Star Ocean: The Divine Force feels like a gem in the rough

Star Ocean: The Divine Force is one of those games that shoot for the stars, even if it ends up not quite hitting the mark. That’s not to say the time I spent with the game during Square Enix’s recent press event was bad - in fact, it was far from it. Rather, it’s despite whatever small issues I had with the game I still ended up walking away from my demo excited to see what Star Ocean has to offer.

Easily the most standout aspect of Star Ocean: The Divine Force is the new D.U.M.A system; early on during my demo session, I got access to it, which lets you press R1 to levitate whichever character you’re controlling, aim them at any given direction, and then send them flying. During combat, it lets you charge at a locked-on enemy to either deal heavy damage in a quick-paced attack, or to throw them off with a blindside with the flick of the analog stick at the right time. This was ultimately a little difficult during my session, but it’s hard to dismiss the system entirely when it’s so obviously tied into reaction speeds, and I was playing the game through an OBS capture window.

Even within the early parts of Star Ocean: The Divine Force’s world, you can see how Tri-Ace has designed the game world around its increased mobility. Even for areas where D.U.M.A can’t directly reach, the ability to glide for additional distance during your descent means that in practice there’s very little stopping you from exploring almost every corner of each area. You’re even rewarded for exploring, as purple rocks are scattered nearly everywhere requiring using D.U.M.A to reach, which can then be spent to improve its capabilities. 

In essence, even from the very beginning of the game, there’s a very satisfying gameplay loop revolving around taking your time and exploring each location. Battles take place seamlessly in the environment, returning from Star Ocean 5 - but the addition of D.U.M.A letting you dash in and out of the heat of combat feels promising for the types of encounters the team can design for later in the game. The D.U.M.A tutorial pointing out how larger enemies might have weak points that can only be reached using the system wouldn’t make sense if players weren’t taxed with properly utilizing the system later in the game.

While I’m excited to see more of what the game has to offer - an NPC I talked to in the one village I came across during my time with the preview hinted at a card minigame called Es’owa, and I found a well-hidden Mini-Bunny in one of the game’s maps - I do have some small concerns. Even on PlayStation 5, the game has some noticeable hitches and stutters. While I would be tempted to assign these to playing the game through OBS, another game I’d played immediately prior to Star Ocean had perfectly smooth frame pacing. Additionally, quite a bit of textures in these early game zones wouldn’t look quite out of place on that PlayStation 3.

Even with these technical quibbles, it’s hard to not get excited over the ambition on display here. I always love to see when developers are so clearly getting out of their comfort zone, and Star Ocean:: The Divine Force is much the same. I’d like to hope that it delivers. Whatever the end result may be, I’m happy to see a Star Ocean with so much ambition baked into its design.