Star Ocean The Divine Force is the sixth main installment in the Star Ocean franchise and we'll dive deep into this troubled JRPG franchise for our in-depth review!
The Star Ocean Franchise started out on the Nintendo Super Famicon but became a staple for JPRG games on the Playstation and Playstation 2 era. Since then, the entries put forward for next-generation consoles have definitely subdued expectations. So with that in mind, playing Star Ocean: The Divine Force on Steam we had no high expectations.
The game is developed by Tri-Ace and published by Square Enix, who are of course heralded for their Final Fantasy series which have many similar elements to the Star Ocean series. Whilst Star Ocean is not on the same level in terms of popularity as Final Fantasy, it still has a dedicated and loyal following.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force Characters
The Divine Force gives us plenty of different characters to play with; many of them have their own unique battle style, allowing you to come up with interesting strategies against bosses. Like many JRPGs, the characters in the story will come and go, with parts of the story you'll be forced to use certain characters, however, usually you always get to choose between Laeticia and Raymond in your party setup.
We start with the two main protagonists; Raymond and Laeticia. Both are completely different in their personalities; Raymond is from a merchant ship traveling from outer space and used to all sorts of high-powered technologies. Laeticia is of royal descent, born on Aster IV and is concerned with the complicated matters of her kingdom; of which there is very little technology and is very much a medieval world. The two contrasts work quite well and give you good story-telling devices to learn about the unique mechanics of D.U.M.A and other gameplay elements by Laeticia's naivety.
The rest of the cast are a varied bunch; Albaird, Nina, Midas and Elena are all picked up quite early in the game and are with you for the majority of the journey. Nina is the young energetic iatrimancer whose motivations lie in ridding the world of disease. Albaird is Laeticia's stuffy side piece and Midas is a grumpy so and so. Elena is Raymond's android, who offers detailed information, sometimes to the chagrin of the viewer who'd rather view the action than be told it.
The late arrivals of Malkya and Marielle don't really add much to the story and probably would have served better a guest characters (which are characters that temporarily join your party). Whilst the character design is quite varied, the over sexualization of the female characters is a let down.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force Story
The story of Star Ocean: The Divine Force is the same for both main characters, so it doesn't matter which one you choose. The differences are several unique cutscenes and sidequests that turn up throughout the story. If you'd rather know more about the space story line, you'd select Raymond and if you prefer to known the inner workings of the Royal kingdom, choose Laeticia.
The main focus on the story, at least for the first half of the game, is to do with the power struggle between two kingdoms on Aster IV: Aucerius and the Vey'l Empire. They used to be allies but are now bitter enemies, with planned invasions on either side. Whilst Raymond is on your planet by accident (after his ship is attacked), he joins up with Laeticia to help her and her kingdom's troubles.
The second half of the game is about the D.U.M.A. robot you get at the beginning of the game. Without trying to spoil too much, it takes you on an adventure into galactic space to visit some strange worlds.
The story isn't the greatest; there is an incredible amount of long-winded cutscenes in this game. Sometimes you'll move from room to room with 5 minute cutscenes breaking up the "gameplay". There is also a lot of explanation and "telling" going on; you often have to listen to a character talk about events happening that you never get to see or witness. Luckily, you can skip through all the cutscenes if you don't care too much for the story.
Like all good JRPGS, the ending finishes with a cresendo of end-of-the-world type drama that does give you a satisfying feeling after playing for more than 20 hours.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force Gameplay
The game runs pretty well throughout; there are various resolution and power settings in the main menu you can adjust to help the game run better. We barely noticed any technical hitches during our 40 hours of gameplay.
The Battle System is the core gameplay element of Star Ocean: The Divine Force and is the most detailed part. With so many characters to choose from and lots of different skills to select, it can be overwhelming figuring out what is the right build for your character. You spend SP points that you gain from leveling up on either unlocking new stats and abilities or upgrading existing ones. In the early game, you don't feel like wasting these precious SP points and not knowing the best way to spend them can feel frustrating.
Most of the mob trash in this game are very easy to tackle and take down. Each area you progress too has slightly stronger monsters than the last, but with buying new weapons from stores, you can then take them out with ease.
The bosses are a mixed bunch; some are incredibly easy and boring; you come up against the same ones quite often and apart from their damage increasing, their mechanics stay the same and make you get quite tired of fighting them. Then there are some incredibly hard ones that will slow you down, forcing you either to grind more levels or figure out a new strategy to take them down. With different difficulty settings available to change on the fly, there is some easy-mode options available to those who get frustrated.
There is also a detailed item crafting system in the game, allowing you to fuze new abilities (known as factors) onto items and create extra powerful weapons.
You also have a mini-game called Es'owa. You can completely skip this if you want. It is the only thing NPCs in towns offer and playing it can be satisfyingly fun.
The world of Star Ocean: The Divine Force is quite diverse and some of the cities you visit are beautifully designed. Unfortunately, each one is an empty barren land in terms of things to do. They all follow the same formulae of offering just a shop, an Inn and a tiny amount of NPCs that you can play Es'owa against. There is nothing unique in terms of gameplay about most of them and you'll find that you don't spend much time in them story-wise either.
There are a bunch of sidequests scattered throughout the game too; most of them offer little reward for completing them.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force Overview
Overall, The Divine Force is a solid JRPG at its core. It is just let down by quite a few weak points. The interesting mechanic of choosing a main character allows you to replay the game to discover new tidbits that you might have missed on your first playthrough; although if you only plan on playing it once it can feel like a chunk of the story has gone missing.
The world itself was built with a lot of care and attention to detail; it's just a shame there is nothing to do in half of the villages and cities you visit.
The battle system is it's shining glory and has a lot of replay-ability for you to dive deep into post-game.