I always wanted to travel around the world. Sail across the seas and witness all there is to offer. Learn about the cultures and places I’ve read about in history books. Go on a journey and come back as a completely different person. That chance seems far away dear readers, but it’s a good thing we have video games dear readers! Virtual experiences that transport us to universes and places we cannot go to in real life. Works of art with memorable stories and themes to tell. This hobby which I’ve kept up for so long is the core reason why day to day life hasn’t driven my wee little mental health off the edge yet. With the cheesy old introduction speech out of the way, let's talk about today’s topic. Sea of Stars, an indie JRPG developed by Sabotage Studios which takes heavy inspiration from classic JRPG titles. One of the biggest inspirations being Chrono Trigger which is considered by many to be one of the greatest games of all time. I won’t be mentioning Chrono Trigger going forward, because in my Live A Live review I mentioned that I never played it and it would be bad to make comparisons to a game I have little to no knowledge of. I will instead talk about Sabotage Studios and my humble experience with their previous piece of work.
In 2018, they released a retro platformer called The Messenger. It was heavily inspired by retro titles, mainly Ninja Gaiden, and it was their debut title into the gaming industry. It’s surprising this game blew up the way it did. It could have been shrugged off as another retro styled game attempting to cash in on nostalgia, but that is not what happened. Instead we received a game that mixed together a bunch of genres, subverted expectations as to where the story was heading, and managed to work really well. It’s a platformer with really good level design and mechanics, and halfway through it turns into a metroidvania with time portals that change level layouts. It’s a narrative about the cycle of violence and it takes a lot to finally end said cycle. There’s some really good world building and the universe became more interesting with time. The Messenger is great. In fact, it’s been 5 years since I played it and my appreciation has grown strong enough for me to consider it a masterpiece. It was so good that Sabotage Studios won an award for it the very same year and got to work on their next big game. An ambitious project and total shift from what they made before. A tribute to all the JRPGs that have come out in the past and paved the way for what is now.
I actually have been following the development for Sea of Stars ever since Sabotage revealed it. I got to see how early stages of development, how things were shaping up, and eventually the full release. It’s a game that’s been sitting on my radar for quite awhile, and it wasn’t until two or so weeks ago that I decided to start it up. When Sea of Stars released, reception for it was extremely positive. Not only did Sabotage Studios manage to make an outstanding JRPG on their first go, but they managed to make what is possibly one of the best indie RPGs of all time. Even the main creators of Chrono Trigger; Yuji Horii, Hironobu Sakaguchi and Kazuhiko Torishima, praised it and considered it a respectful and wonderful successor to Chrono Trigger. If the creators of the game you took influence from loved your work enough to declare it a successor, you achieved something. Bought Sea of Stars during a holiday sale and been cracking away. Pumped in thirty hours and managed to acquire both the normal and true ending. Sea of Stars is a masterpiece. It absolutely deserves all the praise it has gotten and it has quickly become one of the greatest indie games I have ever played. I have zero major complaints and any I can think of can be associated with people who don’t enjoy JRPGs or turn-based games. To those people I say “screw them” as Sea of Stars sits alongside Octopath Traveler 1+2, for me personally, as being a perfect example of what JRPGs should strive to be. Like I just want to gush about my love for this game. I’ll try not to mention any story spoilers beyond the first two hours, because the plot goes in wild directions. A path that is best experienced blind. Today we’re talking about Sea of Stars and why it highly deserves your attention. Set sail for excitement lads!
The universe of Sea of Stars is a magical world, and fun fact it actually takes place a thousand or so years before the events of The Messenger. You have to connect your two games somehow my dear readers. A bright blue ocean with islands teaming with life, but unfortunately monsters lurk about. The monsters come from a dark being known as the Fleshmancer. An immortal who went insane several years ago and wishes to unleash chaos upon the universe. He constructed monsters known as Dwellers, and they are impervious. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a weakness as they are easily harmed by two special forms of magic, Lunar and Solar. Incredible power gifted by the Guardian Gods from above, Luana and Solen. Every few decades during the week of an eclipse, two children are dropped off at the great tree in the town of Mooncradle. Usually a boy & a girl, and these two beings are given the special ability to wield these forms of magic. They are then to be raised within Mooncradle for a short period of time, and then be taken to the flying academy above the village. THere they will spend a good chunk of their life training and master the magic they were gifted with. When they have finally matured they will set out into the world and locate where the next Dweller lies. This tradition has gone on for generations, and everyone hopes when the final Dweller is killed peace will forever prosper.
