The sea and the stars, along with the past and the present – two far-ends that are intrinsically connected, and Sea of Stars is where they collide. Embarking on a journey that seamlessly imbues nostalgia-driven gaming with a modern touch, this role-playing game invites players into a world of magic, adventure, and mesmerising visuals. Developed by Sabotage Studio, the minds behind the critically-acclaimed The Messenger, it offers an enchanting blend of expansive storytelling, engaging gameplay mechanics, and artistic brilliance.
The Japanese-styled RPG offers captivating top-down visuals, reminiscent of the Super Nintendo era where the pixelated artwork is lovingly crafted, paying homage to the golden age of RPGs. Environments are lush and evoke wonder, even if some areas are not immediately apparent that they’re open for exploration.
Combined with modern lighting techniques, illustrator Bryce Kho’s crisp and detailed art breathes life to every corner of the screen. What’s more, fully-animated cutscenes push the visual flair farther with a smooth, polished look.
Much of the game’s marketing has compared it to Chrono Trigger, even down to roping in well-known game composer Yasunori Mitsuda to lend his talent to the soundtrack. Indeed, the evocative music and intricately crafted sound effects enhance the experience, enveloping players in a symphony of enchanting melodies and ambient sounds that match the narrative’s emotional beats.
Gameplay-wise, the combat system is more reminiscent of games like Super Mario RPG and the Paper Mario series. Basic attacks and special skills deliver bonus damage if you execute them with well-timed inputs. Similar to Chrono Trigger, different characters can also carry out combo skills with one another to pull off techniques with greater effect.
Moreover, basic attacks not only replenish mana, but also create “live mana” which can infuse basic attacks with elements. Players can take advantage of this system to exploit elemental weaknesses and disrupt enemy spells to vanquish foes. This complexity results in an intelligent combat system that makes each action meaningful while rewarding strategic planning.
Of course, there’s more to gameplay than simply combat. The game’s day/night cycle transforms environments with the passage of time critical to solving puzzles. While the puzzles are generally simple, this feature showcases dynamic lighting and atmospheric shifts that are absolutely spellbinding. As dawn gives way to dusk (or vice-versa), the world itself seems to evolve — a visual treat that underscores Sea of Stars‘ commitment to an immaculate blend of imaginative retro charm and modern design sensibilities.
There are also minigames, including fishing, cooking (the food on display is almost Ghibli-esque in nature), and even an in-game tabletop game. The mechanics of these minigames aren’t explicitly laid out, leaving players to discover the intricacies through personal exploration. Regardless, these charming diversions offer pockets of respite amid the epic adventure.
Unfortunately, the writing is where Sea of Stars falters. At the heart of the narrative lies the duo of Zale and Valere, who wield the power of the sun and moon respectively, to combat the enigmatic antagonist, The Fleshmancer. The first couple hours of the game take a deliberate pace, opting to immerse itself in backstory and worldbuilding with hardly any action.
Gamers invested in the story will benefit from reading the update on the game’s Kickstarter page dubbed “Prologue – The Two Alchemists.” It essentially sets the stage for the universe of Sea of Stars, while also introducing two pivotal characters crucial to the game’s lore. But amidst the intrigue, betrayal, and world-shattering revelations, the story unfolds with a predictability that leaves little room for surprise.
Additionally, the game is populated by a number of characters that are, for the most part, one-dimensional. Heroes Zale and Valere are both sorely lacking in personality and their dynamic remains superficial. In fact, the relationships between many characters feel like untapped potential, as the narrative chooses to focus on the events unfolding around them instead of the motivations behind characters and their interactions.
Overall, Sea of Stars is a robust indie RPG that’s both nostalgic and fresh. Sabotage Studio’s dedication to gorgeous art and engaging gameplay mechanics coalesces into a game that, despite a few flaws, shines brightly amidst the gaming landscape. Seasoned RPG enthusiasts and casual players alike will be able to enjoy its thrilling adventure and inviting world.