Star Ocean is a fairly big player on the JRPG scene, and this instalment – The Divine Force – is the sixth major release in the series. Strangely it’s a series I’ve never taken in before, yet thankfully that doesn’t seem to be a problem and I’ll happily tell you about an odd world of starships and swords, of androids and armour.
Story? Yep, there is one in Star Ocean The Divine Force. Whether it makes any sense is another matter, of course. Right at the top of the game we are given a choice of choosing one of two main characters. There is Raymond, a spaceship captain whose craft is attacked, forcing him to bail out and land on the world below in an escape pod; or Laetica, the princess of the land, who just so happens to be wandering around the countryside with only one companion.
Anyway, the two characters meet, and thus begins the story. Raymond wants to find the rest of his crew (Chloe and Elena, a disturbingly human looking android) and then escape, while Laeticia is on a mission to save her kingdom from the predators of an opposing empire. Can the two unlikely companions come to an understanding and save the world between them? Well, what do you think?
So far, so JRPG cliche. Forging a team of unlikely companions into a lean mean fighting machine is pretty much page one of the JRPG rule book, but how does it all come across visually? Well, choosing to play in graphics first mode, I have to say that The Divine Force is very pretty at times. The graphics are suitably shiny, and everything seems to move at a bit of a lick, as long as you don’t look too closely at the wider views, as there is some pretty spectacular pop-in on display. The game seems to recognise that this is an issue, as the amount of times that you can actually look into the distance are somewhat limited, with the landscape being mountainous enough to make getting a look at a decent vista somewhat tricky. Still, the characters and monsters that you meet are nicely drawn and modelled, even if they do err very heavily to the anime side of the spectrum (Raymond’s hair is amazing , I have say).
The sound track is also pretty spot on, with fully voiced cutscenes and rest of the characters that you collect on your journey all jabbering away to each other. Playing with Japanese voiceovers on ensures that the cut scenes gel nicely, but it is a different story in the English dubbing, as the lip syncing is about the same quality as that of 1970’s kung fu movies. Still, presentation wise, the game is more than passable.
One thing I do have to mention that really resonated is that quite early in the game a disease is discovered and the android, Elena, explains that they should wear masks to prevent infection. With what the world has been through these last couple of years, it was weird to see so much reality reflected in a game. It certainly helps drive home the gravity of the situation.
So, what about gameplay, then, where a good JRPG lives and dies? Well, Star Ocean The Divine Force brings the traditional mix of exploration and combat that every JRPG since the year dot has had. Each region of the world is a discrete area, with loading screens in between, and then things to find, monsters to fight and locations to get to. The first concept that I want to introduce is found very early in the game, and that is a floaty orb called D.U.M.A.; a robot of some kind that takes a liking to the group and tags along, lending them its powers. What powers, you ask? Well, the ability to (almost) fly, where with a single stab of the RB button we can select a location and zoom up to it. This is very useful for exploring towns, for instance. When things are quite often hidden on rooftops, they are never more than a quick fly away.
D.U.M.A. also comes in very handy in the combat phases of the game, allowing you to swoop in for a surprise attack. And if you use the zoom move in the middle of a massive ruck and manage to break the enemies line of sight to you, you can perform a “Blindside” attack, doing much bonus damage. Some enemies can’t be blindsided, mind, so learning what you are fighting is a big part of The Divine Force.
When in combat, things run as a real-time system, where you control one character and then the other three that you select from the roster are controlled by the AI. Luckily, you can set behaviours for the other characters to follow; set to attack, heal or even revive each other in the heat of the fight, allowing you to focus on dealing damage. You can also enter “Stop” mode, pausing the action and using items to help your team out. This is extremely handy when you are the only one left standing! The zooming about and the unlockable moves all make the combat a lot of fun, and soon you’ll be whizzing around like you have jet boots on, dishing out the beatdowns.
Character progression is carried out in the usual ways too, with new weapons able to be purchased from the various towns and villages you come across. Bringing these weapons into contact with enemy creatures will cause your motley crew to accrue EXP, which in Star Ocean is known as SP; it’s this which can then be used to unlock various nodes on each character’s skill tree. These are quite extensive, and unlocking and using the relevant skills for upcoming trials is pretty interesting.
So, what we have with Star Ocean The Divine Force is very much some JRPG. It isn’t going to worry the likes of Persona 5 Royal, and while it has more cliches than you can shake a stick at, including all the usual character tropes, what is in place is actually pretty interesting. The story starts slow, but picks up pace, and the combat is fun, so Star Ocean The Divine Force does enough to get a decent mark in my book, without ever threatening to set the world on fire.
If you like a JRPG, Star Ocean The Divine Force is worth a look, but if you are new to the JRPG scene, Persona 5 Royal is where you will want to be.
Star Ocean The Divine Force is on the Xbox Store
- Interesting combat and exploration
- Story is a slow burner but interesting enough to keep you going
- Graphical pop-in is an issue
- So many cliches
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Square Enix
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 27 October 2022
- Launch price from - £59.99