Star Ocean: The Divine Force - Review

Star Ocean has had quite a few rocky years. While games like Star Ocean 2 became one of the most loved PS1 JRPGs of all time, the later entries like Star Ocean 5 typically fall under the "skip it" category for most. Unfortunately it's these later games that newer fans are experienced with, and it's these same games that might have even made original fans lose hope. Because of this a "Star Ocean 6" might not even sound that appealing at this point, and many assumed that it wouldn't even happen. But now here we are, and "The Divine Force" is now a reality!

Taking pages out of the best parts of it's old books, SO6 is an attempt to return the series to it's former glory. Unlike the previous entry, it was announced that the game was set to return to it's more "adventurous" format with multiple planets to explore, and the twin protagonist system from SO2 was going to return as well. The game would receive a revamped battle system (rather than reusing a modified version of SO3's), and other key fan favorite features were going to return as well. Right from the get go these aspects already made the game stand out from it's predecessor, but until it's release we wouldn't know how it would really be. 

It looked and sounded good on paper, but what exactly was the end result? What IS The Divine Force really? Is it a return to form? Or is it an attempt that misses the mark of the glory days? Honestly, it's kinda both, and will depend on what you as a player enjoy about JRPGs. Unlike many JRPGs out there, this is a very "focused" experience, which you'll either love or hate.

The Story of Two Protagonists:

The moment you start up SO6 you are asked to choose between two characters -- either Raymond or Laeticia. Raymond is the game's "human" character and will begin his story in space on the ship he is the captain of, while Laeticia is a native to the planet Aster IV where she is the princess of the Kingdom of Aucerius. While the game will follow the same story despite who you choose as your protagonist, there are differences with different point of views throughout the game. 

Choosing Raymond will introduce us to him and his crew as they are in the middle of a delivery mission. It's a typical run of the mill delivery for them, but when a Federation Ship shows up and begins attacking them unexpectedly, they are forced to abandon ship, and escape to the planet of Aster IV below. 

Laeticia on the other hand is already well on her way into her own personal journey. Tensions are high in her kingdom, and war is just around the corner. After gaining information about an unfinished project by an exiled man named Midas, she sets out to find him and hopefully complete the project before the Vey'l Empire attacks them. This is when she stumbles upon Raymond's crashed escape pod.

Aster IV being an underdeveloped planet, everything about Raymond is completely foreign to Laeticia. His escape pod, his clothes, the strange technology he uses -- it's all brand new to her. However she's not the only one confused by "new" technology. After opening the package he was meant to deliver, Raymond discovers something a bit different. 

A strange device known as a "D.U.M.A." This robotic looking sphere of little words joins Raymond and Laeticia on their adventure, and grants them new found abilities -- including the ability to fly. Realizing just how useful of a tool it will be, the two bring it along as they set out into the world. While Raymond's goal is to find his missing crew and eventually escape the world, Laeticia continues her search for Midas. With the two's goals overlapping for the time being, they join forces, and the story of Star Ocean's latest chapter begins.


 From this point on, the story mainly follows the same path. Throughout the game there are moments where Raymond and Laeticia are split up, but for the vast majority of the game the main story stays the same. 

The game also features different endings based on your chosen character's relationship with the other party members, and these relationships can be built during extra "Private Action" scenes. These differ based on who you play as as well, so there's reasons to give both routes a playthrough. The only other key difference comes from optional characters that can be recruited to the party, but even then these characters are still in the story even without them becoming party members.

As for the game's overall storyline and setting -- it takes place between Star Ocean 5 and 3. (And technically right after the mobile game Anamnesis.) As for what this means to new players? Not much really! Being that most of the games take place many years apart, past games stories do not usually have a direct effect on other SO games, and the same can be said here. 

Everything a new player would need to know is explained in game, and there's a full glossary filled with explanations for everything brought up. It's a great refresher for things going on in the story, and provides extra detail to things that only get slight mentions. 

 For the long time fans on the other hand, don't worry, this game is still filled with the references and series standards you've come to expect. We have a character with the last name of Kenny and happens to be the granddaughter of Emmerson of Star Ocean 5, Welch returns as usual, and item names, enemies, etc, will be familiar. There's no denying that this is a Star Ocean game, and it's very clear where this is set in the overall story. And again, for those of you who are new to the series and don't understand these references... It's okay! This is a great place to start, and a good way to learn about these series standards.

The Gameplay, World, and New Battle System:

Star Ocean: The Divine Force is in fact an action JRPG, and with that comes a lot of things fans of the genre expect. The game uses a connected map system with large open areas to explore, loading screens between said areas, and towns. There's a menu based world map for fast travel, but no "world map" in the classic JRPG sense. 

