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December 2022

Star Ocean The Divine Force

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: tri-ACE
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2022


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PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Star Ocean: The Divine Force'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 3, 2022 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Star Ocean: The Divine Force features a story that blends fantasy and sci-fi settings, a plethora of different playable characters, side stories, and a battle system that allows for thrilling fights using simple and instinctive controls.

The Star Ocean franchise is nowhere near as prolific as a Final Fantasy or even a Tales of, but the franchise had enough games so it's not obscure. The last game, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness felt a bit underbaked, and it left me wondering if the series would continue to see new titles. Based on the demo we've seen, Star Ocean: The Divine Force is shaping up to be a more fleshed-out experience.

Like Star Ocean 2, Star Ocean: The Divine Force is a game with two protagonist options, but only one is available in the demo. The first is Raymond Lawrence, the captain of a transport ship called the Ydas, and the second is the princess of an "underdeveloped" planet called Laeticia. The demo opens up with Raymond and his crew on a delivery mission when they are attacked by the flagship of the Pangalactic Federation. They are shot down without mercy, and Ray is forced to retreat to an escape pod, which crashes on the planet of Aster IV. In true Star Ocean fashion, Aster IV is more akin to a standard JRPG fantasy world than a sci-fi one. On this planet, he meets Laeticia and her knight Albaird, who offer to help him find the members of his crew. In exchange, they ask for his help to right against an evil empire that is threatening the kingdom by using technology that's far too advanced for the planet.

What we got to see of The Divine Force's plot is interesting. Mercifully, it avoids the standard trope that the franchise loves to fall back on: a character from an advanced society trying to hide his identity from the natives of the planet. It also paints the Pangalactic Federation, which is akin to Star Trek's Federation, as significantly more morally dangerous and corrupt than they have been before. I'm looking forward to seeing where they go with that and if the game will avoid being stuck on a single planet for too long.

The demo gave us a pretty good glimpse at early game combat, which has some interesting wrinkles. The Divine Force instantly transitions from exploration to combat when you attack or get too close to an enemy. The game maintains the usual Star Ocean action-based combat. Like many recent RPGs, it has done away with traditional mana bars. Instead, you have three different attack buttons that you can assign combo strings to, in addition to "hold the button" charge attacks. As far as I can tell, this is fully customizable, and you're allowed to create whatever set of combos you want.

The limitation is your AP, and you start with five AP (you'll get much more over time if the in-game screenshots are to be believed). Attacking uses AP, depending on the cost of the attack. You can cancel into other combos as long as you have AP, but once you run out, you can't attack at all. AP replenishes relatively quickly over time as long as you're not attacking or dodging, so you have relatively few limitations on wild attacks.

The twist to the system is the addition of D.U.M.A., a weird robot thing that you find early in the game that allows you to hover and fly. In battle, you can float into the air and project a barrier or swoop directly at enemies. While charging an enemy, if you hit a direction button at the last moment, you'll perform a Blindside attack, which stuns enemies and multiplies the damage they take. This can impact multiple enemies at once and is a great way for clearing crowds. It also works on giant enemies who can have different body parts targeted. When a giant golem attacked the party, I was able to target its head, which let me stand on its shoulder to attack its weak points. The only downside that you need to spend your VA Gauge to perform these moves, and that only builds up as you do combos. Combat seems like it'll veer between AP attacks and VA attacks, with each one replenishing the other.

D.U.M.A. also lets you fly outside of combat, so you can zoom around the environment almost at will. This is probably the coolest and most exciting feature of the game to me. RPGs usually keep your feet firmly planted on the ground unless you get an airship of some sort, and the last RPG I saw with this level of freedom in movement was Xenoblade Chronicles X. The levels seem designed to take advantage of this with a lot of open spaces and verticality, and I can't help but be curious to see how it is integrated into the full version of the game.

The only thing I'm hesitant about from the demo is the visuals, which feel weird. The character designs are all standard anime protagonist designs, but the character models feel weirdly doll-like and plastic. It's a similar issue to Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, so I don't expect any change before the full version comes out, but it's a strange depiction considering so many other franchises have managed to take stylized anime designs and convert them into good-looking 3D models. Thankfully, the environments look quite nice, and I'm looking forward to seeing the places you can fly around in the final release.

Star Ocean: The Divine Force seems like a game brimming with potential. The combat system in the demo showed the groundwork for a fun action-RPG, and the immense amount of freedom of movement has the potential to shine on its own. Aside from some qualms about the visuals, I left the demo feeling generally impressed, and I'm looking forward to the final version when it releases Oct. 27, 2022, for the PC and all PlayStation and Xbox consoles.

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