Star Ocean: The Divine Force preview – a promising return to form

Star Ocean: The Divine Force

The recent entries in the Star Ocean series were Integrity and Faithlessness back in 2016, a 4K remaster of The Last Hope in 2018 and console ports of First Departure R in 2019. While the latter two releases were ports/remasters of decent action RPGs, for a while it seemed Integrity and Faithlessness might have killed the series.

Star Ocean: The Divine Force is the sixth mainline entry in the Star Ocean franchise. This RPG series has had its ups and downs over the years since the Star Ocean: Till the End of Time on PlayStation 2, but this latest demo build of the new game shows promise and is a return to form.

This is a preview coupled with a supplemental video preview. You can watch the video preview or read the full preview of the game below:

Immediately, first impressions are strong. The visuals are dazzling and there is a keen eye for scene direction in the cutscenes. Voice acting is natural and while the dubbing is sloppy, the utterly slick graphics and fluid frame rate shows how far tri-Ace has come since Integrity and Faithlessness.

Some things are not perfect. Character expressions are very limited and border on being doll-like. This was a problem in Star Ocean: The Last Hope and sadly, it persists in The Divine Force. The stiff faces is something that would have worked for the android character, but everyone else is human and still barely emote.

Raymond finds himself marooned on an Earth-like, underdeveloped alien planet after an exciting space battle. Like  Star Trek‘s Prime Directive, the Star Ocean universe abides by a rule where space-faring civilizations refrain from exposing developing civilizations advance technology.

Like in almost every Star Ocean before it, Ray completely ignores the Prime Directive and shows his medieval hosts his rad escape pod and cell phone. These characters interact believably and ask the right questions that keeps the story moving forward at a brisk clip.

From the fast paced story and how fluid the action flows from combat to exploration, Star Ocean: The Divine Force manages to be engrossing in these opening hours. After exploring some ruins and getting the hang of platforming, the main gameplay gimmick gets introduced: D.U.M.A.

This advanced droid has many applications; some uses are in combat and utility while exploring. Ray is effectively able to fly and launch himself in any direction. There is almost no limit to where he can go.

Exploration in Star Ocean: The Divine Force is like a 3D platformer and being able to fly in the vast environments evokes some memories of the Xenoblade games. The demo is generous with the amount of locations and the massive space afforded to the player to explore.

Star Ocean: The Divine Force

When engaging enemies, D.U.M.A. functions as a shield mechanism and is instrumental in dashing around the field and blindsiding threats. Blindsiding is a key combat element where players can get the upper hand with a little bit of timing and management.

The flow of battle is a tug-of-war between the D.U.M.A. gauge and and the action meter. Wailing on goons endlessly will leave Ray and company unable to fight and will require some cool-down time to recharge. Dodging also feels responsive and can trigger a perfect-dodge for risk versus reward gameplay.

There is a surprising amount of depth to fighting in Star Ocean: The Divine Force. The skill-ceiling is the highest it has ever been compared to any prior entry. The range of customization has nuance as well: the D.U.M.A. has parameters than can be leveled up and each character’s customizable move-set also can be upgraded.

It will be interesting to see how much deeper the character-building can get in the final game with a full party. The demo suggests a lot of possibilities within the first few hours and with enough tinkering, players will be able to pull off some gnarly stun-locks.

The only worrisome part of the Star Ocean: The Divine Force demo was the questionable lock-on system. Ray would frequently focus on very distant foes instead of the ones closest to him. It can be annoying and hopefully that the release build will have a tighter lock-on mechanic than the iffy one here.

Star Ocean: The Divine Force

The story in Star Ocean: The Divine Force could go anywhere. There are some aspects that are questionable and could use some explanation. The fact that the medieval planet has everyone speaking the same language as Ray is too convenient and that there is no time delay when making messages across the universe.

Character motivations are seemingly defined and act in accordance to their archetypical personalities. Ray comes off as a meat-head, but he is a meat-head that you’d like because he cares about his crew and is generally a man of action.

The way the Star Ocean: The Divine Force demo concludes, plenty of mysteries are planted. There are some compelling set-ups, like the mysterious space craft that assaulted Ray and his crew or why the D.U.M.A. is highly desired. All these questions and more will soon have answers when Star Ocean: The Divine Force comes out in October 27.

Star Ocean: The Divine Force is set to launch on Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 on October 27th.

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A youth destined for damnation.

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