TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — "Star Ocean: The Divine Force" won't keep its feet on the ground.
Sprawling, lavish environments, streamlined combat and progression and a deep, intense story pace the gorgeous JRPG from developer Tri-Ace. The game tells the interlinked storylines of two protagonists whose efforts to save a besieged kingdom have consequences that resonate across the galaxy.
Phil Villarreal: I'll start by saying this isn't normally my type of game. But Sean, you convinced me to give it a whirl, just as you did last year with "Tales of Arise," and I don't regret making the leap. It's easy to get lost in the story, which plays out with cinematic resonance. I rarely found myself with the urge to skip cutscenes, and whenever I grew impatient I managed to stay the course and was usually pleased that I did.
I rolled my eyes at some of the 1990s-style aphorisms, but whether intended or not, the humor helped keep the mood light during darker, grandiose moments.
I appreciated the visuals and artistry overall and found the combat to be fun, albeit a little repetitive.
What made you fall for this game, Sean?
Sean Newgent: I have some bizarre fascination with low budget JRPG's that likely stems from a childhood spent with limited money, a PS2, and needing to use my limited funds to buy games that I could play for a hundred hours — at least till I had the allowance for the next title. I have no background with "Star Ocean" other than wanting to play the games and never actually doing so. Rather than getting vibes of this 25-year-old franchise, I was whisked back to that PS2 era and games like "Rogue Galaxy" and "Xenosaga", forgotten now, but holding a special place in my nostalgia-doused heart ("Xenosaga" HD releases when?).
Picking up "Star Ocean: The Divine Force" you are immediately immersed in a story of a Middle Ages society coming into contact with a space-age trader. You can choose to play as either Princess Laeticia Aucerius, journeying across the world to help her friend save his ailing magical arm, or Raymond Lawrence, a man who looks like the model for the terrible cover art of a straight-to-VHS 1986 Conan the Barbarian ripoff. From there, the journey begins, trekking back and forth across this planet to complete fetch quests and kill monsters, meeting new friends and enemies along the way.
The game is typical JRPG faire in regards to the story. The writing has a cast of wacky anime tropes, some speaking in a Creative Writing 111 ye olde English vernacular, while as you said Phil, others talk like they're transplanted from the space 90s. That said there isn't enough story to really get in the way of the gameplay. I found the intro to be quick and further cutscenes and events to not overstay their welcome in the way of plenty of similar games. Side quests boil down to boring fetch quests or "Kill X number of Y".
Let's talk a little more about the gameplay Phil, because I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it — what aspects kept you engaged?
Phil Villarreal: I was impressed with the pacing. Too often with RPGs, you feel as though you're stuck at a bus stop, waiting for things to start moving. From the outset, this game hits the jet stream, throwing out some impressive exploration and a miniboss to cap off the tutorial before letting you take to the skies.
The game grants you a sense of freedom while keeping things linear enough to not leave you feeling as though you're lost in the woods.
I also adored the storytelling. There are characters to appreciate, some to mock and twists I didn't see coming. Like "Tales of Arise," this feels like a majestic, robust experience that always gives you a reason to fire it up again.
Final thoughts, Sean?
Sean Newgent: Combat is fun and while the upgrade systems are antiquated and cumbersome, I had fun filling out the talents grid and especially leveling up our little robot pal (using gems found throughout the world through exploration). The world itself isn't necessarily believable or well-thought-out. Outfits make no sense, the towns don't have much character, the open worlds are vast but ultimately very empty with only a scattering of indistinct monsters to take down (a JRPG where you fight evil shrooms, trees, and flowers? Say it ain't so!). The ability to slingshot around with your zooming abilities adds an extra dimension to traversal that makes the otherwise dull maps more interesting, but it still isn't enough when there's so little to do. Side quests are kept to towns, exploration only nets the occasional chest or XP for the robot. The game looks good — though characters all look like porcelain dolls with huge eyes that would be disconcerting were they to peer at you through a crack in a dark doorway. Or just stare at you while expositing corny dialogue.
"Star Ocean: The Divine Force" has all the hallmarks of a cheap JRPG. Repeated areas, a boring bestiary, some hilarious writing and very awkward voice acting. But I had so much fun playing it, tossing aside other, bigger-budget titles to get another taste. I can't see that this game will have a wide appeal like a "Final Fantasy" or "Tales" title, but as my introduction to the series, I can't wait to dig back into the series and see what I've missed this past quarter century.
Publisher provided codes.
This review was originally reported on kgun9.com.