It’s been a while since I last really played a Star Ocean game. I tried to play Integrity and Faithlessness when it released in 2016, but it just could not keep my interest long enough to get much farther than the opening sequence. For whatever reason, it lacked the charm and allure of previous titles. When The Divine Force was announced, I was cautiously optimistic. It looked good in previews, and I wanted to enjoy a Star Ocean game again. Well now there’s a demo out, and I jumped at the chance to play it (I played on PS5). I’m really glad I did, because the sixth installment of this vibrant series grabbed me right from the get-go.
You play as Raymond Lawrence (the demo restricts your character choice), captain of the merchant vessel, Ydas. A day before they’re due to unload their cargo, the Ydas is attacked by the Federation ship, Astoria, for unknown reasons. Forced to abandon the heavily-damaged Ydas, Raymond is separated from his crew, unsure how many survived. He and fellow crewmate, Chloe, land in different regions of the “underdeveloped” planet, Aster IV. There, Ray meets up with Princess Laetitia Aurcerius and her servant, Albaird. The three of them travel to some nearby ruins after watching an Ydas escape pod land there, only to find the cargo Ray had been hauling shoved inside the vessel. This cargo is called D.U.M.A., an advanced AI robot that can help in the field and in battle. With D.U.M.A. in tow, the group head back out into the world to find a man Laeticia has been looking for. And that’s about where the demo ends.
First things first, I love the fact that the full game will have dual protagonists. Star Ocean: The Second Story is my favorite game in the franchise, and this will be the first time since that entry – way back on the PlayStation 1 – that you have a choice. The demo doesn’t let you play as Laeticia, but I am absolutely going to do just that once the full game releases. Speaking of Laeticia, she’s an earnest, kind, but capable princess who has clearly fallen on some hard times, considering her and Albaird are traipsing about the country in secret. I like her. Albaird is prickly and overprotective, but definitely has his heart in the right place. The two have been through a lot, it seems, and he’s determined to keep his princess safe. Both of them react as you might expect when Ray crash lands on their planet and starts talking to a glorified cell phone. It’s an honestly adorable scene. As for Ray, he’s a bit cocky, but has a good head on his shoulders, and he’s more than capable at both leading and fighting. From the brief time we see him interacting with his crew on the Ydas, he’s well-liked and runs a tight ship without being overbearing. The cast is all around likeable and charming, and I’m invested in where their stories go. Private Actions return as well, giving the player the chance to have heart-to-heart talks with party members one-on-one while in town. It’s a great way to get to know everyone and one of my favorite series staples.
As for Aster IV, the region Ray lands in is gorgeous. tri-Ace and the team really put their all into making expansive fields that are satisfying to explore. The maps are big and spacious, but not so much that they overstay their welcome, and each area has two or three distinct environments. There are forests and rocky outcrops, lush fields and hilly passes. Enemies populate the area in decent numbers, and combat is in real time. You can swap between all three of the main characters as you run around and fight, but they all use the same basic controls. You’ve got your standard light and heavy attacks typical to action RPGs, and you can build combos off them until you run out of AP. Each attack requires a set amount of AP, but it replenishes when you stop attacking, so you need to be a bit strategic in how you use it. I liked how each character felt distinct, despite the similar setup. Ray is a bit slower with his attacks, but they feel forceful; Laeticia is quick to strike and light on her feet; Albaird attacks from a distance. The music also changes depending on who you’re controlling, and that’s a nice touch. Once you find D.U.M.A., she can assist in battle using VA. I love this. Activating D.U.M.A. will momentarily make your character invincible while you position yourself for attack. Once you release the button, D.U.M.A. slingshots you across the field at your opponent. Changing course right before you hit can trigger a Blindside, which stuns any enemies in the vicinity and increases the damage you dole out. It is supremely satisfying to pull off and can make quick work of tougher fights. Finding a rhythm between combos and VA attacks allows for a high ceiling in combat skill, but it’s also intuitive and easy to pick up, which makes for a fantastic battle system. Combine this with a skill tree that can unlock new abilities, and I can see it being one of The Divine Force‘s strongest aspects.
You can also activate D.U.M.A. outside of battle to search for treasure chests or fly across short distances, and it opens the world up to a lot more avenues for exploration. Flying around feels good and makes short work of large areas, but your default movement speed is also quick to start with, and you have a permanent dash ability to make it even faster. I really appreciated this. The world never felt too big to get through, but I loathe slow traversal, and the speed your character moves isn’t detrimental to either the exploration or beauty of each area. Besides the large fields, there are also a couple towns to explore and a short dungeon, so there’s a lot of variety in just the couple hours the demo lasts.
While I, overall, enjoyed my time with the demo, there were some nitpicks. The character models are lovely and detailed, but they’re also really jittery in that way a lot of 3D anime style games tend to be. It was a bit distracting, especially with Laeticia, who moves every time she talks. I admit this is a “me” problem, but it was super noticeable. The text is less a “me” problem and more an actual issue, because it is incredibly hard to read at times, especially in the tutorials that pop up as you play. Not only do the tutorials break the flow of the game, the tiny text made them extra frustrating. The text problem extends to the subtitles, which lack a proper background and can blend into each scene. I really wish there was an option to adjust them. I also encountered a few framerate dips during exploration. I played in Performance Mode, so I didn’t expect them. Oddly enough, I don’t recall any issues when in battle. Thankfully, the dips weren’t enough to cause any issues, but they were noticeable.
The Star Ocean: The Divine Force demo was a ton of fun, and just what I wanted from a game in this franchise. It had strong sci-fi elements blended seamlessly with fantasy, endearing characters, great voice acting, and some top-notch music from the always-wonderful Motoi Sakuraba. Environments are beautiful, with striking vistas and skyboxes, and exploration was snappy and fun. Combat felt simple and intuitive while leaving a lot of room for skillful players. And, of course, there’s Elena, Raymond’s first officer, whom I love and would die for. The demo definitely put its best foot forward, and I can only hope the full game lives up to its potential.