Star Ocean: Divine Force Is Not Terrible, And That's Good Enough

Star Ocean: Divine Force Is Not Terrible, And That’s Good Enough

Key art for Star Ocean: The Divine Force shows the two protagonists under the night sky.

Screenshot: Tri-Ace / Square Enix / Kotaku

I live just a 15 minute drive from the house where I grew up. My parents moved away when I was in college, at which point the physical embodiment of every memory of my formative years was entrusted to strangers, to be revisited in my dreams. The few times I’ve been back to this street, the memories come flooding back, but they don’t suit the yards that now seem smaller and the houses that don’t look as freshly painted and maintained. Playing Star Ocean: Divine Force can be just as shocking: a monument to past comforts that sometimes delights, but whose cracked foundations and peeling paint remind you that this is no longer your home.

Once upon a time, ocean of stars was a solid JRPG series that gave fans a meaty alternative to Final Fantasy and dragon quest. It allows players to embark on a Dungeons & Dragons style campaign in a larger star trek– inspired universe. It punched above its weight with frenetic combat, deep crafting systems, and an abundance of secondary content. There were multiple roster endings and compromises depending on who you tried to recruit on your journey. Star Ocean: Second Story on the original PlayStation was good. The next game on PS2 was even better. It’s been downhill ever since. So far.

Divine Force environments can be quite pretty.

Screenshot: Tri-Ace / Square Enix / Kotaku

Star Ocean: Divine Forcethe sixth game in the series and the first on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, is a marked improvement over the last game. 2016 Integrity and infidelity was unremarkable, incomplete and had a third person camera that made you want to vomit. A low bar to cross for sure, but divine strength does more than avoid the pitfalls of its predecessor. It also features an innovative battle system overhaul that is temperamental yet compelling, with the most beautiful environments the series has ever achieved. I played PS5 in graphical mode, and while it’s far from the prettiest JRPG on console, the lush fields, detailed architecture, and colorful interstellar skies added an extra sparkle to otherwise barebones quest lines. filled with a tedious level of backtracking.

Does that mean divine strength is a good game? No. I’m about six hours in, and so far haven’t seen anything that would make me recommend it to anyone who isn’t already in the rapidly shrinking group of diehards. ocean of stars Fans. For all the gaming enhancements and modern sensibilities, it’s nowhere near as focused, polished, or polished as Xenoblade Chronicles 3or even last year’s Tales of Arise. For all its surprising virtues, divine strength just isn’t in the same league.

GIF: Tri-Ace / Square Enix / Kotaku

The English dub is passable and occasionally endearing in its eccentricity, but mostly feels stuffy, in part because of a script that feels trapped, for better and certainly for worse, in some sort of mad JRPG libraries of the era. PS2. Raymond, the captain of a merchant ship, crash-lands on a medieval-era planet where he encounters a princess named Laeticia who is trying to prevent the invasion of her kingdom by a neighboring empire. Despite the menacing threats looming in the background, much of the early game involves meddling in mundane parochial business as Raymond tries to regroup with his teammates and mutters things like, “Who the hell are people on that rock with horns growing ‘out of their heads? That’s pretty boring.

A screenshot shows what the Divine Force menu interface looks like.

Divine Force’s menu interface is particularly difficult to read.
Screenshot: Tri-Ace / Square Enix / Kotaku

The game comes alive more between these contrived story beats and laborious quests. Conversations with NPCs are rarely interesting, but they do occasionally open up side missions that unlock special items to take advantage of the game’s crafting systems. While almost none of this is reported, the more esoteric side of the game is there. for players willing to think outside the box and try to figure out what the game is trying to tell you to do.

Exploration and combat are complemented by a mechanical companion called the DUMA that allows you to fly short distances or dash at enemies and stun them. A stamina count, meanwhile, regulates how often and how quickly you can unleash combos in fights. There’s also a roll-dodge that you can time to perfectly evade an incoming attack and counter with a strong follow-up. While targeting can be a nightmare, and it’s often impossible to tell if you’re about to be hit by something off-screen, it does make combat feel more natural and responsive than previous games.

GIF: Tri-Ace / Square Enix / Kotaku

The transition between exploration and combat is also seamless and keeps divine strength move forward so that even if something leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it doesn’t stay around for long. That said, the environments you explore, while sometimes vast and pretty to look at, are mostly empty save for a few treasure chests and crystal crumbs you can collect to upgrade the DUMA. Enemies always spawn in the same groups in the same location, whether it’s your first visit there or your fifth. And despite adding short bursts of flight and a glide ability, the platforming was too imprecise for me to ever want to try reaching hard-to-reach treasure chests.

Divine Force characters look at the birds.

Screenshot: Tri-Ace / Square Enix / Kotaku

So why am I still playing divine strength? ‘Cause I’m one of those fans that used to be ocean of stars-looted a long time ago, excitedly going through strategy guides trying to decide which character I’d recruit and how not to miss them. I’m not the first person to notice how the latest game feels like playing an HD tribute to Second story and Until the end of time. The sound effects are always the same. You eat blueberries to heal and you still can’t carry more than 20 at a time. And much of the game’s beginning revolves at least around running errands for kings and mages in a series of increasingly absurd nesting subplots. It’s been a good shot in the past, but none of it is as good as I remember.

Developer Tri-Ace is in a huge money pitand fans fear that divine strength could be the show’s last chance to prove that it still deserves to exist. Some are even buy multiple copies game to try to keep the dream alive. But the first sales data are not reassuring. In Japan at least, the launch of the game is announced the second worst in the history of the series. It’s hard to blame anyone, both because of the game’s flaws and inherent limitations and niche appeal of the decades-old formula, but also because there are so many other JRPGs to choose from. I’m disappointed that divine strength isn’t the triumphant return fans have been craving, but I’m not surprised. I’m just glad it wasn’t terrible and I was able to visit one more time before it was all overturned.

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