The Divine Force, sailing through the stars


Six years after Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness disappointed sci-fi JRPG fans like me, Star Ocean: The Divine Force feels like a long-awaited return in many ways. Its revamped combat is a lot of fun and brings to life a system that benefits from the evolution of the times. Unfortunately, other areas lag behind, like its lackluster visuals and horrible UI. But a respectable story, full of likeable characters, makes for a sequel I’m glad I sailed the stars to.

Star Ocean: The Divine Force tells a stand-alone story which is not directly connected to any other Star Ocean game, but contains plenty of references to past events and characters that are gratifying for veterans of the series. This particular story follows a reasonable young space merchant with a really bad haircut named Ray, who crash lands on the underdeveloped, medieval-looking planet of Aster IV. There he meets Laeticia, the princess of the Kingdom of Aucerius, and agrees to help her fend off a nearby empire in exchange for her helping him find her missing companions. I liked that the story starts on a smaller scale than you’d expect from a space adventure, but things grow impressively from there as conflicts on this backwater planet end up having astronomical consequences that go far beyond of the stars

An interesting twist is that you can choose between follow Ray or Laeticia as the main character, with a handful of instances where they split up and you just see what happens to the side you’ve chosen. You’ll be able to follow the overall story without a problem either way, but there are a few smaller moments that won’t make much sense without knowing what happened to the other side. 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’s path, I would have understood that conversation, but I might have missed something else. It’s an interesting narrative mechanic that encourages you to replay the campaign for around 30-40 hours, though it’s not enough to make up for the lack of a New Game Plus option. I’d like to see the story events I missed out on with Laeticia, but not being able to transfer my party’s levels, skills, and gear is a real disincentive.

star filled party

The cast of characters from The Divine Force it’s a very lively group, made up of both Aster IV residents and people from outside the planet. The dynamic between your core group is especially fascinating because half of them come from a civilization that hasn’t even figured out the concept of gravity, while the other half are familiar with the engines that allow spacecraft to travel light years. This leads to many funny and unexpected moments, such as when the group 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 from a few bird samples, but that also involves teaching Laeticia and her companions the concept of bacteria.

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You can also learn more about each character through Private Actions, which are cute cutscenes triggered by talking to your party members while they’re scattered around the world’s cities. Private Actions show a lot of the personality and quirks of the characters, giving them the opportunity to talk about more than just the events of the main story. In particular, I really enjoyed meeting Laeticia’s guardian knight, Albaird Bergholm, and his fondness for sweets: he loves them but he keeps it a secret because he thinks he’s unknightly.

The problem with Private Actions, however, is that they are very annoying to find. As in previous games, Private Actions are very well hidden and you have to work hard to find them, with no icons or prompts to tell you when a new one has appeared. I hated wasting so much time fast traveling to other cities, going around them and talking to everyone in my party in hopes of triggering a Private Action. Conversations are usually worth it once I find them, but I wish this feature was more streamlined.

It is also disappointing that animations and character faces don’t keep up with the lovely environments they’re in. The characters have a porcelain doll look to their expressions that is always a bit creepy inadvertently. This is in contrast to Akira Yasuda’s gorgeous 2D character art that appears primarily in promotional materials and box art. Hardly any of that makes it into the game, which is downright disconcerting: the clean lines and sharp, realistic details of the eyes and lips are so aesthetically pleasing, I’m left wondering how the 3D models could end up being so poor by comparison. .

An evolved combat

Star Ocean’s previous combat system has received an almost complete overhaul in The Divine Force, and it has turned out to be for the better. It plays here much like the action combat of a JRPG like 2009’s Tales of Graces, which was ahead of its time with the wide variety of flashy abilities at your disposal. The Divine Force allows you to assign up to three combat abilities to each face button in sequential order, and pressing a button three times during a fight will require you to perform all three moves in the order you listed them. This new system is much more flexible and fluid, especially when compared to previous games: before you could only set a few skills due to the old ability point system, and as a result, you ended up repeating the same two or four skills in the game. battle. But now this problem has completely disappeared, and the large selection of combat skills that you can equip prevents battles from getting boring. (This is also helped by the excellent soundtrack, with the electric guitars from Ray’s battle theme, which makes the fights even more exhilarating.)

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But what really changes the game is the DUMA system, named after the robot companion of the group. With DUMA, the party member you control can lunge at an enemy and reduce the distance between them at high speed. You can even change direction while dashing, and moving out of sight of your target will trigger a Blindside, a feature that makes a comeback from Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Blindsides are as powerful as they are fun, momentarily paralyzing enemies and allowing your entire party to go after them. And while the DUMA adds a ton of adrenaline and boost to combat, it can also be used defensively. For example, you can trade your rush ability to allow DUMA to reduce the amount of damage your party takes. Being able to switch modes on the fly makes battles more dynamic and exciting.

DUMA is not only invaluable during combat, but also plays a role outside of it. You can use DUMA as a kind of jetpack to help you scale buildings in the city or climb mountains in the wild. By doing so, you can find hidden purple gems, which are fun collectibles that help level up DUMA’s different abilities. This semi-open world exploration feels natural as you fly DUMA, but the landscapes are also somewhat empty and lack character. The vast environments have lots of open fields, but they look big just for the sake of it. There are no big elevation changes, and the fields are mostly flat, with no discernible landmarks. The environments may at least look pretty, but the layouts of each zone don’t quite measure up to what a game like the impressive Xenoblade Chronicles 3 showcased on Nintendo Switch earlier this year.

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The vast environments are big just for the sake of being big.

Menus are also not easy on the eyes. On the party members screen, you are met with boring and bland black boxes. To make matters worse, every time you mouse over a character, you’re shown their lackluster 3D model instead of those lovely 2D portraits. For all of Integrity and Faithlessness’s flaws, one aspect it did get right was its menu, which featured gigantic 2D illustrations of party members around each one, very similar to what the Tales of Arise menu had. . It’s a shame The Divine Force didn’t try to replicate that style.

Perhaps surprisingly, the worst thing about the menus is the font size. Honestly, it’s the smallest typeface I’ve had to read in a game lately, and I’ve literally had to squint to read subtitles, tutorial information, and skill descriptions legibly. Most games today have an option to increase the font size, but The Divine Force doesn’t. I hope Square Enix fixes this issue in a post-launch patch, because it’s really annoying, and not having even the most basic accommodations for accessibility is unacceptable.

That said, the UI issues aren’t so bad that I’d wait to optimize my group’s team for the post-credits content that the Star Ocean games are known for. Each character has a specific talent for crafting items, such as Ray’s natural affinity for blacksmithing to create weapons and Laeticia’s compounding ability to craft medicine. The process is simple and easy to understand (for example, combining two blueberries makes a blueberry potion), which keeps the progression 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 time mastering the system if I want to be well prepared for the tougher fights The Divine Force has to offer.

Star Ocean: The Divine Force is not necessarily a standout product in this long saga, but is a much more successful effort to bring Star Ocean into the modern age than its predecessor. The revamped combat mechanic works wonders with its previously limited system, offering more freedom and flexibility than ever before. The main cast of characters are also charming, even if the world they explore and the accompanying animations are far less captivating. I wish its interface issues were less obnoxious, but still, The Divine Force at least proves that Square Enix’s sci-fi JRPG deserved another chance.