Areas are pretty massive in general, with plenty of open spaces to run in and alternate paths to take, and it's really up to the player to decide exactly how they are going to get from Point A to Point B. Areas also have hidden treasure chests and items to pick up as you go along your way, and can be located with the help of DUMA's scan ability. 

With how big these areas are in general, they do have a lot of empty space without much going on, but this really isn't a bad thing like it might seem. Instead of having large areas just to walk through to kill time and make it feel more "open," SO6 actually uses it to it's advantage with it's gameplay mechanics. 

The fact is, the character's running speed here is so fast that you'll actually fly through the open spaces in no time at all. You'll dash your way across large open fields in a matter of seconds, rather than the 15 minute walk it appeared to me. And that's not to mention the fact that DUMA also allows you to lock onto a direction and fly through the air shortly -- so these "empty" open spaces really are traversed faster than you'd think. 

Thanks to this flying ability though the maps had to be made a bit more open than usual, so many of them do have multiple levels to them as well. Buildings, cliffs, floating platforms, etc -- it's all here and used in different ways.

Monsters roam freely throughout the entire world, and walking up to them or attacking them will start a battle. Using your DUMA to fly into the air and dive bomb/attack is also a great way to begin a fight, and catching enemies off guard will give you an advantage. Unlike other games in the series, battles actually take place on the very same openworld field, so there's no loading screens or separate battle arenas to be pulled into. This setup means you'll be fighting in a wide verity of environments across the entire game, and most of them will always take into account your newfound ability to fly into the air/dash towards enemies. 

Even inside areas tend to have higher ceilings and larger open spaces, so you never feel restricted. Of course enemies do have an attack/battle range assigned to them however, so if you stray too far you will "run" from a fight. Unlike other games however, simply walking back will continue the battle where you left off. (No running by mistake right before you kill something, only to turn around and see it healed like in some similar games.)

The battle system itself is quite a bit different from past games, and is setup in a way where you can fully customize your characters.

Rather than having normal attacks and special attacks, SO6 goes for a system where you create your own combos. Attacks are pulled off by hitting one of the three face buttons assigned for attacks (Square, Triangle, Circle as default on PlayStation), and as you unlock new attacks and skills, you can equip them as part of your combo chains. Each button can also equip a single "hold to use" skill as well, which can be used instantly without having to go down the attack chain. 

With this system you are free to customize and build your characters to fit different situations, and the game encourages you to try out different things. The game does have an "energy bar" of sort to limit how many attacks you can use in a row, but the recharge time is thankfully fast. It's no more than a second or so to jump back into things with your combos, and that energy limit gets expanded as you land surprise attacks on enemies and fight well in general. 

Besides the standard attacks, DUMA also plays a role in battle, and can be used for both attack and defending. DUMA can be used to fly through the air and dash attack enemies, as well as pull off blind side attacks for massive damage. It can also be sent out and shield your entire party, but doing so will mean you won't be able to use it's offensive abilities while in this state. Of course DUMA has an energy bar as well, so you can't just spam it's dash abilities to win fights.

As you continue to fight a special bar also fills up that allows you to unleash a "finisher" style special attack, with each character having their very own. 

Mixed with the game's fast running speed, and DUMA's abilities, the battle system in SO6 is insanely fast, and fights never feel like they're slowing you down. In some ways it makes the game feel more like a full-on action game rather than an Action JRPG, but all of the RPG systems are still there to tell you otherwise. Status effects, weaknesses, combat advantages and disadvantages, characters with different roles/damage/support options, and so on. 

While a player's physical skill does still play a large role, there's no denying that sometimes failure comes from being improperly equip to handle the situation.

Outside of the open fields, dungeons, and combat in general -- the game does feature towns as well. These hub areas are spread out across the world map, but they might not be exactly what JRPG fans have come to expect. While the towns themselves are quite large with rooftops to explore, multiple buildings to enter, etc, their main use is for story progression and character development.

Rather than having hundreds of NPCs to talk, multiple shops, and side quests everywhere... SO6's biggest focus in towns comes from the Private Actions between party members. Yes there are still NPCs everywhere, and some of them can be spoken to, but the vast majority of them are only there to make the towns feel alive. Some of them can be spoken to to play SO6's chess like mini game, and some of them will offer side quests, but for the most part NPCs are just there. Again, this game has a strong focus on it's main story, and it doesn't really have a lot of the filler many JRPGs cram in. 

Shops are also limited to one per town, and as such each shop keeper carries different categories of items, and inns are simply there to heal you and provide you with extra stat buffs. With this setup, towns are very streamlined, and often get you in and out without taking too much of your time. As for the Private Actions however, this is a system unique to the Star Ocean series as a whole, and will take a little more of your time.

