Retro Inspired Instant Classic

HIGH Am I allowed to say… everything?

LOW Backtracking can be very time-consuming.

WTF I wish Garl was my friend in real life.

Every so often, a game comes along that transports me to another world — a world filled with whimsical storybook adventure, danger, charm, and wondrous mysteries. It’s the kind of world where I end a play session, look at the clock, and realize hours have effortlessly flown by. Sea of Stars, a stunningly triumphant second entry from Sabotage Studio, is one such videogame that can be feasted upon and savored by gamers of all backgrounds. 

Centered around heroes Valere and Zale, solstice warriors born with the purpose of using their sun and moon magic to protect the world, Sea of Stars may seem like a typical fantasy RPG based on the story’s elevator pitch. But even in its early stages, it’s apparent Sea of Stars has far more life, charm, and imagination poured into it than many of its contemporaries. Valere and Zale are not lifeless “hero of destiny” archetypes, but instead they’re dynamic, charming siblings that grow and change. Along with their best friend Garl, the three will have colorful and imaginative adventures.

Sabotage Studio intended for Sea of Stars to be a retro-inspired turn-based RPG, evoking the likes of 16-bit touchstones Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, and Dragon Quest. The presentation is a smash hit, with its incredible pixel-style art bringing detail and personality to the characters, and whimsy and grandeur to the environments. Every new area looks miraculous, and the variety is truly spectacular. Not to mention, it boasts a stellar soundtrack that feels retro while bringing modern orchestrations and melodies. It even features a few tracks from Chrono Trigger composer Yasunori Mitsuda!

Much like the soundtrack, combat feels akin to a ’90s RPG, but has twists that make every battle an addicting puzzle. For example, every attack has a different affinity, ranging from sun, sword, poison, moon, and more. Enemies commonly use normal attacks, but their stronger moves can be “broken” by using the affinities that appear above their head while preparing an onslaught. However, only certain party members can attack with certain affinities, forcing the player to think critically about the next few turns ahead. Fortunately, being able to switch between party members freely without losing a turn — a very underused mechanic in other titles — allows the player to experiment with this system in conjunction with all of their party members, not just the three who are on-deck.

Attacks are made stronger and opposing hits weaker by timed hit of the A button as soon as the character makes contact with a foe, adding a bit of skill into the combat. Also available are a wide variety of skills such as attacks that hit multiple enemies, healing spells, and defensive maneuvers, as well as bombastic combos which can only be used when two specific characters are on the field. Managing each character’s MP for skills as well as the meter for combo attacks turns every encounter into an engaging chess match.

Breaking up encounters is world traversal and puzzles. By using skills such as wind magic to move road blocks and a grappling hook to dash across large distances, traversal, though not overly complicated, is enjoyable in a world with countless mysteries to uncover. Puzzles strike a fine balance between never being too complicated or outstaying their welcome, while simultaneously forcing the player to think critically about their surroundings and the mechanics of the area of the world they’re in. 

Though Sea of Stars has no set difficulty options, the challenge can be manipulated to the player’s liking through relics — collectable items that can be switched on or off. Ranging from relics like one that reduce the amount of damage taken or one that gives feedback for timed hits in combat, these relics can be mixed and matched to create an ideal style for any player. 

When I reached the conclusion of the campaign, I was pleasantly surprised to find Sea of Stars has tons of postgame content that kept me busy for hours after the main story ended. With tons of collectibles, secret bosses, and ultimate weapons to uncover, I was stunned with Sabotage Studio’s above-and-beyond efforts to build Sea of Stars’ world even after credits rolled. Those willing to complete all post-game quests will be rewarded with the true ending, which… well, no spoilers, but I will say it was worth the effort.

Though a phenomenal experience overall, there are a few quality of life options that Sea of Stars could have provided to make the experience slightly more streamlined.

The map is rather rudimentary, making it difficult to find settlements or specific areas if I needed to backtrack. Enemy weaknesses and abilities are not displayed anywhere, and though the player can purchase an expensive relic for in-depth enemy information, I would have loved to see certain information pop up next to an enemy for convenience. Finally, getting from one corner of the map to the other is time-consuming until late in the campaign. Not that there needs to be fast travel, but backtracking can be cumbersome when trying to find collectibles or when thoroughly exploring past areas. These issues never detract from Sea of Stars’ experience, but would have smoothed out the barely noticeable rough edges.

Sea of Stars is an outstanding RPG experience that, for me, has become an instant classic. Story elements, combat, and worldbuilding all feel simultaneously retro-inspired and deeply innovative. I am floored with the creativity, wonder, and life Sabotage Studio poured into their second game, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for us next. Until then, whether you’ve played hundreds of RPG’s or if this is your first, Sea of Stars is a must-play.

Score: 9.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Sabotage Studio. It is currently available on Switch, PC, PS4, PS5, and XBO/X.This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 27 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated and contains Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, and Mild Language. The rating summary from the ESRB reads: “This is an adventure role-playing game in which players assume the roles of two protagonists fighting off an evil alchemist. From a ¾-overhead perspective, players explore environments, interact with characters, and engage in turn-based combat against enemies (e.g., wizards, undead creatures, spirits, warriors). Players use swords, knives, staffs, and magic to attack small enemies. Battles are highlighted by impact sounds, colorful light effects, and explosions. A handful of levels depict pixelated, non-detailed organs/organic matter in the background; monsters sometimes have red scratch marks, open wounds, red stitches on their bodies. The words “damn” and “hell” appear in the game.”

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game dialogue is conveyed exclusively through subtitles, which cannot be altered and/or resized. Though audio cues might be slightly helpful for timing certain attacks, they are not needed for gameplay. This title is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game’s controls are remappable.

Alex Prakken
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