Sea of Stars first caught my attention when a demo was released on PS4 and PS5 consoles back in July. Having never played The Messenger, Final Fantasy VI, or Chrono Trigger, I wanted to better understand why Sabotage Studio’s latest project was already being touted as another highly anticipated release for this year.
After completing Sea of Stars this past weekend, I now have a greater appreciation for their vision and agree wholeheartedly that this game should definitely be on your radar. Here are more of my thoughts on what you can expect should you decide to pick it up.
The Journey of a Lifetime
Sea of Stars could be best described as a retro-stylized turn-based role-playing game that pays homage to the classics that came before it. The story revolves around Zale and Valere, two Children of the Solstice. You can choose to play as either character with no impact on the story. After being separated from their friend Gaul and spending the majority of their childhood training at the Zenith Academy, the duo emerges as Solstice Warriors with the task of defeating an evil immortal alchemist known as The Fleshmancer. The pair eventually reunites with Gaul and together the trio embarks on an epic journey filled with action, intrigue, and emotionally gripping ups and downs.
From a storytelling standpoint, Sea of Stars shines the brightest in how it portrays its cast of characters and their motivations throughout the entire adventure. Zale and Valere are fully aware of their responsibility to complete the mission but never remain so serious that they ignore playful conversations and moments with Gaul. This balanced formula of showing how the group approaches challenges in both the best and worst of times really makes the journey even more captivating. Furthermore, the world, characters, and every text-based conversation have a great deal of charm which in essence makes you feel fully invested in finishing the story from beginning to end.
The artistic direction of Sea of Stars is simply magnificent in almost every way imaginable. For a 2D pixel-art game, the vibrant use of color and smooth animations feel very reminiscent of the classic games that I mentioned above but with a modernized approach. Not only does the world feel alive but the bosses are especially intricately designed and you can tell that a lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into crafting this experience.
I also appreciate that the pixel-art design aesthetics remain consistent throughout the game with a few cut scenes here and there to further emphasize key parts of the storyline. This includes a bird’s eye view of the world map as you travel from one area to another and beyond. If you’re a fan of video games with this particular art style then you definitely will be fascinated by how visually appealing this title is.
An Addictive Gameplay Loop
The one aspect about Sea of Stars that makes it a standout title for me lies within just how fun it was to play this game. When creating a turn-based RPG, it’s important for developers to consider how combat can make or break an experience for players. Sabotage Studio has taken this into careful consideration and delivered something that is both exciting and challenging.
At the start of every enemy encounter, you’re presented with a screen that displays each hero’s Health Power (HP) and Magic Power (MP). The entire combat system is built around a Locks system in which you deal damage by performing certain attacks to break down adversaries. Zalee is proficient with sword and sun attacks while Valere does staff and moon attacks. Gaul also offers powerful attacks with his shield and serves the dual purpose of cooking food for everyone while adding a bit of comic relief from time to time.
When selecting each hero, a small menu appears with options to attack, use magic skills, do a combo attack with an ally, or use items to replenish health. Using standard attacks can be effective and if you tap the button at the right time then you’ll quickly perform a second move on your opponent right away. Once you start breaking down your enemy, you’ll build up a combo meter that will allow you to combine magic with one of your allies to inflict an even more powerful blow. Timing also plays a role in defense as you can attempt to block an upcoming attack if you press the button at the right time. As you get deeper into the game, your standard attacks release live Mana which can be absorbed and used back at enemies.
Once you defeat every enemy, you’ll start building up experience points. After reaching a certain number of experience points, you’re brought to a level-up screen where you can pick a bonus stat. These usually include adding points to your Physical Attack, Magic Defense, Physical Defense, Magic Attack, Mana, Health, and more. In addition to all of this, you do encounter other allies to help you on your journey, and seeing how their powers differ from the group keeps things very intriguing.
The three final points that I want to touch on regarding gameplay revolve around the use of exploration, traversal, and puzzles within the game. While there is a main story to focus on, there are also side quests that you can partake in to gain small rewards. The scope of the world feels very massive at times and you are able to explore certain areas which are expanded upon even more once you gain new tools to reach certain areas that you couldn’t reach before.
Giving players the ability to swim, climb, vault, and jump off ledges while also connecting that action to a puzzle is the definition of fun gameplay. In many ways, Traversal can also help you avoid some enemy encounters based on how you navigate certain areas. It is however worth noting that there any many instances when a battle will be necessary to progress no matter what. Luckily, there are various books and campfires that you’ll find throughout your journey so saving and resting are key to your success. Sea of Stars takes about 30 hours to complete and you can play again if you’re trying to collect all of the trophies or achievements.
The Perfect Tune
In addition to the stunning visuals and awesome gameplay aesthetics, the musical soundtrack is simply outstanding. The game is scored by The Messenger Composer Eric W. Brown and there are 10 additional tracks provided by Yasunori Mitsuda. All of the music perfectly fits the tone of the game while also matching the range of emotions that each character goes through.
When all is said and done, I feel that many will look upon this game as something special. Regardless of whether or not you played the original Chrono Trigger, it’s hard to deny that Sabotage Studio recognized the significance of these games to this popular genre and has firmly cemented itself within that history with this release.
Simply put, Sea of Stars is a game that I never knew I needed and wanted until I actually played it. If you’re a huge fan of turn-based RPGs in a fantasy setting then you owe it to yourself to give this game a try. It launches on August 29th for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Xbox Game Pass. At only $34.99, this is an absolute steal and I can’t recommend it enough.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Sea of Stars for the PlayStation 5 provided by Sabotage Studio.