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Star Ocean: The Divine Force Review

Initial release date: October 27, 2022

Mode: Single-player video game

Composer: Motoi Sakuraba

Publisher: Square Enix

Genres: Action role-playing game, Adventure game, Fighting game

Developers: tri-Ace, Square Enix

Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows

"Review Copy Provided By Square-Enix"

It is crazy to think that it has been over 6 years since the last Star Ocean game which was Integrity and Faithfulness of which was insanely (and unfairly in my opinion) hated by the masses and the gaming media and deemed the worst entry in the series. With many gamers and especially fans assuming that the series was effectively dead, Square-Enix decided to give the franchise another chance with the announcement of Star Ocean: The Divine Force. As a longtime fan since the Super Famicom original, I couldn’t believe that the series was still alive and to my utter surprise was the fact that the main character of Raymond was voiced by none other than my friend Mark Whitten! So, does this latest entry in the Star Ocean franchise surpass what we got in previous entry and soar to new heights, or does it signify another nail in the coffin for the series and ends Tri-Aces’ attempts to bring this franchise back? Let’s find out!

The Divine Force follows the exploits of Raymond Lawrence and Princess Laeticia who come from very different worlds in a very literal sense and find themselves entangled in events that will shake the very foundation of the galaxy. Raymond is the captain of a space merchant ship and during a one of the ships routine deliveries, they were shot down by a battleship of the Pan-Galactic Federation. Following a chaotic chain of events, Ray ends up landing on an underdeveloped planet and decides to set out to find his crew and ends up running into Princess Laeticia and her retainer. After a few events, they come to an agreement to work together with Laeticia agreeing to help Ray find his crew mates while Ray will help Laeticia on her quest. What seems like a small situation blankets an embittered war between a corrupt empire and a resistance group with access to technology not of this world.

Before you start the game, you will have to pick one of the two protagonists being Ray or Laeticia in a way that harkens back to Bandai-Namco’s own Tales of Xillia in which you had to choose which of the dual protags to start the game with. Whomever you choose will give you a deeper insight into their own individual struggles and motivations and just as in Xillia, you’ll want to play through the game as both characters to gain a better overall scope of the events that occur in the game.

When it comes to the gameplay of The Divine Force, you’re able to roam about the open environments of which the game encourages you to do in order to find many of the secrets hidden about. You can run and jump as well as swing your weapon to destroy items you find in the areas you’re in. Eventually, you’ll gain access to a robot companion known as D.U.M.A. that will allow you to float/glide to different areas in a similar manner as you would in games like Gravity Rush. You’re able to do this maneuver with the only limitation being that initially you can only do this once before landing on the ground and then later you get an upgrade that allows you to do it up to two times which makes exploration more dynamic. The only caveat to this is that the areas are not exactly “open-world” perse and are very much boxed in by invisible walls which is a bit of a head scratcher as why would you give the player access to such an ability and then turn around and handcuff them from being able to use it to its fully capability?

D.U.M.A. also has use within combat as you can use it to target and zip straight to enemies as well as levitate as well as create a defensive AOE (Area of Effect) barrier to lessen the damage that you will take. When zipping towards an enemy, you can also zip behind them and attack them to put them in a status known as Blindside of which will up any damage you do to them while keeping them in an easily stunned state.

The way combat plays out is very similar to previous entries in the series as well as it’s spiritual predecessors’ series, Tales of, in that it is an action RPG that allows you to fight within an area. This game plays a bit closer in style to Tales of Arise and the more recent Tales of titles than the last Star Ocean games albeit, with no need to transition to a battle scene as in most of those games. Since I’m playing this on PC with an Xbox controller and on the Steam Deck; the B, X, and Y buttons are all set up for attacking with you being able to string together various combos in a free-flowing way. The only limitation to this is your Action Point (AP) that are spent with every move that you do, so you’ll need to be mindful of how much you have left otherwise you won’t be able to finish up your combo string. Thankfully, because the combat is free flowing, you can cancel out of one attack directly into another to make a more efficient and lest SP consuming combo string.

Outside of combat is your usual town and dungeon exploration as well as various side-quests that offer up some nice gear. None of the side-quests really stand out as remarkable and usually come down to “kill X number of enemies” so don’t expect much beyond the standard routine of what we’ve gotten before in this genre. There are side quests that are tailored specifically to your characters known as Private Actions that are like the skits of the Tales of series that help flesh out your party members and if you do enough of them, then you can unlock some bonuses in the game’s ending.

