I think I wrote earlier that I wanted to get more familiar with Star Ocean games and in recent months I completed Star Ocean 1 and Star Ocean 4. The latter was supposed to be the topic of this post but… I had a lot of stuff to take care of and by the time I sat down to finally share my impressions of that, probably the most underappreciated, SO game, I had already finished The Divine Force. And damn, it’s such a good game that SO4 will have to wait a bit longer =)
Star Ocean 6 has some minor issues, for sure, but it does so many things right! It’s an incredibly fun game, that simultaneously feels like an old-school JRPG yet has all the bells and whistles you’d want to see in a game in the 21st century. I’m genuinely surprised to see that it got somewhat a mixed response online, so I can only pray to Aidios (or Tria?) that it’s sold well enough to keep Tri-Ace afloat.
Before I start singing praises to stuff I like in The Divine Force (and notice the present tense — I’m still playing it and currently aiming to get the platinum trophy) let me go over things that could be improved. The most obvious and the most annoying issue is the font size in menus. It’s awfully small and I have to squint all the time to read anything. I hoped it would get patched at some point but that doesn’t seem to be the case sadly. I’d say that the second most important issue is the game’s difficulty. It’s… weird. I started my playthrough on Galaxy difficulty, switched to Universe after the first boss fight I guess, because it was too easy. But Universe difficulty, frankly, didn’t feel very hard either, except for a few spikes. And I’m saying that as someone who didn’t even try to break the game with item creation. I blame Laeticia’s Determined Princess skill, which is ridiculously overpowered (x2 experience for the active party at a price of -100% DEF for the princess herself, a great deal whatever way you’re looking at it), it allowed me to breath through the entire game until the second fight with Gabriel Celeste. Which was the first real difficulty spike and forced me to create the best weapon and armor for Raymond. The second difficulty spike was that bird in the second optional dungeon, I had to level up everyone to level 255 but it’s a different story. I’m also not sure that I liked the idea that you can change the difficulty any time you want. I mean… I used it myself to “complete” the game on Chaos (you need only to kill the final boss on a particular difficulty to get the corresponding trophy) but still. The rest of the problems are really minor. I wish we could use the scanner during characters’ conversations, and these conversations themselves sometimes unfortunately follow the modern trend of beating you in the head with the not-so-subtle hints: “Ah, I think we need to go to seaport of Cotto, we could use the southern gate”. Another gripe I had is a weird one — several times Laeticia referred to D.U.M.A as “they”, something that’s been a thing in English for about 7 minutes, not to mentioned that, well, it’s a robot; that felt really off. That’s especially noticeable because by and large the dialogues are well-written (I assume? well-translated at least) and match the speaker’s personality.
Speaking of personalities — I really liked the characters of this game. There are some who might be a bit generic (Nina or Marielle) or under-developed (pun intended), as Chloe, but overall the cast is very good. Look at Elena, for example — I honestly thought that she would be a fanservice-first member of the party, because… well, just look at her goddammit! Yet she turned out to be a decently written character who just happen to be a walking sex bomb =) I’m surprised how much I enjoyed following Raymond as the protagonist. On paper he is just your average JRPG main character, but the fact that he is a laid-back strong guy, who doesn’t second guess his decisions, who is loyal to his friends and family to no end and has nothing suspicious in the past felt really refreshing. Yeah, I’m tired of the current trend that every character should be “deep and complex” =) It was amazing to see his brother and father later in the game, both look like cool dudes and I should’ve probably tried to find private actions with them (I think there should be some). Even Laeticia’s farther and head of his guard (Bertrand I think?) surprised me — I thought that one of them, or maybe even both, would turn out to be assholes but instead I ended up rooting for them and hoping that they wouldn’t die. I’m purposefully not writing anything about Laeticia — yeah, we spend a lot of time with her and she is a great character as well, but I want to go through the game for the second time to be able to competently judge whether she was worthy of getting Inori Minase’s voice =)
Yeah, seiyuu in Star Ocean The Divine Force are pretty good. As I said, Laeticia is voiced by Inori Minase (Altina in Trails of Cold Steel but her most famous role I guess is Rem), Nina is Rie Takahashi (!), JJ is Takaya Kuroda (Kazuma Kiryu) — honestly, I play mostly without sound because of the baby, but for Star Ocean using a pair of headphones looked like a must.