Upon entering towns, your main party will split up and will be standing in different locations across the town. Speaking to them will sometimes give you generic NPC dialogue commenting on the game's current story events, but other times they will trigger a side event called a "Private Action" instead. These are personal heart to heart moments between your chosen main character and the party member, and sometimes includes multiple party members as well. Doing these conversations will teach you more about the characters in general, and also increase their relationship with the main character. 

Sometimes these events are funny, sometimes they're a bit more depressing back stories, and sometimes they're just interesting and teach you something you didn't know. Every town has different PAs that can be triggered at different times throughout the story, and the game encourages you to check each town to see what new events you might be able to see. 

On top of this, characters also have dialogue while traveling between towns, so sometimes it's recommended to walk to places rather than fast travel as well. Of course actually walking will take more time, but with the fast movement speed it really doesn't take as much extra time as you'd think.

Skills, Crafting, and Customizing your Characters:

Star Ocean: The Divine Force has multiple systems in place when it comes to character advancement and customization. While the party members are set with their own "classes" so to speak, you do have some control over how your characters will be. As mentioned above, you do build your attack combo chains, but to even do this you need to teach your characters their attack skills. This is where the whole skill and ability system comes in as a whole, and there's actually quite a bit attached to it.

In SO6 each character has their own "skill tree" that takes the form a honeycomb like grid. Each node on the grid is a different skill, ability, or stat boost, and to unlock them you need to spend ability points you gain from battle. Unlocking an ability will make the abilities next to it unlockable as well, and eventually you'll have access to the entire grid. 

While what abilities can be unlocked is controlled by the character, it's up to the player to decide what is worth unlocking and when. Is it more important to get the stat boosting abilities first? Or do you want to unlock more attacks? Or what about the passive abilities, or even the active buff ones? 

These are the questions you ask yourself each time you open up the skill tree, and sometimes you have to make some hard calls. Although, it honestly doesn't take too long to get more ability points, so you'll constantly be unlocking new skills every five or ten minutes -- really not bad at all... It's just, unlocking abilities isn't the only thing you have to consider.

Once you have unlocked attacks, passive skills, buffs, etc, you now have to decide how you are going to equip them, and if you are going to level them up as well. Passive skills only allow you to have three equip at a time, and sometimes these are key to even surviving. Considering there's only one character who is an actual healer (with a unique combo based healing system attached to her), passive skills like the auto healing are key to survival. The game also has a heavy focus on items for healing, attacking, buffs, etc, so passive skills that increase your item usage can really be life savers as well. But then you also have passive abilities that the character really benefits from due to their play style, so sacrifices will have to be made. 

Active skills on the other hand are equip in place of attacks in your combos, and can provide buffs and support to the entire party when used. Having these means you'll be cutting down on how many actual attacks you can pull off, but sometimes it's worth it to have. 

All of these abilities and attacks can be leveled as well by spending Ability Points, so once again you have to decide what you should spend said points on. Increase the attack damage of your attacks, or learn something new? Make it so you can heal more per second, or increase the bonus your buffs provide? Plenty to pick from, and there's really no right or wrong way to go about leveling such things. It's a lot of freedom, and eventually you'll be able to get everything, but it requires you to at least put some thought into what you're doing. Especially when playing on higher difficulties.

DUMA also has it's own skills for battle, as well as support skills on the field. Abilities such as the treasure chest scan ability need to be unlocked and leveled up to be used/be more effective, and points to do so are actually hidden across the entire world. These "points" look like giant purple gems, and can be found everywhere on each map. 

Flying in the sky, along the ground, on top of cliffs, hidden behind things, etc. Most are situated in a way so that you'll be pick them up as you use your DUMA to fly you where you need to go, but many are also hidden as well. It basically gives you more of a reason to explore these open maps, or look in places you'd normally just run past. (It's actually a little reminiscent of PlayStation's Gravity Rush to be honest.) It takes awhile to build up a lot of points, but at least collecting them can also be a lot of fun.

The final skill related system comes from the game's crafting system. Crafting is unlocked via Welch side quests (something common in Star Ocean), and falls into different categories. Each category can be leveled up from 1-10, and each character has their own talents when it comes to crafting. 

Some of them are more cut out for different types of crafting and will receive a bonus when crafting in that category, but sometimes items such as weapons are exclusive to the characters who do not excel in said category. This means you still need to level up crafting for each character, rather than allowing just one character to handle one job. One character might be the "best" at alchemy, but the reality is, you might need another character at level 10 alchemy to create that item you need. Thankfully it doesn't take too long to level crafting skills, but again, it's taking away from other skills and abilities you could be unlocking instead.