Graphically, this game isn’t really a looker and in many instances it’s stunningly gorgeous. How can it be both? Well, that’s because the environments that you find yourself in from the lush dungeons to the sprawling cities to the various dungeons and more are a sight to behold; it’s just that the character models are awkwardly out of place. In some instances, the character models look ok to an extent, but they have some serious jank to them in that they look about 2 console generations out of place with how wooden they look and how stilted the facial animations are. In no way does the voice acting match the mouth movements which for me is jarring and takes me out of the moments especially the ones where the game wants you to take a scene seriously or feel some emotion. I just feel like they could’ve taken some time to give the lip syncing some TLC.

Since I’m playing this on PC (as well as PS5), I have the benefit of being able to play it on my gaming rig with maxed out settings and on my gaming laptop with custom settings and on my Steam Deck. I ran the game on my Desktop that has an RTX 3070 rocking a i7 10700K with 32GB of DDR4 3200MHz on Ultra settings – 4K 120FPS – DLSS Quality and on my gaming laptop which is an ASUS ROG M16 with a RTX 3060 rocking an i9 11900H 16GB of DDR4 3200MHz on High settings – 1440P 120FPS – DLSS Performance both having Windows 11. The game doesn’t give you a ton of display options to tweak or much in the way of accessibility options for you to configure the game to get the best experience for yourself. There is no way for me to test this game on all PC configurations, but the game is so well optimized that you can expect it to work well on almost any setup running a GTX 1060 and up.

The game does support ultrawide monitors as I tested the game on both my 34” ASUS ROG 1440p Ultrawide and my 49” Samsung ultrawide monitor and it looked amazing on both!

Unfortunately, as of the time of this review, Star Ocean: The Divine Force rans rather jankily on the Steam Deck and can even come to freeze up in the first fight in the game. Do keep in mind that as of now, the game isn’t optimized for the Steam Deck nor is it verified, however, that doesn’t mean that the game can’t run or be playable on the Deck. What you’ll need to do is make sure you download the Proton Experimental and Proton Hotfix updates and then run the game in compatibility set to Proton Experimental and it should run decently although it will still have some hiccups like frame stutters and drops as well as an occasional freeze here and there. I would honestly download ProtonUp-QT and tinker with some of the protons that you can download and see what works for you until the game is optimized for the Steam Deck.

Audio wise, the game has a banger of an OST from Motoi Sakuraba that just slaps on all angles……take that however you will. The main theme “PANDRA” from HYDE is an absolute banger that is so good that I replay the opening movie just to hear it; it’s literally just that good! When it comes to the voice cast, everyone nails their roles and delivers a great performance. As I mentioned in the beginning, the voice of Raymond Lawrence is done by none other than my friend Mark Whitten. It’s awesome because a lot of Mark’s mannerisms and such come through in his portrayal of Raymond unlike his other roles such as Alex from Street Fighter and in Fire Emblem and Genshin Impact. He nails the role and brings the character to life along with the with the rest of the cast.

When it comes to downsides, I feel like the only real downside is that a lot of people don’t have many expectations let alone hope that this game could be as good as it is because of the last game and the gaming media generally hating anything that isn’t a AAA game which unfortunately, sways the publics opinion on if a game is worth getting or not. The game has a very very slow opening act that takes a while to get going and I don’t know how many gamers are going to be patient with the pacing of this game’s narrative as even though it goes on to become incredible, that slow build stands out like a sore thumb. The games’ graphics and stilted animation on top of the lack of media marketing behind this game means it’ll probably meet the same fate as Valkyrie Elysium, The DioField Chronicle, and generally everything Square Enix tries to do that isn’t Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts.

So, should you buy Star Ocean: The Divine Force? If you want to see this series continue and not see the talented team at Tri-Ace be relegated to other projects, then YES you should buy this game. Honestly the reason you should buy this game should be because it’s a legitimately good game that has a really good story, loveable and above all memorable characters, a fantastically deep combat system, and an OST and voice cast that just nails it. Star Ocean: The Divine Force is a welcome return of the franchise and is honestly one of the sleeper hit gems of the year in a sea of gems that Square-Enix has been dropping all year. Give this game a try, you’ll probably be surprised at how much fun you’ll have with it!

#StarOceanTheDivineForce #StarOcean #SteamDeck

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