The story will not blow anyone’s mind but it was competent enough to keep my attention. The combination of fantasy and sci-fi in this game was done masterfully though. I know that some people praise The Last Hope for having multiple planets but, honestly, I think TDF did it better. You you spend most of the time on Aster IV, in your average fantasy setting, and you only have conversations about the outer space — it’s actually very Raymond-like that he is not shy about his status as an otherworlder =) If you think and see all this from the perspective of, say, Laeticia — you learned about the existence of other planets, then for about 40-50 hours you’ve been hearing about space ships and space travelling — and after that you actually get to teleport to a ship and travel to other places! It was so fun!
It’s good when a JRPG has a decent story and good characters, but gameplay is usually more important, right? Star Ocean 6 is pure crystallized fun when it comes to combat and exploration. I love AP system in this game, I love that it nudges you to switch who you’re controlling, the skill tree is done really well (if we forget about the ridiculous font size), every character plays very differently, and D.U.M.A makes combat feel very fresh comparing to other games. During my first playthrough I was trying to use a party of “aliens”: Ray, Elena, Marielle and well, Nina or Laeticia (should’ve been JJ but he joins so late in game, he was like 25 levels below the rest of the party) and it was a blast. Elena is not only hot, she is also the most fun to play character, hands down. She has attacks for every possible situation and by the end of the game hits like a truck. Also would highly recommend to at least try playing as Marielle — she is the Star Ocean 6’s Reimi. Aster IV boys and girls for the second route, yay!
Let’s talk about Welch and whether
she is hot (goddamn Sergei, what’s with this attitude of a horny teenager? although I’d say that yes, yes she is) Item Creation is fun in The Divine Force. I read some complaints about the random nature of crafting in SO6 and having gotten the trophy for crafting 90% of all possible items I can see where the criticism is coming from. Getting random items is a double-edged sword for sure — it’s addictive and exciting most of the time. “Ah, I got an accessory that increases item drop by 180%, wow!” By the end of the game however, when you do want to get the ultimate weapons and armor for everyone (or aiming to get the item creation trophy) it becomes a save-load fest, because late game crafting is bizarrely expensive. Overall, I’d say that crafting can be ignored until the first post-game dungeon. Yeah, it’s nice to get something that increases the amount of Fol or EXP you gain, but my pet-peeve with crafting in most RPGs is that at every particular point in the game it’s really difficult to create a better weapon or armor than what you can buy and The Divine Force was not an exception. I used IC regularly throughout the game and unless I was really lucky with a factor I’d say it was not worth it. Take my words with a grain of salt though, I heard that it’s possible to break SO6 as early as you get access to alchemy — create philosopher’s stones and craft the best weapons for most of the party. I don’t understand how it’s possible, because I only could craft Philosopher’s stones using Meteorites which become available either in the very last dungeon or even during post game, but maybe I just missed something. You can craft a cat though. And I love new Welch’s design =)
The last thing I wanted to mention is Esowa (someone recently blew my mind by pointing out to the fact that it can be written as SOA — Star Ocean Anamnesis, the name of the mobile Star Oean game). It’s a great, simple and fun, mini-game! The entire idea to use characters from previous SO games as accessories-slash-game pieces is fantastic and whoever came up with it should get a promotion. The most satisfying result of crafting an item was to get a new Esowa piece I hadn’t gotten before. I wish I knew who all the characters were… =)
Tri-Ace surprised me and may’ve made me a Star Ocean fan with The Divine Force. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did and going to play it for the second time soon, the platinum trophy won’t achieve itself. If the studio survives, and oh boy I do hope they will, even though it’s unlikely that we’ll get a new Valkyrie Profile game now I will be looking forward to Star Ocean 7.