The bygone era of SNES role-playing games is something that, to this day, resonates in the hearts of old-school gamers everywhere, and Sea of Stars takes note. Between titles like Illusion of Gaia, Secret of Mana, and the illustrious Chrono Trigger (not to mention titles in the Dragon Quest, Ys, and Final Fantasy franchises), our favourite ’90s Nintendo console sure packed a punch, as many of these titles hold up today.
Pulling from that source material is Sabotage Studio—much like they accomplished previously with the Ninja-Gaiden-inspired The Messenger—who are returning to that nostalgic period of gaming to create their own version of the retro turn-based RPG games made similarly to the ones listed above. With stunning pixel art, plenty of rich characters and deep storylines to get lost in, as well as all that classic gameplay you remember, Sea of Stars marks a triumphant return to one of the most revered styles of games out there.
Sea of Stars is the story of two children named Valere and Zale—born with the powers of the sun and the moon—called Children of the Solstice, who are destined to join a strong, battle-torn fraternity of warriors who defend the world from monstrous creatures. Raised from a young age, learning to master the art of combat through the use of weapons and magic, this dynamic duo is tasked with taking on The Fleshmancer and their army of creations before they’re able to devastate the world.
“Sea of Stars marks a triumphant return to one of the most revered styles of games out there.”
Even though the story of Sea of Stars is filled with tropes that most will have been exposed to at this point, especially if you’re a fan of the dozens of RPGs that were released in the ’90s, the classic story of good versus evil is one that will also resonate in video games—especially when an evil bad guy happens to walk through the front door. Much of the story might not catch you off guard, but the rich character building that starts right off the bat with the kids’ best friend Garl, and continues through every moment makes the so-so storytelling more worth it.
From there, the turn-based combat—while staying true to its roots—does some things to make it a bit more palatable for modern audiences, which was definitely appreciated. Still featuring your usual choices of Attack, Skills, Combos, and Items, the lock system (which has you performing a set of either bladed, blunt, or magical attacks depending on the symbols above the enemy’s heads) is an interesting way to break up the otherwise monotonous combat by forcing you to change up your combinations of attacks in order to stop the enemy from performing their own set of powerful attacks.
“Staying on the track of modernizing this tried-and-true formula, Sea of Stars eliminates grinding (for the most part) by removing random encounters…”
Mixed with the combo attacks that can be performed between party members and the set of magical attacks, and you have quite the repertoire at your disposal. My only complaint is that I’ve never been a fan of timed hits, where clicking the A button at the right moment increases damage or blocks enemy attacks, and Sea of Stars uses that system in tandem with everything else.
Staying on the track of modernizing this tried-and-true formula, Sea of Stars eliminates grinding (for the most part) by removing random encounters—keeping a majority of the leveling through normal traversal and combat throughout the world. As someone who tries to play as many games as possible, the fact that Sea of Stars appreciates the player’s time spent in the game and keeps them in combat or learning story beats, rather than in the tall grass for hours, is a huge win for RPG’ers everywhere!
Traversing the world itself is a treat, due to the stunning pixel-art visuals and dynamic lighting, but the mechanics themselves can sometimes leave a bit to be desired. Between swimming, climbing, vaulting, and jumping, you’re able to move around more freely than most RPGs like Sea of Stars will allow but hit detection and the use of these mechanics in some puzzle-solving is usually lackluster or frustrating at best. While it isn’t a huge detriment to the experience, it isn’t something I can give a gold star to either.
Sailing, cooking, and fishing round out your main experience with some mini-games and interesting mechanics that definitely enhance Sea of Stars in a positive way. I especially enjoy taking the time to fish, as the simple, yet effective way in which Sabotage Studio has created their own form of the oft-used side mechanic is perfect. After casting, you simply direct your bobber towards the shadows of the unsuspecting fish, which once hooked, then the player just keeps the fish in the zone to catch it.
Sea of Stars is a triumph. It accomplishes everything it sets out to do, and Sabotage Studio has succeeded in creating a nostalgic yet modern version of the classic SNES-era RPG that fans of the genre will thoroughly enjoy. While some of the mechanics leave something to be desired and the story doesn’t come through as a whole in its basic premise and themes, the rich characters, stunning retro-inspired visuals, and great mix of combat mechanics make Sea of Stars a game that’s highly recommended for anyone looking for this sort of experience.