One of the few OG sci-fi RPG series, Star Ocean has a long and storied history. It also has a varied history of quality. Some of the games aren’t really that good honestly. Despite that, fond memories of Star Ocean: The Second Story kept me buoyed with hope that Star Ocean: The Divine Force would be passable, if not great.
Set the bar low right? Leaves a ton of room to be impressed.
I’ve been playing the game for a few days now…so am I impressed? Disappointed?
Here’s what I think of the game.
What is Star Ocean: The Divine Force?
Star Ocean: The Divine Force is a single player action RPG developed by tri-Ace and Square Enix. The sixth mainline game in the Star Ocean series, it’s published by Bandai Namco in SEA (and some other regions). The title is available now for PC, Playstation and Xbox consoles.
Our copy was graciously provided by the awesome folks at Bandai Namco!
Star Ocean: The Divine Force has two main characters (like other entries in the series). Each main character has their own motivation but unfortunately, the game doesn’t make that clear at the outset. That’s my first gripe.
Instead of knowing what you’re getting into, you’re forced to pick randomly. That’s just not a good start no matter how much you spin it.
At the very least, some background info on the characters would be nice right?
The game’s storyline, recruitable characters and even certain Private Actions (think of them as optional cutscenes of the main character with another person in the party) changes depending on who you pick at the outset.
Yes, it does mean there’s replay value for a second go round (not many RPGs can boast that) but it’s still too big of an initial ask to force players to pick a character without even a simple summary.
I picked Ray (the dude) so this review is all from his story’s point of view.
At the outset of the story, Ray’s a merchant doing a delivery run. In the prologue, Ray’s attacked suddenly by a Federation starship without warning and most of his crew (along with his ship) is blown to bits. He’s forcibly put on an escape pod, which manages to crash land (alongside a few others) on an unknown world.
Unfortunately, that’s not a good thing.
There he finds allies (including the other main character, Laeticia) and sets out to find his comrades while awaiting rescue from his brother. Of course, this being an RPG, you know that’s not the end of it.
It turns out the reason Ray’s ship was attacked was due to his cargo, a special piece of tech called D.U.M.A. There’s a meaning to the acronym but unfortunately I didn’t pay attention to it. That’s something you’ll notice a lot with Star Ocean: The Divine Force. It’ll bombard you with a ton of nonsensical terms that’ll just glass your eyes over.
Anyways, D.U.M.A. isn’t just a fancy piece of hardware.
It also buffs Ray with additional abilities.
Chief among them is the ability to levitate and create barriers (among other things). Rey can use these abilities in and out of battle. The limited flying capability means Ray can jet up to normally inaccessible areas. In battles, he can use that to dash to enemies and levitate to create a massive shield.
The barriers D.U.M.A. erects are super useful in battles, as they effectively block out all damage for as long as they last. Great for when a boss does its special attack and you have nowhere to hide.
Outside of battles, flying to out of reach places is pretty much a necessity, as they usually hide D.U.M.A. crystals, which are needed to upgrade skills for the machine. They’re useful skills too (particularly the one to detect nearby treasure) so it’s to your best interest to find as many crystals as you can.
Needless busywork? Definitely. Still needs to be done though.
Since it’s an ARPG, combat in the game is all done in real time. You can pause time to give orders to your characters, and even switch over and control other party members if you don’t feel like playing as Ray.
While you can perform combos and the like, you can’t attack willy nilly.
Each offensive action you take drains AP, which recovers when you’re not attacking or dodging. You can have a max AP count of 15 at once time, but that goes down to your default as soon as you get staggered or downed. Reloading a save or continuing from a checkpoint also resets the AP count.
To build the AP max back up, you have to perform blindsides.
Now, blindsides are what the game calls special moves that confuse the enemy.
To pull off a blindside as Ray for example, you can use D.U.M.A. to dash towards an enemy and then dodge in any direction when you’re near them. Done right (and it’s incredibly hard to pull off right) and you’ll blindside the targeted enemy and the enemies in its immediate vicinity.
Blindsides are essential because they massively amp up your damage dealt, plus they freeze enemies in place. Some enemies can’t be blindsided though, so you’ll still need to rely on pure overwhelming damage at times.
In essence, combat is a hit and run affair.
