Sea of Stars is my personal dream game in the making. From amazing music to innovative turn-based combat, it has everything I’m looking for in an RPG. When I first saw teasers for it all those months ago, the first thing I did was follow it on social media. And as a crowdfunded project that's been in the works for three years, the wait was nerve-wracking. Luckily, the developers were very persistent and often showed a lot of progress on what they’ve been working on. Now, it’s finally here.
Does Sea of Stars live up to the hype? Here’s my honest review.
It’s usually story that draws me to a lot of RPGs, but Sea of Stars is one of the few exceptions. While the story does possess its unique charm, the gameplay is absolutely addicting. Sure, the (lack of) random encounters should be familiar to those who’ve played Chrono Trigger, but the mechanics are refreshingly distinct.
Sea of Stars is an active turn-based game, but not in the way you would expect. While most ATB games make use of gauges, turn orders, and even analog movement, Sea of Stars adopts a more straightforward JRPG approach with two added elements.
The first is the absence of a Speed stat. You have complete control over turn order, which allows you to be more flexible about your strategies. The second is the importance of timing. While it’s not required, a perfectly-timed button press will cause your skills to land greater damage, partially block attacks, and even upgrade the potency of your heals. I even like to think of the first bit as a true, skill-based "critical hit."
Thanks to both, the battles were sufficiently challenging and, in turn, rewarding. Even defeating mobs felt like a hard-earned victory.
Score: 5/5 Stars
Sea of Stars tells the story of two Solstice Warriors, Zale and Valare, in their noble quest to cleanse the world from malevolent forces known as the Dwellers. The start is slow, lighthearted, and charming—everything you’d expect from a classic RPG narrative. But as you explore the world and discover more locations, it skillfully cultivates that ever-present feeling of being a small part of something much bigger. This sense of depth remains a constant companion throughout your journey, making for a gripping narrative experience from start to finish. The game was even giving me goosebumps though there was nothing of note occurring. What can I say but to expect the unexpected?
Score: 4/5 Stars
Alone, the cast of Sea of Stars aren't not so great—but together, they evolve into true protagonists. At least, that was what I felt. In fact, it felt like developers wanted you to focus on character dynamics rather than each of their personal growth.
For example, because of their secluded upbringing, Zale and Valere are not so interesting to watch by themselves. However, their awkwardness is covered by the friendly Garl, who initiates most of the interaction between the party and the townsfolk. And while there are characters you can’t help but pay attention to, it was still more entertaining to watch them act around the others and the world around them.
Score: 4/5 Stars
In games where lines aren’t voiced, it’s usually one of two elements that dictate the mood: music or setting. For Sea of Stars, it was undoubtedly its SNES-inspired, bardcore music.
Lighthearted dialogue, even in a dark area, will feel lighthearted, and serious conversations are appropriately devoid of music. Underwater dungeons feel like you’re underwater because of the music, port towns feel like port towns because of the music—you get the gist. I’m personally a huge fan of the level up screen’s OST, where it feels like the stars are twinkling as a testament to my success.
If the music from the trailers strikes a familiar chord, then it must be because of your familiarity with Yasunori Mitsuda's work. Mitsuda is one of the composers for Chrono Trigger and the Xeno series, and the game’s DNA is heavily ingrained into Sea of Stars because of this. Of course, that’s not to downplay the skills of lead composer Eric Brown, who Mitsuda was apparently a big fan of.
Score: 5/5 Stars
The amount of love, thought, and passion that went into the minigames cannot be understated. I can't end this review without talking about it. You’re introduced to two early on: fishing and a table game called Wheels.
Now, I know the JRPG code mandates that fishing exist in the game—which is, admittedly, an activity I find tedious in a lot of RPGs... except Sea of Stars. It manages to keep up a level of thrill and difficulty in reeling in catches, and a successful capture delivers the same feeling of accomplishment you get when you win a really tough battle.
But the minigame I’ve, admittedly, pooled a lot of hours into is Wheels. There are a ton of rules involved, so I won’t get into the details, but it really has that TCG/tabletop feel fans of the hobby are going to love. It involves tactics, a bit of luck, and being the first person to reduce the opponent’s HP to zero. You don’t know how many times I’ve flipped the AI over after a win. It just feels that good to beat them at this.
Score: 5/5 Stars
Verdict: A retro JRPG-inspired game that did everything right
Sea of Stars is more than nostalgia bait; it's a culmination of all the things that make the classics great, like deceptively challenging turn-based gameplay and beautifully written scores. Sabotage Studios definitely outdid themselves here. They deserve all the praise I can give and more. Here’s to hoping this propels The Messenger, their debut 2018 game, into the limelight.
A free copy of the game was provided to PGG by the publisher for review purposes.
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