These trained fighters are called Solstice Warriors, and the two we follow are Valere and Zale. They grew up together, but they didn’t grow up alone. They had a best friend named Garl and he was the jolliest kid in all of Mooncradle. Preparing snacks with his friends, playing games, and having the time of his life. Garl made a promise to support his friends no matter what. The night before they go into the academy to spend the next few years of their life training, Garl decided to take the two into a cave where they can test their strength. Things don’t go out as planned and Garl gets injured. The headmaster of the academy, Moraine, shows up just in time to save the 3 children. He tells Garl that what he did was foolish and he’d never be fit to travel out into the big dangerous world out there. Valere and Zale are taken into training, but Garl states he’ll be there every step of the way. Supporting them till the day he dies. So a decade or two passes and both of the Solstice Warriors are grown up. Trained by the headmaster and two older Solstice Warriors, Erlina and Brugaves. Valere and Zale are finally ready to travel into the world, and Moraine tells them to meet him at the town where the last dweller lies. Off they go into the unknown, but sadly Garl isn’t there to say goodbye. The two feel bad for not getting the chance to see Garl again, but that is not until Garl bursts out the bushes next to the camp they set up with a butt load of snacks. They gather around for a big group hug and catch up on lost time. Garl wishes to travel with his friends of course. Help them in combat, provide them rations, and see what lies out there in the vast. The two allow him to do so, and the story goes on from there. Again, Sea of Stars goes in a lot of interesting directions and I don’t wanna spoil it too much. It’s a fun and engaging direction and I think a lot of people are gonna be emotionally thrilled with where the game takes them.
I’d say Sea of Stars is split into mainly three categories: combat, exploration, and puzzle solving. Exploration is fairly simple if you’ve played any JRPG before. Venture through levels, carefully check every nook and cranny for secrets, and maybe find gear that will help with your travelers’ stats. Eventually you unlock a ship later on and this is when the game really opens up. You are given access to all the islands in the world and can even backtrack to previous locations to find anything you may have missed. It’s fun, and thankfully the game’s story is quite linear and gives a good idea of where to go to progress. Go far enough and eventually you’ll find yourself in one of the many dungeons. They’re very much like the dungeons you see in The Legend of Zelda in that they focus around unique equipment or mechanics. One dungeon has you using these magic wind gauntlets to go activate fan powered contraptions and push around blocks. One dungeon can have you manipulate the flow of water to access areas you can’t reach. One area follows you crazily bouncing across gaps using mushroom platforms. Soon you unlock a grappling hook and this is where the level design gets even crazier and there’s a lot of verticality to later stages. It’s very fun indeed and these dungeon ideas help provide variety to what is a pretty lengthy game.
The real meat I’d say is the turn-based combat. Now you all know I love myself some good turn based combat especially if it’s really well designed. You won’t believe me when I say this game has some of the best turn based combat I’ve seen in a JRPG besides Octopath Traveler. In fact, some ideas even reminded me of the genius design choices the Octopath series has taken. Every fight follows you and enemies taking turns. Counters are displayed above enemies showing how many turns you have left before one of them attacks. This helps give you an idea of what you should prepare for or who to prioritize next if they’re troubling you too much. What makes this even more interesting though is the weakness system. Every so often a selection of panels will appear above an enemy. These panels are damage types and if you hit them with attacks which match those damage types you can cancel their turn. Opening them up for more damage. If you do not hit them with all those damage types in a set amount of turns they will perform what is a deadly move. Whether that’s a heavy hitting attack, or applying some nasty buff/defense to one of their serving allies. So try to eliminate those defenses as fast you can. All of your actions and their effectiveness can be increased if you press the action button at the right time. Pressing it during a basic attack correctly will allow you to hit two times for increased damage. Hitting it just before an enemy lands a hit will allow you to block and mitigate damage. You can increase healing, skills, and so on. Combat rewards you for playing skillfully and wisely.
As you explore more you unlock these scrolls which give you combos. There’s a lil combo meter in the bottom left hand corner and this goes up the more you attack and break the defense of foes. You can then spend filled up combo points to perform special moves and these follow two characters dishing almost all their damage types out at once. Later you unlock another meter for ultimates, and think of those as your trump card. Perform well enough, fully charge it, and unleash your wrath when you think you’re in a sticky situation. There's a lot of bosses usually lying at the end of every area. They can be tricky at times, but if you play decisively you can bring them down with ease. Every time you defeat enemies you gain experience points. Obtain enough and your entire party will level up. Their stats increase, and you are given the choice of which of four stats you want to then further increase. Health, mana, defense, attack power, magic attack power, magic defense, and so on. You could attempt to balance all your characters’ stats out so that they aren’t lacking in any categories, or you could choose stats that fit their playstyles. If you have one character who you seem to use magic damage a lot for then maybe give them stuff that will improve their use of magical abilities. If you have one character who is tanky then give them higher defense and health. You have some, not a lot, but some control over the builds your characters tackle and I like that. Besides that there’s nothing else to really talk about. A well made combat system, world to explore, and fun things to do. Hopefully you shall stop all those who stand in your way and realize why they called this game Sea of Stars.
