The divine power is not terrible and that is enough

The divine power is not terrible and that is enough
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Key art for Star Ocean: The Divine Force features both protagonists under the night sky.

screenshot: Tri Ace / Square Enix / Kotaku

I live just 15 minutes drive from the house I grew up in. My parents moved when I was in college, and by that time the physical embodiment of every memory from my formative years was being passed on to strangers, only to be revisited in my dreams. On the few occasions I’ve returned to this street the memories come flooding back, but they go ill with the courtyards, which now seem smaller, and the houses, which don’t look quite as freshly painted and maintained. To play Starry Ocean: The Divine Power can be equally harrowing: a monument to bygone comforts that occasionally delights, but whose cracked foundation and peeling paint remind you it’s no longer your home.

There was once, old ocean was a solid JRPG series that offered fans a meaty alternative to it final fantasy and dragon quest. It lets players board on a dungeons style campaign within a larger one star trek– inspired universe. It surpassed its weight with frenetic combat, deep crafting systems, and a wealth of side content. There were multiple endings and roster tradeoffs depending on who you were trying to recruit during your journey. Star Ocean: Second Story on the original PlayStation was good. The next game on PS2 was even better. Since then it’s been downhill. Until now.

Divine Force's environments can be pretty pretty.

screenshot: Tri Ace / Square Enix / Kotaku

Starry Ocean: The Divine Power, the sixth game in the series and first on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, is a significant improvement over the last game. 2016 Integrity and Unfaithfulness was unremarkable, incomplete and had a third-person camera that made you want to throw up. A low bar that sure needs to be cleared, though divine power not only avoids the pitfalls of its predecessor. It also features an innovative overhaul of the combat system that is mind-bending but immersive, with the most beautiful environments the series has ever achieved. I’ve been playing in graphics mode on PS5, and while it’s far from the best-looking JRPG on console, the lush fields, detailed architecture, and colorful interstellar skies added to the otherwise barebones questline filled with a tedious amount of backtracking , adding an extra spark.

Does that mean divine power is a good game? But. I’ve been at it for about six hours, and so far I haven’t seen anything that would make me recommend it to anyone who isn’t already in the rapidly shrinking diehard group old ocean fans. For all of the game’s tweaks and modern sensibilities, it’s nowhere near as focused, polished, or refined as Xenoblade Chronicles 3or even last year stories of creation. Despite all its surprising merits, divine power just not in the same league.

gif: Tri Ace / Square Enix / Kotaku

The English voice acting is passable and occasionally endearing in its eccentricity, but mostly comes across as just stilted, due in part to a script that feels trapped in some kind of wacky PS2-era JRPG libs, for better and definitely worse. Raymond, the captain of a merchant ship, lands on a medieval planet where he meets a princess named Laeticia who is trying to repel an invasion of her kingdom by a neighboring empire. Despite the looming threats lurking in the background, much of the early game is about getting involved in mundane community affairs as Raymond tries to regroup with his crewmates, muttering things like, “Who the hell are the people on this rock with growing horns? out of their heads?” It’s pretty boring stuff.

A screenshot shows what the Divine Force menu interface looks like.

Divine Force’s menu interface is particularly difficult to read.
screenshot: Tri Ace / Square Enix / Kotaku

Rather, the game comes to life between those made-up story beats and arduous fetch quests. Conversations with NPCs are rarely interesting, but they occasionally open up side missions that unlock special items to use the game’s crafting systems. While hardly any of this is signposted, the more esoteric side of the game is there for players willing to get off the beaten path and try to figure out what the game is trying to tell you.

Exploration and combat are complemented by a mechanical companion called DUMA, which you can use to fly short distances or swoop down on enemies and stun them. A stamina number, meanwhile, regulates how often and quickly you can unleash combos in fights. There’s also a roll dodge, which is perfect for dodging an incoming attack and countering it with a powerful follow-up. While aiming can be a nightmare and it’s often impossible to know if something off-screen will hit you, it makes combat feel more natural and responsive than in previous games.

gif: Tri Ace / Square Enix / Kotaku

The transition between exploration and combat is also seamless, helping to keep it that way divine power move so that even if something leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it doesn’t last long. That means the environments you explore, while occasionally huge and pretty to look at, are essentially empty save for a few treasure chests and breadcrumb trails of crystals you can collect to level up the DUMA Enemies always spawn in the same groups in the same place, whether you’re visiting the location for the first time or for the fifth time. And despite the addition of short flight bursts and a glide ability, the platform was too imprecise for me to ever attempt to reach hard-to-reach treasure chests.

Divine Force characters watch the birds.

screenshot: Tri Ace / Square Enix / Kotaku

Then why am I still playing? divine power? Because I’m one of those fans that it was old ocean-stacked a long time ago, flipping through strategy guides excitedly, trying to decide which character I would recruit and how not to miss out. I’m hardly the first person to notice how much the latest game feels like playing an HD homage second story and Until the end of time. The sound effects are all still the same. You eat blueberries to heal and still can’t carry more than 20 at a time. And much of the early game is at least about running errands for kings and mages in an increasingly nonsensical series of convoluted subplots. It was a nice throw into the past, but none of it is as good as I remember.

Developer Tri-Ace is in a huge financial holeand fans are worried about it divine power could be the series’ last chance to prove it still deserves to exist. Some are even Purchase multiple copies of the game to try to keep the dream alive. But the first sales data are not reassuring. At least in Japan, the launch of the game looks like this the second worst in the series history. It’s hard to blame anyone, both for the game’s shortcomings and the inherent limitations and niche appeal of the decades-old formula, but also because there are just so many other JRPGs to choose from. I’m that disappointed divine power isn’t the triumphant comeback fans have been asking for, but I’m not surprised. I’m just glad it’s not terrible and that I get to revisit before the whole thing gets knocked down.

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