Developer: Sabotage Studio
Publisher: Sabotage Studio
Platform: Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: August 29th, 2023
Price: $34.99USD/$50.95 AUD – Available Here
Sea of Stars is a retro-style fantasy RPG that pays tribute to iconic games like Chrono Trigger and earlier Final Fantasy titles. The game is a successor to Sabotage Studio’s The Messenger, and takes place in the same universe, but long before the events in the aforementioned 2018 title. With magnetic visuals and lots of catering toward nostalgia, the game has garnered a lot of hype and praise during its recent release – but it’s worth considering whether the game will stand the test of time and remain popular as the years go on, or fade into obscurity and fail to remain relevant.
Sea of Stars follows the journey of two young Solstice Warriors named Valere and Zale. They explore the world, travel with different companions, and vanquish enemies as they prepare to defeat the minions and followers of the evil alchemist, known as the Fleshmancer. Valere and Zale each practice magical powers under the umbrella of Eclipse Magic, with Valere mastering the moon, and Zale the sun.
The fantasy adventure follows the flow of a traditional Hero’s Journey, making a lot of the story beats predictable but still enjoyable. The characters are charming and each has a unique trait, and the game can be really humorous at its best moments. At the beginning of the game, you can choose which protagonist to play as, which unfortunately makes them quite interchangeable in the narrative and their personalities seem nearly identical to one another.
The game takes awhile to start introducing twists and subverting expectations, which it definitely does well – however, sometimes things feel slow-moving narratively, particularly near the beginning.
As a player who hasn’t experienced the first title in the game, this was a great standalone and I would love to check out the prior game. Still, being a fan of the original game would probably add to the experience, as a lot of questions about the world and its rules would already be answered for you. Much of the lore takes time to be introduced properly for new players in this game.
Walking around the lush, gorgeous environments of Sea of Stars is always satisfying, and I always loved entering a new area and having the opportunity to explore. The only thing missing is more interactivity present in each level/walkable area. Sometimes, you climb up a ladder, or jump into a small crevice, only to find there is nothing there to interact with or loot. This can be frustrating particularly when you have to backtrack to where you started.
The turn-based combat is done well and is easy to learn. Once you get into the rhythm of things with your party’s attacking order, attacking and defending becomes somewhat mindless outside of major boss battles. However, combat can be a bit tedious, particularly when it comes to the lock-breaking mechanic that party members use to shut down enemy spells. Breaking these locks requires multiple attacks, and you often only have 1-2 turns before they attack, making it nearly impossible to successfully stop the enemy spell. You have to settle for weakening their attack by only breaking some of the lock, which doesn’t feel as satisfying.
Luckily, the game has numerous relics that players collect throughout the game, which function as game difficulty options that you can toggle throughout the experience. Some of these allow for easier combat, more opportunities to break locks, and keep your party alive longer. This lets players easily set their expectations for the game’s challenges.
Like many RPGs, this game has fishing and other mini games, but predictably and unfortunately, these are rather boring and don’t have much payoff in comparison to exploring and continuing the main story.
The graphics and animation in Sea of Stars were definitely the highlight of the experience for me. With detailed constantly moving environments reminiscent of calming, serene games like Stardew Valley, I wanted to spend more time just standing around in awe of where I was. The character portraits and animations were so specific and detail-oriented. The campfire scenes where the party would rest were always fun and didn’t get old to participate in. As you pick what items to cook, you get to see a cute slideshow of images as the food was made.
When new characters are introduced, we’re treated with fully-drawn and animated cutscenes. These are incredibly beautiful, but the transition from them back into the game environment is sometimes stark considering they are completely different art styles.
The soundtrack of Sea of Stars is whimsical and classic eight-bit RPG style, with few surprises and a lot sounding very familiar. Some of the more memorable pieces are from the battle soundtracks, but overall, there weren’t many audio moments that stood out.
Sea of Stars is a solid game that can be a lot of fun. Players who love the RPG genre will likely enjoy this new title a lot, but it doesn’t necessarily do anything groundbreaking or new. However, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to a formula, especially when you understand what needs to be done well. This is a worthy adventure for those who are interested, and the beautiful environments and level design alone make for a fulfilling experience.
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