Sea of Stars is something I have been waiting on for a while. Coming from Sabotage Studios, creator of The Messenger, this turned-based RPG is a change from what they are known for. The studio wanted to continue its retro-fueled mission statement with a turn-based RPG in the vein of Chrono Trigger and a few other classics. Sea of Stars had a solid initial impression when announced on Kickstarter. The campaign raised well over CAD 1.5 million with over 25k Backers. Currently, it has sold over 250k units which I would say, is a success. With big names in the industry like legendary composer Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Xenoblade), Sea of Stars was a highly anticipated game for fans of the RPG genre. With all these factors in play, has Sabotage Studios crafted another masterpiece? Let’s find out!
In a small village known as Moon Cradle, three children plan on how they become the heroes that the world will one day rely on. It is here we meet Zale, Valere and Garl. The three decide to test their prowess by entering a forbidden cave. Needless to say, it goes horribly wrong, but not all hope is lost. This failure set Zale and Valere on the path to becoming Soltice Warriors. Empowered by the sun and moon respectively, the two learn to harness their powers and become skilled warriors. After a decade of training, the two set out, alongside Garl who has trained himself to be a warrior-cook, set out on an adventure to discover their destinies and conquer the evils that exist in the world. Scaling the mountain of their home island, the three are given prophecies, and the grander scope of the story begins. During this prologue, the game teaches you all you need to know about what to expect in terms of travel, story direction, and combat.
While the game does use a turn-based system, it gives the player some freedom in who can act on that turn. One character can act during a turn, but you can choose who acts as long as they aren’t the last to act on your side. You can perform a basic attack using a skill or an item. Enemies are given a counter over them to indicate when they will attack or use an ability. When it reaches zero, the enemy performs their turn. Each time you act, you fill up a combo and ultimate gauge. Managing your abilities and combos becomes essential in the late game because of a unique mechanic called the Lock system. When an enemy prepares a skill, they display different damage types along with their turn counter. If you use damage types that match, it breaks a lock. If you break all of the locks, it cancels their turn. But if you can’t, the enemy can unleash a devastating skill, and the tides of battle can turn on you quickly. While there are a couple of times when breaking the lock is impossible because your team composition lacks MP, you can generally switch between characters for free during your turn with no limit. Between planning and skill knowledge, you also must have a sense of timing. Regular attacks and skills have timing mechanics that allow additional hits and damage. The balancing act the player has to do with all the options, timing requirements, and unique character skills makes for a very engaging experience. You can also find artifacts that can assist you or increase the challenge. One artifact allows you to see a flare emerge when you time your abilities correctly. Another you can get heals you entirely at the end of combat so you can help progress through the story more easily. The only one I used primarily was to get a discount at merchants and to learn timings. The game is damn near perfectly balanced as well. So long as you don’t avoid fights, your team will be sufficiently level to take on the challenges of that part of the story. This means on a first play-through, you can easily focus on making progress and tackling side content at the end of the game or as part of a new game.
Music and sound also immediately makes itself apparent. My only complaint is that I disliked the noise that occurs when characters are “speaking”. Thankfully, I could mute it. Everything else fits perfectly. Zale’s Solar power effects were among some of my favorites. And I’ll have to scale myself back about the soundtrack because we’d be here all day. A game is much more memorable if you have a great soundtrack, and Sea of Stars’ soundtrack is phenomenal. The variety of tones, styling, and emotions are all very well captured. The battle and boss themes elevated the fun of the combat and story moments they were tied to. I wish a physical version of this soundtrack was available because I have already started adding tracks from this game to a casual listening list. The soundtrack does a good job of reinforcing, and the story benefits greatly.
I was surprised by Sea of Stars’ enjoyable but sadly weak narrative. The world is very “Black and White” about who is Good and who is Evil. The lore and character development are present but under-baked. While Zale and Valere do grow over their journey, it’s not far from who they started as. By the end, they are more experienced and confident, but that’s all. I also guessed a couple of twists well before their reveal. Despite these faults, Sea of Stars has an enjoyable story with its fun characters and a vibrant world. I grew to love Garl—his enthusiasm and willingness to make an effort never sour. The story proceeds at a decent clip. Even the slower moments are entertaining. The chemistry between the main cast is chummy overall, but it is organically woven. The story beats always hit just right because of their timing and solid, believable dialogue. And again, the music always seems to kick in at just the right time. The biggest thing that impresses me about Sea of Stars is their combat system.
Sea of Stars features some of the best sprite work I have seen in a long time. The backgrounds are enormous, detailed, and multi-layered. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone made dioramas because they are so stunning. The excellent lighting usage is incredibly important for a world that revolves around the concepts of the Sun and Moon. The character and monster sprites also deserve special recognition. I cannot think of one moment when I thought any NPCs came off as “generic” or “lazy.” Everything is very lovingly crafted and rich in both detail and animation. Color usage to convey both character personality and variety is a huge plus. Each town, island or dungeon you visit has almost as much personality as the characters exploring them. Moreover, some of the boss encounters not only have cool visual designs but also have exciting mechanics and abilities of their own. I felt near total immersion each time I booted up the game.
If you enjoy Turn-Based RPGs, you owe it to yourself to try Sea of Stars. While I have some gripes about Ti’s story overall, every other game element has been crafted with love and panache. The combat system is very engaging throughout, the locations you visit are gorgeously realized, and the soundtrack begs to be heard. Please give Sea of Stars a chance. I can assure you it’s a great title worthy of your time and money. Sea of Stars is currently digital only on PC, PlayStation 4, Playstation 5, XBOX Series S/X, and Nintendo Switch. A physical copy of the game is slated for release in early 2024.
Sea of Stars Review
A Retro Modern Classic
Sea of Stars does almost everything perfectly. I had some complaints with the story as whole, but I couldn't be happier with everything else it has to offer. I cannot recommend this game highly enough.
Goregous sprite based artwork
Engaging combat system with plenty of depth.
Execution of story is a bit weak in places, but passable.