After forty-five hours, a few smiles, and one or two frowns, we walked away from Star Ocean: The Divine Force with a shrug. It’s a middle-tier Japanese role playing game that at no point, ever, threatens to get promoted to top-tier status nor sink so low that it ends up sandwiched between Hyperdimension Neptunia and Unlimited Saga. Mid-table mediocrity. The Crystal Palace of JRPGs.
Given the tumultuous history of the Star Ocean series, The Divine Force being merely okay is probably a step in the right direction. And while this game wouldn’t make our best of 2022 list unless we’re doing 100 games each this year, some of the improvements made here, and some of the systems put in place mean it’s conceivable the next Star Ocean game may genuinely be good. It might even be great.
But we’re in the here and now. The year of our Lord 2022 and we’ve got a job to do. We crammed over forty hours of this game into five days just to get to this point and now that we’re here: yeah, it’s alright. What is there to say? There’s no interesting talking points or incisive critiques we can make. No jokes. No good jokes, anyway. If it was really bad at least we could make snide remarks but as it is we can merely shrug and get on with it.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force allows you to pick one of two characters to play as during your journey throughout space and stuff. There’s Raymond who is a sort of anime Han Solo with one of the worst haircuts we’ve ever seen in a video game, and then there’s Laeticia, a blue haired princess of the realm who fights on the front lines in high heels.
We played as Raymond because we couldn’t take our eyes off his weird, golden space mullet, but for the hour or two that we tried as Laeticia it’s basically the same game, just when the party splits up occasionally throughout the adventure you see what she was doing instead of him. Also you’re wearing high heels. So your choice is between looking fabulous and looking like an idiot. And we picked idiot for some reason. What were we thinking?
Raymond is the captain of a spaceship. It’s like Star Trek, kinda. There’s even an android tapping away on a console like that one in Star Trek, only instead of being designed by Gene Roddenberry this one was designed by Russ Meyer, apparently. If you’re too young for the Russ Meyer reference then he was an auteur who made camp, smutty movies in the sixties and seventies about scantily clad, top heavy ladies. We’re just saying that the android is a sexbot, okay?
Anyway, Raymond crash lands on a pre-spaceflight planet and quickly meets Laeticia and her squire and they soon establish that they both need help getting somewhere and so if they work together it’ll benefit both parties. Raymond wants to find other survivors from the crash and then get off the backwater rock he’s landed on, and Laeticia is trying to stop a war breaking out between her Kingdom and a rival Empire.
Along the way our two heroes meet and join up with a cast of mostly tropey characters, like a cranky old man and the obligatory annoying kooky girl, and they discover that there is a sinister link between their two quests, and the very fate of the universe. We all know where this is going, right? You’ve played a JRPG before. And if you haven’t then this shouldn’t be the one you start with. Persona 5 is right there waiting for you.
The story starts slow but it does get more interesting in the back half. It’s not particularly deep or thought provoking but it at least poses a couple of philosophical and ethical questions about things, like artificial intelligence and the perils of an advanced civilization meeting an underdeveloped one, even if it doesn’t explore them thoroughly. Less food for thought, then, and more of a Tic-Tac for thought.
Cutscenes have some fantastically questionable animations in them and there’s been zero attempt made to lip-sync the characters to the voice acting. Cutscenes are also overnumerous towards the end of the game as all is being revealed, and there’s one stretch of the game in particular in which it seems you do nothing but walk from one room to another so the person telling the story can tell it with a different décor for about two hours.
Combat is fast and flexible. It's fun at times, too. You play as one character in real time while your three party members are controlled by AI. You can set up combos for your party to use in battle by selecting what attacks they’ll do in what order, and as you level up you’ll unlock more attacks. You can also add items to heal or buff into your combos, and later support actions, too.
If you spend a bit of time experimenting with the set up of your squad you’ll find that you can turn them into a well-oiled machine, healing hurt party members or reviving unconscious ones without much supervision from you. This leaves you to concentrate on the D.U.M.A. system which is one of the best things about the game.
D.U.M.A. is an AI floaty ball thing that helps you in battle and it elevates what would otherwise be mostly humdrum encounters. With a tap of R1 you can zip to an enemy, or you can opt to slide around their back and attack from behind. Sometimes, back attacks will stun an enemy leaving them open to massive damage. You can even use D.U.M.A. outside of battle to help you traverse the world, climbing to high ledges or flying across ravines. Thanks, D.U.M.A.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force is like a comfortable pair of JRPG slippers. If you're in the mood for a Japanese role playing game and you've played all of the good ones then you can rest assured that this one is fine. It's okay. It's comfort food. You know that feeling when you just wish Netflix would make another season of Mindhunter and so you end up watching Criminal Minds? That. Only in space.