You come in smashing with Ray’s flying charge, do your most damaging attacks and then build enough meter to dash back out while you recover AP. It’s fun, it’s fast and most importantly, it all moves fluidly. At least in Performance mode. I didn’t notice any slowdown with it, and the loads between areas are lightning quick!
I do wish the enemies reacted more to being smashed in the face with a giant sword though…some of them barely notice Ray hammering away at them with his massive weapon, which is a killjoy.
Is it too much to ask they act like they feel pain?
The game also has excessive amount of pop-in, especially on Performance mode (60FPS). There are basically 3 types of environments in the game; towns, the semi-open world (where you travel to new locations) and dungeons.
Towns are the worst performing when it comes to pop-in. Some townspeople will magically materialize in front of you as you’re walking around. On the other hand, some people you can see clear across town. It’s weirdly arbitrary on who pops in and who doesn’t. It’s like an episode of Star Trek or something.
It’s a shame because some of the towns are visually spectacular! The port of Rythal in particular looks downright magical when it’s at night, with its blue light lanterns.
It’s much better in the open world (you can see enemies from quite a distance) but foliage (and sometimes environmental objects as well) does pop-in suddenly as you get nearer too. One thing I’d like to highlight about these areas is the sense of scale. They’re usually HUGE, with cool vistas and background elements.
I rarely stop and ogle at the sights in most games, but I found myself doing it a lot in this one!
Finally, dungeons fare the best regarding pop-in. Since most of them are linear and cramped, the pop-in isn’t as noticeable. It’s almost like the game gives you a glimpse into what could have been.
It’s disappointing to say the least, especially in town areas.
Speaking of town areas, 90% of the people you can talk to, want to play you at Es’owa.
Es’owa is a mini-game that combines aspects of reversi and checkers. You place tokens on a board, each with their own attribute. If you can surround an opponent’s token, you can remove it from play. Each token also has an attack rating, that is calculated at the end of every turn and subtracted against your opponent’s life total. Whoever’s life hits 0 first loses.
It’s a simple goal but is actually rather complicated as the tokens you can find have significantly different attributes to synergize with. Is it fun? Yes but only if you’re into it.
You only get that hours in, when you reach Rythal, which means the towns you visit in the beginning are needlessly filled with people you can’t even play Es’owa with, even if you wanted to!
What is up with that? Why can’t these people be normal and tell me flavour text about the world or something?
I do not want to be challenged to a fight by every other person I talk to!
Speaking of talking, English voice acting is mediocre unfortunately.
It’s not cringey thankfully, but you get the sense that the actors are reading from script, especially when it comes to lines from Laeticia. Some voices fare better (like Ray’s and Maester Midas’) but it’s not what you’d expect from a AAA game like Star Ocean: The Divine Force.
Oh before I forget, there’s a weird (and really annoying) ‘feature’ of the game.
If anybody in your party is talking, you CANNOT interact with anything until they’re done!
Want to talk to a shopkeeper while somebody in your party is mouthing off? Tough. Wait until they’re done. Want to sleep at an inn while somebody is chatting about something? You poor child. Waiting is all that awaits you. Want to open the menu to adjust equipment or upgrade your skill tree? Somebody’s talking, so all you can do is pause the game instead.
Did nobody during Q&A testing highlight this issue or what?
The Bottom Line.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force isn’t as good as it could potentially be.
It’s a bit too formulaic, with a quest that doesn’t really get going until a significant amount of time in, despite the exciting opening. Combat is cool but errant difficulty spikes (especially in the early going) means you have to grind (or be lucky) to stand a chance against some bosses.
Unfortunately, while the difficulty spikes and other issues can be overlooked, the massive amount of pop-in is really a deal breaker, especially when you’re playing the game on a PS5. The visuals already take a massive hit in Performance mode, so couldn’t tri-Ace have found a way to increase the draw distance (in towns at the very least) to make up for it?
There’s a decent game here though, it just takes somebody with the right mindset to overlook the bad and focus on the good.
A decent ARPG with substantial flaws.
- Flying around is fun.
- Combat is decent.
- Visuals can be spectacular sometimes.
- Sense of scale for open world areas is tremendous.
- Voice acting is of varying quality.
- Object and foliage pop-in is horrible.
- Can’t interact or open menu if somebody’s talking.
- Plot takes awhile to get going.