Star Ocean: The Divine Force NUGGET Review (PS5)
Genre: Action Role Playing
Release Date: Oct 27th,2022
Platforms: PS5/PS4/PC/Xbox Family
*Review copy provided to me by Square-Enix
Star Ocean The Divine Force is the latest entry into this long running franchise and is developed by Tri-Ace and published by Square-Enix. Having been announced to absolute astonishment on my end, because heck, I figured this series was dead after the last few entries, we were greeted to another full console entry. Pushing aside our confusion and curiosity, we dive into this title in which we play the role of the main character named, Raymond - cause you know, everybody loves Raymond, who is joined alongside by his crew of his space vessel named, The Ydas. They are being targeted for some unknown reason at this time by another space vessel that fires upon the Ydas, which causes them to have to emergency evacuate as quickly as possible into escape pods, like they're saiyans from Dragon Ball. Crash landing on a planet named Aster IV, lost and confused, Raymond meets up with a princess named Laeticia and her glorified butler, Albaird. I know I know, he's her royal guard, but dude is a ween. At first they deem Raymond an enemy, he's new to this world after all, but after some slight convincing, they agree to help Raymond find his missing crew members who were lost in the pod escape, on the condition that he tells them who he really is, where he's actually from, and who is his daddy and what does he do. Well maybe not that part at least. At the start of your official game after all the cutscenes, you're able to choose who you want to play as, Raymond, with this glorious 70's rock band hair or princess Laeticia. Who you pick first will determine the story in critical moments, even though the stories do intertwine no matter who you pick, the story will change a tad bit based off your selection = which in turn could give you incentive for multiple playthroughs, should you fancy to attempt it. I suggest doing it though, otherwise some things might not make sense. Its all about context, bro.
If you're going into this title looking for a grand bombastic adventure, sadly this isn't the game for you, at least at first. Instead of in your face screaming anime men with swords that have become the norm of RPG's, you're instead treated to a story with a gradual build up with time spent around the political implications of the world around you, spending time with character interactions, and forming bonds with your teammates. But what once starts off as a slow build and gradual escalation, soon comes back to the core sci-fi elements you come to expect from the Star Ocean franchise, for better or for worse, as the bigger threat to the grand universe begins to slowly reveal itself, kicking the story into full gear. Divine Force this go around also tends to be more of a linear experience in the sense that the majority of the game takes place on Aster IV and that planet alone. While that may seem like a negative, given past series entries, I feel its a strength. Bigger is not always better. With open zones to explore and to battle in, it never feels condensed, confined or restrictive, especially with abilities like DUMA that allows you to harness power of your android to eject yourself and fly through the air, as well as use it to initiate combo attacks in your fighting for quick melee combos using your hack and slash attacks alongside DUMA. Its really awesome. But what of the mechanics? how does this game actually play? really smoothly to be honest. Harkening back to previous mechanics that return in this entry, such as Private Actions. This is basically your dating mechanic. No not really, I'm just joking, but it is similar. Private Actions allow you to interact and chatter with characters about themselves, you, backstory and plot and build your bond with them. Be careful though because these are able to be missed due to no blatant prompts showing you they're available, so at every town you go to, after a cutscene, make sure you instigate a talk with every party member, for full waifu and husbando experiences.
As stated before, exploration through these open zones will use a device known as DUMA, which gives you the ability to fly short distances to make your trek through terrain less grueling. I mean sure you can fast travel, but screw that, I just had a red bull, so I got wings!. Great thing about this is that every area is designed around it, so whether you're just flying normally, linking to rush to an enemy or locking onto ledges of mountains to get crystals, it's always going to be the focus of how you explore and get around. By collecting the said crystals I just mentioned, will provide you ways to broaden the strength of your DUMA device and its own unique abilities, similar to the way experience points and skill points level up your own individual characters and party of 4. The sheer amount of freedom offered here, as you traverse, is expansive and fun, with areas you already having been to, always staying fresh and relevant to pass through due to the unique way to explore them. It's a blast. Divine Force, unlike previous entries where movement is more of a stand still moment, here in this entry, its all about how you move, and the speed in which you do so. No you won't be like the blue blur Sonic and feel like you ''gotta go fast'', but you will use DUMA to sling shot to enemy mobs using blind side attacking, using the combo system to chain together attacks, including three techniques per character, that lets the party use their amount of Action points allotted to them. Proceed with caution however, as both your VA for DUMA and AP for your party, do run out when over used. Hastily refill it quickly by engaging with enemies or run and idle around to let it slowly recoup its bars, like my coward self did all the time. Using VA and AP in conjunction with each other back to back can make for some amazing combinations too, should you have enough energy. This can be fixed easily though by going to your skills menu and upgrading each character, raising their overall amount of AP for use as you level. So don't worry, you aren't exactly as screwed over as Raymond is when he runs out of shampoo for that glorious hair.