As for the actual crafting system -- it's a bit luck based. The basics come down to picking two items to mix together, but what can be produced from that mixture can be a verity of things. Some mixtures will give you a rare item 15% of the time, but the other 85% you'll just get one of the possible common results. Of course you can get around this by saving before crafting and then reloading, but even this can sometimes take awhile to get you what you actually want. 

There's also not really an in game way to see what you're making/will make, so unfortunately you'll need outside help if you want to discover everything. Kinda common for the series, but it can be annoying if you don't want to take the time to search for the answers online. Sadly the game's ultimate weapons are locked behind crafting, so it can't be fully skipped if you want to do everything. On the flip side, extremely strong weapons can be crafted pretty quickly to help out on the harder difficulties, and the found/bought weapons are more than enough to get you through the game.

Pure Story Yet Tons of Side Content:

One of the biggest things about Star Ocean 6 is the fact that it's main story cuts out all the fluff. As mentioned above, your towns aren't your typical JRPG towns filled with NPCs to talk to. While the game has back tracking, you traverse the world so fast it doesn't even feel like back tracking most of the time. Heck, you can even just fast travel your way through the game as well, but you miss out on the little bit of extra dialogue there is. Private Actions are optional (yet worth seeing), but they also don't really take up that much of your time if you were to see them all. 

For the most part, your time going through the main story will ONLY be pure story content, with exploration off the beaten path being completely optional. And with how fast the game's story flies by, no single part really feels like it drags on as it's constantly forcing you forward into the next main event. By only focusing on the main story, and running from point A to point B as fast as you can -- the game still clocks in around 25-30 hours. Which is honestly pretty refreshing for a game like this.

On the flip side, the game does have side content that isn't in your face. If you were to actually do all of the shop requests, take on all the NPC side quests, and do all private actions -- you're looking at dozens of hours of extra content. If you were to throw crafting into the mix, and actually take the time to craft everything... You're doubling your playtime (or possibly even tripling it). Then you have the extra endings (one for each character), which adds a few more hours worth of boss fighting and save reloading to achieve. 

To top this all off you have the second character's story to play through (complete with character endings for them as well), and harder difficulty modes to play through the game on. Of course all of this is "main game" content, and not even putting the post game into consideration.

SO6 continues the series tradition of having a large post game. Of course I won't spoil what the post game is, but you can expect additional bosses, new areas to explore, and ways to build your party and max your stats as you take on these new challenges. The length of post game will depend on the player themself, and what they all do, but in general... It's quite the ride to say the least. 

All in all, SO6 is a game you can either spend hundreds of hours on, or focus on it's 25ish hour main story and be done with. 

The Divine (and not so Divine) Force:

Star Ocean: The Divine Force is an interesting game, with a lot of mixed feelings. The game doesn't have any fundamental flaws that ruins the experience, but what someone likes varies from person to person. The game has a lot going for it -- it's a fun sci-fi adventure with a great cast of characters, interesting locations to explore, high speed action combat system, and is very story focused. 

It also has a pretty deep crafting system, tons of extras for those who enjoy side quests and boss fights, there's two main characters to pick from (with different story paths), and a lot of customization for your characters! The game also trims out a lot of filler type content, but sprinkles some extra dialogue and scenes to help the party feel more alive. In general it's just a fun action JRPG that doesn't really do anything "wrong." That doesn't mean everyone will love it though. 

Some may not like the art design of the game. While there are really nice looking areas, the SO 3D models have always come under fire from both fans and newcomers alike. Heck, some might not like the character design choices either. Then you have the NPCs in towns that you can't talk too -- while this works with the game's storytelling, those who enjoy talking to NPCs may be let down. There's also the fact that the game goes down the more classic Star Ocean route of having a single main planet, with a handful of off world locations. 

For a game called "Star Ocean," space is not the main focus at all. Then you have the features from games like Star Ocean 2 that have yet to return to the series. While SO6 is a step back in the right direction towards SO2's style, it still isn't SO2. (But don't worry, you can still "break" the game and become OP just the same. That part of Star Ocean is still here.)

Bottom line is, while it's a fun game with a lot going for it -- it's not a game that will make everyone happy. If you jump into this expecting the greatest game of all time, or the return to Star Ocean 2's glory... This isn't it. But if you're playing the game just expecting a fun fast paced adventure, and enough side content to keep you playing even after you've finished the game; then you wont be disappointed. As someone who plays nearly every JRPG that releases, Star Ocean 6 is one ride I don't regret being on. It also gives me hope for the future of the series.

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