Okay, now it’s time to start gushing about how much I love Sea of Stars. This is a fantastic game and although it may look simplistic on the surface, trust me when I say there’s loads of depth lying deep beneath this big blue ocean of a JRPG. The combat I want to get out of the way first because it’s the easiest aspect to talk about. Combat is incredibly well designed and the one thing I’m surprised Sea of Stars managed to do was remain fairly challenging. It’s not easy, but at the same time it’s not pushing you over the edge like some of the other turn-based games I‘ve tried in my life. This has got to be the least grindy RPG I’ve encountered, and part of it is due to how streamline Sea of Stars feels. It knows when to introduce new mechanics and gimmicks to fights without feeling overwhelming. You learn how to increase the output of actions with good button presses. You learn how to regain mana for skills, break defenses, or boost your attack using the small magic bullets lying around. Oh yeah, that’s something I forgot to mention. You can charge your attacks using magic knocked out of enemies and this can apply elemental damage to your basic attacks. Another extra maneuver for if you want to save mana for skills later. Everything you do during battles feels like a well calculated move even though, again, Sea of Stars doesn’t demand too much from the player. One character specifically has the ability to delay an enemy turn, and it’s good to know when to whip her out to delay a boss from landing a deadly blow when your party is at low health. Not spending combo points needlessly, considering, the targets whom you should prioritize first, etc. It’s fun turn-based combat!
The game starts off linear at first, but with time the exploration opens up. You can bactrack, look for secrets, gain access to areas you couldn’t before, and the rewards for doing so are great. A lot of the side quests you encounter especially in the late game are fun and you can nab some of the best gear in the game from them which is really useful especially for the last few areas. Puzzles are well designed too. They got me thinking, but I wouldn’t say the puzzles are anything to lose your mind over. Each dungeon is unique and is probably one of the core reasons why this game didn’t feel dragged out to me. Much like the narrative, Sea of Stars is trying to do as much as it can and it fully succeeds at this. You’re always being shown something new each hour, and it’s around certain points in the game where the story becomes absolute hype for me. The narrative is beautiful. I absolutely loved it and every aspect of it. All the characters are likable whether they be cheerful fools, senile individuals who are the way they are for specific reasons, and even the main villain has a reason as to how he came to be. They know when to land jokes, when to cheer the player up, or sadden them for scenes. It’s well presented, well paced, and there’s some fun clever twists later on. I love it. I have seen some people complain about it though. Some of those complaints include the narrative taking a while for it to actually begin. There’s a plot point late in the game that undermines some of the emotional scenes before it. Again, don’t wanna spoil too much of it, but I can see why players have these problems. Still, I love the narrative and dude Garl is the greatest friend I’ve seen in a game.
One of the most noticeable features of Sea of Stars has to be its pixel art. It’s pretty. No, that is underselling it. This game is drop dead gorgeous. There’s so much color and detail to everything. It pops out towards your eyes, and the animations for battle attacks are really cool as they are flashy and you can feel the impact of blows. Another reason I think characters are so memorable in Sea of Stars is due to the art direction. Not only does this game have good locations but also good character design. They all stand out and personally their colors match their personalities. I like the soundtrack a lot. A collection of bopping tunes to listen to you trek through dangerous territory. You even have some remixed songs from The Messenger and that’s really cool. That game had good music and this game has good music too. Boss fights are a real highlight for me. They are fun, hype as hell, have cool designs, and really push you to utilize every tool you have so you don’t die from a few uncareful moves. As of writing this I’m trying to think of things to complain about, but like I said in the intro I can’t really find any major flaws with Sea of Stars. The only thing I could say is that one of the things you have to do for a late game quests is real tedious as f*ck, but power through and you’ll get a wonderful award. Sea of Stars is a game I can strongly recommend to anyone. If you have not played a JRPG then this might be a good entry point. It’s fair, easy to get into, and its story and characters should lighten anybody’s day up. It’s a masterpiece and for me it’s going down as one of the best indie RPGs ever. I wish the best of luck for Sabotage’s next game! In the end I give Sea of Stars a 10/10 for being incredible.
This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!