You’ve always been able to tell when Square Enix decided not to give one of its upcoming RPGs a proper budget, but the Star Ocean series feels like an IP that completely undercuts its monetary commitments. is dedicated to No because the PS2 generation had a quality installment of the franchise, and Divine Force looks set to continue that unwanted hot streak. Its visuals are terrible. Its fighting is rubbish. This space epic must go back to the drawing board.
The story may sink its hooks into you, giving you some semblance of a reason to keep playing, but the combat is by far the game’s biggest issue. It’s a free-form system where you can run away from battles whenever you want, all controlled by an AP gauge. Our demo featured two different areas of the RPG and neither allowed us to chain more than three or four hits together before forcing us to take a break.
To attack, you need a pipe in your AP gauge present. With the bar full, you can land a few hits and maybe wipe out an enemy’s entire health bar. However, the AP gauge wears off so quickly that it’s impossible to get into any sort of rhythm. You’ll have to retreat repeatedly, just running around the battlefield and avoiding damage while the meter refills. It’s a rubbish system that leaves a terrible first impression. The bar will likely rise as you progress through the game, but we can only judge what’s in front of us. The opening hours of Divine Force seem to be a mere act of attacking and fleeing. This is not the impression you want to give the player when starting out.
A second battle bar, named VA Gauge, is at least a little cooler. Once it’s full, your character can crash land on top of the sky and enemies to deal massive damage over a wide area. It fills up fairly quickly, and we consider switching between the two meters when one runs out. However, there isn’t enough variety to build an entire battle system around these two mechanics.
Our roughly half-hour session with the RPG was, unfortunately, a bit of a letdown as the engagement systems put before us didn’t quite make sense in practice. You spend the same amount of time No Attacking as you do slicing and dicing. Of course, these mechanics will definitely become more complex as your playtime reaches double digits, but managing your AP gauge seems to be a key part of the combat system. This concept of attacking and then waiting appears to be firmly established in experience.
Outside of combat, two areas could be explored: one was a linear, story-focused mission and the other was an open landscape in which a city could be visited. The latter somewhat brightened our opinion of the divine force; The freedom to go where we liked was a welcome distraction and the scenery in the background was quite eye-catching.
It was within the town that the title highlighted that it didn’t have the budget chops to bring its world to life. The main focus is settlement, with little to do other than reading textbooks, sleeping in inns and wandering around. Some scenes are voiced, and others are not. Having said that, the voice dialogue isn’t exactly commendable when the main character pronounces the name Leticia two different ways within minutes of each other.
And then many of the characters littered about the village look comfortably last-gen – some can even claim to be from the PS3 generation. It really does seem pretty bad at times. While some of the distance views paint a pretty picture of the environment you’re exploring, the textures don’t look anywhere near as up close and personal.
Can Star Ocean: Divine Force still recover? Absolutely: We don’t want to write off RPGs completely at this stage. However, we cannot ignore how unpleasant its combat system proves to be in the early stages. How it gets you into fights seems baked into the gameplay loop no matter your level or stats, so we’re concerned that getting better at the game won’t fix these issues. If the game was in our hands we would take these systems back to the drawing board. The problem is that Square Enix plans to have Star Ocean: The Divine Force on store shelves in just over a month.
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