Moving over to the Active Skills side of combat that help change things up along side your VA and AP skillsets, these help spread diversity through broadening your chain combat system to an even further degree, allowing new ways to buff and de-buff characters in addition to being able to input items, such as customizing how to use your extra items for reviving or health. Further more, holding down your facial buttons will allow you to further ease into moving from a barrage of consecutive attacks to switching characters on the fly to fight in real time, or pressing the track pad to stop time, ala FF7 Remake system, which gives you two ways to fight, slowed down combat or real time fast action attacking. I'm talking Fist Of The North Star type of fast attacking, Atatatatata. The amazing thing about this combat system though to me, besides forcing you to be strategic and creative, is that every character feels distinct in their variety with all having strengths and weaknesses with their individual play styles, leaving always one new way to approach a battle, regular enemy or boss fight, it all just flows. Character growth as stated before, is also a key here. When I mentioned EXP and Skill points with battles providing SP to unlock skill trees, which include upgrades to your base stats, high resistance, combat skills, health, combos. Its all extremely fulfilling and offers you as the player, dozens of different ways to build EVERY character in your party, the way YOU want to. You player, are the real MVP of this world. With the fighting being fast paced action with its melee and combat system and its smooth gameplay overall, its definitely one of my favorite mechanics in a Star Ocean game in a long long time - but the downside is that to truly utilize this combat to its fullest, its going to take you at least ten hours into the story to get proper upgrades and skills, give or take, to truly take advantage of just how great this system is. Thankfully its not as long as FF13's ''wait 30 hours for the game to get good'', so we dodged a bullet there.
The reason why I'm asking for that 10 hour caution period is due to other skills, such as their Ultimate Skills being in relation to Vatting and Estery Cage. Estery Cage allows DUMA to become self efficient to bolster the parties defenses overall, but at the expense of losing your mobility and other combo attacks until you manually set it back to its normal default stage. This offers even MORE ways for combat than ever before in a Star Ocean game and its a much welcomed change to me. How hard exactly is the game though? well, In regards to the games challenges, that depends on the difficulty setting, with settings that are more leisure, making grinding less of a hindrance, whereas the Universe setting is for series hardcore players that love challenges and getting their butts handled to them.. which is definitely not me, I'm a total ween. When you're done with the storyline or even just want to take a break, you may seek out townspeople and complete side quests. I know, real shocker there, right?. Completing side quests will allow you to fast travel to their locations or area they're in and most of your quests include monster farming and slaying, fetch questing such as gathering specific things or items townsfolk want like for people like Welch, who is basically Cid from Final Fantasy in regards to the function known as crafting. Working with Welch, you will take part in tasks she gives you that unlock crafting items actions such as compounding materials to create new items, new armor and accessories, upgrade weapons, etc. It's not mandatory, but you'll thank me later for doing it due to later game bosses being a total dill pickle to fight. Ouchies. Patience is also required for this since stronger materials aren't available till later or via other side quests in towns that come at a further point in the story arc. Besides side quests, which are hit and miss, you're also able to do mini games with decks. Think of Final Fantasy Tetra Master or Magic The Gathering and you get the jist.
This deck mini game requires you to place your collected pawns on a gameboard and attack and reduce your opponents HP to zero to defeat them fully. Much like in FF7 Intermission, you will have pawns that each have different attack types, which can cause matches to go from great to bad in a blink of an eye should you strategize wrongly. Choose wisely and think carefully as each opponent is harder than the last. Thankfully not Tonberry level of hard though, little cute jerks. But your usable pawns for the mini games also aid you in battle by using them as accessories to increase stats or buffs to your party depending on who you equip them to. So be a Pokemon Master and collect all the pawns you can get in order to bolster your arsenal to even greater levels.. or don't, you lazy bum, its entirely up to you. Overall, this title with its engaging combat, great characters that show and have depth, strategies of combat being a heavy focus, expansive skill tree letting to play how you want, great to even beautiful looking environments that seem fleshed out and realized, extra content after the story with side quests and mini game pawn collecting, grinding not a huge factor, all of these make Star Ocean The Divine Force an extremely inviting RPG and to me, a return to form of where the franchise should head next. Granted its not perfect with frame rate dropping in a few towns and dungeons and early slog of story, but overall, I feel this is a must play for Star Ocean fans that have been burned by the last few entries.
So with that having been said, my verdict is clear. GameNChick says BUY NOW.