|Genre||JRPG, Action RPG|
|Platforms||PC, Xbox Series X | S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (Reviewed)|
|Release Date||October 27, 2022|
With over 10 entries dating back to 1996, Star Ocean has been a long-standing JRPG franchise well known for incorporating futuristic science fiction with medieval fantasy elements. I grew up playing the games, becoming a fan after the release of the PS1 title, Star Ocean: The Second Story. Despite some reservations with early footage, I had to get my hands on The Divine Force. While there’s plenty here to enjoy, the twisting tales of Raymond, Laeticia, and their friends are not without some problems.
Spiritual Content: There is little to no spiritual content in the game. Some characters are proficient in “semiomancy,” which is effectively a form of magic.
Violence: There is animated combat. Enemies collapse when they’re killed.
Sexual Content: There are underdressed, sexualized women everywhere. Low-cut tops, bikini-like bottoms, and booty shorts are commonplace in this universe.
Drugs and Alcohol: None.
Language/Crude Humor: There is some harsh foul language in the game. Expect to hear G** D*** and more.
Star Ocean has been well established, building its name on nearly thirty years of storied action-RPG history. The latest game from Square Enix and tri-Ace follows suit with its predecessors with some notable discrepancies. Like many before it, Divine Force opens with Raymond, our blond long-haired protagonist, being stranded on a planet stuck hundreds of years in the past. After meeting with locals and teaming up, he’s swept up in a tale that leaves the fate of not only the planet, but the entire galaxy hanging in the balance.
For what it’s worth, I like the characters and their tale quite a bit. The narrative has some interesting twists and turns and the characters are likable. Unfortunately, the pacing feels jilted, occasionally bogging down heavily for exposition. It’s an understandable reason for the pace grinding to a halt, but when the combat is a blast and you look forward to getting back to the action, it causes things to feel a bit stymied. There are also some narrative contrivances, particularly in the late-game, that felt implemented to save on development costs and it shows.
Strictly from a gameplay perspective, The Divine Force is a lot of fun. The action-based combat keeps things dynamic and you’re rewarded with enough experience to keep the dopamine drip at a steady pace throughout the 20-25 hour adventure. You can swap through a substantial number of playable characters, taking control of whichever you find most comfortable. As you level up, you’ll enjoy upgrading expansive skill trees, unlocking stat boosts and new abilities along the way. Things rarely felt unbalanced, though there will be the occasional encounter that knocks you around harder than expected.
Despite great combat and engaging progression mechanics, there are some glaring design flaws and systems that felt overlooked. Travel, for example, feels bizarre: they give you tools to let you glide around the map with large jumps, but the areas you’re in are rarely interesting enough to warrant exploring, save the occasional group of enemies or hidden treasure chest. They’re just vast, mostly-unpopulated expanses. There are several crafting systems shown in the menus, but in my entire playthrough I never got access to more than the first. It felt like there were a lot of mechanics the game should have guided the players into naturally. On top of all that, when I tried to figure out how certain systems worked, the tutorials were woefully under-equipped to provide answers. I still have no idea what some of the icons I saw as I was playing meant.
From an audiovisual standpoint, I really struggled with The Divine Force. There are some beautiful skylines and I enjoyed the overarching visual design but several characters feel awkwardly designed. The women are almost all in tight, revealing clothing that looks like it correctly fits them, whereas several of the guys are reminiscent of paper dolls with awkwardly shaped, slightly-oversized clothes put on them. Perhaps most egregiously, I was gobsmacked to see severe framerate dips in cities when playing the PlayStation 5 version of the game. These visuals don’t feel like they should be pushing the system to sub-30 frames per second.
I’ve been a long-time fan of the franchise and I really wanted to like The Divine Force. Minus some jarring pacing and late-game contrivances, the game boasts a fun narrative with an enjoyable cast and good combat and progression systems. However, the rest of the experience feels marred by poor design decisions, information dissemination, technical issues, and more. While I still enjoyed my time with The Divine Force, it’s handily the weakest entry in the series and a difficult game to recommend when Square Enix itself has released so many other fantastic RPGs this year.
Review copy generously provided by Square Enix
The Bottom Line
Star Ocean: The Divine Force is a JRPG with a grandiose tale and fun combat that's heavily weighed down by poor pacing, technical issues, and design flaws.
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