Star Ocean: The Divine force is the sixth entry into the stories Star Ocean franchise, and after the failures of its predecessor, is the latest entry truly divine?
We’re not going to beat around the bush, Star Ocean as a franchise has seen better days. While Till the End of Time managed to get an HD rerelease, and is still widely regarded as one of the better JRPGs on PS2, the franchise has since been in what appears to be a state of freefall.
The Xbox 360-era’s The Last Hope failed to impress critics, though competent, and its fifth entry, Integrity and Faithlessness was just plain boring, forgettable, and short. Six years later, will Star Ocean: The Divine Force finally steer the spacefaring franchise back on track?
Star Ocean The Divine Force: Key details
- Developer: Tri-Ace
- Price: $59.99 USD / £59.99 GBP / $89.95 AUD
- Release date: October 27, 2022
- Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC
A game out of time
A lot has happened in the JRPG genre since Star Ocean’s heyday. Games like Persona 5, Tales of Arise, and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 show that this genre can still offer something new, fresh and exciting to players. Unfortunately, Star Ocean: The Divine Force is anything but fresh, new, and exciting.
Much like the recently released Gungrave: Gore, The Divine Force feels like a game out of time, and out of place. You can play as one of two protagonists, Raymond, or Laeticia. If we tried to describe either of them, or any of their supporting cast members without mentioning their job, we really couldn’t tell you. For my playthrough, I chose Raymond, who sports one of the greatest mullets in video game history. Other character designs are similarly over the top, with legendary character designer Akiman leading the charge.
Though, the game’s doll-like art style left us feeling a bit cold. It’s a staple of the Star Ocean series in 3D now. We’re not fans of looking at the soulless-looking, doe-eyed characters for too long, lest they capture our soul and plonk it on a different planet.
We’re stuck on a different planet
The game begins with Raymond crash-landing on an alien planet, separated from his crewmates. The hot-headed captain then meets the princess of a local kingdom, Laeticia. With a mutual deal struck between the two to help each other fend off an imperial threat and find Raymond’s lost crew, the adventure begins.
Conflicts and consequences subsequently spiral out of control, and the dual-protagonist mechanics work interestingly enough, though you are left out of the loop on some minor plot points that may leave you scratching your head. However, none of them were large enough to pique our interest and put us through another playthrough on the other side.
There are fun and interesting interactions between the crew and natives of the planet, but at this point, it’s a rote routine that the series has settled into. It does absolutely nothing new that other titles in the series have not already done. Though you can interact with your party through a mechanic named Private Actions, the aforementioned lack of any actually interesting characters left us cold. They are all archetypes we’ve seen before. Additionally, there is no syncing between the game’s English dub and the lip-flaps of our characters. It feels just a touch odd in cinematic or dramatic moments, though the voice acting is more than passable. Though, we couldn’t shake the feeling that we’d just seen it all before. Been there, done that, saved the galaxy multiple times thanks, so what’s new?
Big does not mean better
Fairly early on in Star Ocean: The Divine Force, you acquire the DUMA system, which is essentially a semi-controllable jetpack, which can launch you to new places in the game’s varied locales. While the pseudo-open maps might be large, there’s barely anything to do in them, and the clunky animations you have while using DUMA appear to look pretty silly.
When you are using DUMA to explore, it also highlights the neglect that has been put into the design of the open world. There are no exciting vistas to look at, hardly any notable things areas, aside from finding the odd box of loot.
Visually uninspiring, the game also, unfortunately, extends that to its poor combat system, which also heavily relies on the DUMA gimmick.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force uses a real-time combat system, much like previous titles. You have access to three skills assigned to your face buttons, and while this keeps combat ticking, it’s a long way from being anywhere near as satisfying as its contemporaries like Tales of Arise. DUMA also makes an unwelcome appearance here. You can use it to rush down enemies and use it defensively to reduce damage.
You can switch the modes in and out to change up the pace of combat. However, DUMA felt like a tacked-on addition, rather than something baked into the game itself. We’re ardent fans of a good combat system, and this one felt weightless and unsatisfying, and it struggled to keep us interested throughout the game’s runtime.
A font of issues
Taken as a whole Star Ocean: The Divine Force attempts too little and asks for far too much. You need to get involved and interested in its characters and story to drive you through the rest of the game, but it never really came together for us. The whole experience was also marred by one huge issue. Font size.
Now, this may appear as though it’s a minor nitpick, but playing around 1.5m away from a 55-inch TV, you can barely read any of the text that appears onscreen. We combed through the settings relentlessly for a size option, but it’s simply not there. Throughout the duration of our review period, we had to sit closer to our screen to read menus. It’s a simple fix, but one that has seemingly not been addressed.
The Verdict – 2/5
Star Ocean: The Divine Force presents us with a game that may have once been a stellar JRPG title 20 years ago, but those standards just don’t hold up in 2022. When compared to its contemporaries, it’s just not on the same level, in any way. It’s always been a B-Tier Square Enix franchise, but once upon a time, Star Ocean was an essential title. It’s a shame that more effort has not gone into modernizing and revitalizing a beloved franchise.
Reviewed on the PlayStation 5