have been great if more care had been put into it. As it stands, I just simply cannot recommend it.
The Divine Force‘s world combines sci-fi and fantasy styles in a wonderful way, but is let down by PS2-era visuals and plastic character models.
The game’s strong combat let down by an incredibly dull world.
Some great JRPG battle music sets the stage wonderfully but the voice acting is rough. Make sure to set the voices to Japanese for a slightly better experience.
Fun Factor: 5.0
Star Ocean: The Divine Force was my introduction to the series, and honestly, not a very good one. A poor story, bland world and terrible visuals hindered the experience, despite the somewhat good combat.
Final Verdict: 5.5
Star Ocean: The Divine Force is available now on PC, PS4, and PS5.
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM.
A copy of Star Ocean: The Divine Force was provided by the publisher.