(available for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X & S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Nintendo Switch version used for the review)
Sea of Stars has been a very long time coming, it’s an indie game which has been in development by Sabotage Studios for quite some time, since they announced that they would be making a Role-playing game (RPG) set in the Messenger universe with a striking visual style and soundtrack, boasting that it would be the spiritual successor to RPGs like Chrono Trigger.
That all being said, I think that the marketing was a bit of a mistake on that part. You don’t need to have played The Messenger to enjoy this story, and from what I gather, it’s actually very separate from that storyline.
Sea of Stars is a turn-based RPG. It tells the story of two Solstice children, Valere and Zale, who are rather unclearly asked to avert an incoming crisis. They are Solstice children, meaning they are to control the Sun and Moon. They are joined by a cast of friends, most noticeably the warrior cook Garl. The story is about their adventure together.
What I found fascinating about this game is that it is clearly made with a lot of love and care, and they put a really interesting spin on the genre.
Right off the bat, it is really good in terms of gameplay. If you like turn-based RPGs, this one is for you. You’re going to be doing actions very similar to a game like Octopath Traveller, discovering enemy weaknesses and taking advantage of them, though it’s less of a wide array compared to that game.
It’s tied to weapons as well as elemental magic, but unlike Octopath Traveller, the active party member can be swapped out for another one once you get past 3 party members- something I wish more RPGs would do.
The game also has a timing mechanic. You can press the action button (A button when on Switch) to gain an extra attack. There’s also a mechanic of absorbing elemental magic from other enemies after doing basic attacks from them. It’s figuring out which attack to use and when to time your strategy to prevent enemies from forming powerful attacks. You’ll want to time those attacks well because basic attacks restore MP, something that you will need when performing an attack that will target multiple enemies. Trust me, I had a few occasions where I didn’t time that properly and I was punished for it.
The point is, in terms of RPG mechanics, it really works. I like the fact that the levelling-up system adds extra customisation. You’re not going to be struggling with weapons and armour, you’ll find good ones through chests, or towns will sell you good ones. I barely ever died because of this.
Other than that, you also have the ability when levelling up to choose one of the series of stats to gain an extra amount of boost. For example, since Garl was doing a lot of healing magic in my party, I chose to level up his defence a lot so that way he could become a bit of a tank and I would have to heal him less.
You can’t just pick any stat that you want, you’re limited to the ones that the game offers you, but it’s still a cool feature to add extra customisation to your characters.
- Graphics and Art Style
This is a really good-looking game. I’m not sure that it reaches the same level as the HD2D stuff that’s been coming out from Square Enix, but it’s still brilliant-looking, nonetheless. I did really adore just looking at all of the environments, and they’re so varied within the game.
To match the gameplay, the environments are brilliant to explore. I did enjoy going back to each of them, but if there’s one complaint I have, it’s that sometimes there was a bit of unnecessary backtracking which forced me to face low-level enemies, which didn’t even help with XP grinding, since the game has a way of levelling that out.
The art style itself is great though, I would say that it shines the most in the few animated cutscenes that we get. If it gets nominated for Best Graphics by some publications at the end of the year, I would say that it would be justified.
The soundtrack is amazing, each environment is perfectly catered for, the battle theme is excellent and has a good few alterations depending on where the battle is taking place, and there are tons of great tunes. I think that it is one of the highlighted soundtracks of 2023 video games.
- Fishing and Cooking
This is one of the few side content mechanics that you’ll get, there is a tabletop game but for reasons I’ll get into, I didn’t really enjoy it. Fishing was okay, and it was useful to get fish fillets and seafood for some of the best recipes in the game for healing. You do get some revival food later down the line, which was where most of my cooking went, in the later portion of the game. I found that by that point, you were getting brilliant healing magic anyway, so I wasn’t really using the food all that much.
The game early on gives you a lot of food for cooking but later on gets really stingy with how much you can actually collect, even in terms of ingredients and then in dishes that you can make. You do have to pick and choose based on your supply.
It’s decent side content, but it’s not the most enjoyable thing in the world. However, I did appreciate that this game had an interesting way of making healing items.
This game has a really weak story. I was enjoying it early on, particularly the relationship between the Solstice warriors and Garl, but that’s really only because Garl has the biggest personality in the party- everyone else is kind of a blank slate, including the two protagonists.
There are a few side characters that I liked including the Pirates and the Headmaster, but his character arc is over really quickly, and the game sets up another aspect of his character that never really comes back. In fact, if anything, it has more to do with one of the few plot twists (because this game loves having plot twists) that comes later down the line for another character.
The game wasn’t egregious until you got to one major plot twist down the line, which came completely out of nowhere and is terrible! It really sunk the whole thing for me. I just didn’t feel much motivation to finish it.
The story doesn’t really have an ending, it just kind of stops. As a result, it really made the game drag in its last portion. I really felt the hours being added on each time. Frankly, I couldn’t enjoy the last portion of the game. This game needed a way stronger story, and I think this game should have had voice acting. I know it was probably a budgetary issue, but I feel like it would have helped with the emotional impact.
I certainly noticed this when comparing it to Octopath Traveller 2, which was released this year, and had really good storylines and voice acting and compare that to the upcoming Star Ocean Story which will also have voice acting.
- Lack of Side Content
I mentioned the cooking and tabletop game- that is it. There is a post-game super boss, but I really don’t have any desire to try it out.
This game really needed some side quests to beef up the world and give more meaning to grinding for later bosses. As such, it means that the game feels incredibly linear, and it almost feels like handholding. With no side content, you just have to go from one place to the next which added to this game feeling a little too easy, I rarely struggled, and I only got a couple of Game Overs.
Sea of Stars is an ambitious project, and I can’t bring myself to give it a low score due to the graphics and soundtrack, but the story is a major drag down. If this game had a better story, we could have the best RPG of the year. Don’t get me wrong, in terms of playing the game, I actually do like it, and I would really appreciate it if Sabotage Studios wanted to make a sequel. But as it stands, I think that this is a good RPG that misses out on being great.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10
Director of Axia ASD Ltd.
Self-proclaimed Nerd Consultant
and Head of Axia’s Film Society.
And now Elliot’s review,
The SNES is home to some of the most iconic and highly praised RPGs in existence. Many of these are still talked about today and are widely considered some of the genre’s greatest. Including games like Earthbound, Final Fantasy VI and of course Chrono Trigger. Many developers have attempted to recapture the magic that those games had, games like Octopath Traveller or the Live a Live remake, and most recently Sea of Stars. Sea of Stars was created by Sabotage Studio, who had previously made The Messenger (this game even acts as a prequel to that one of sorts as it takes place in the same world a few thousand years prior), and was released on 29th August 2023 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 & 5, and Steam.
In Sea of Stars, you follow the story of Zale and Valere, who were trained from a young age to become Solstice Warriors, warriors who harness the power of the moon and sun, to fight off the forces of the evil Fleshmancer. Throughout the story they encounter many cultures, a variety of characters and have to fight a large number of foes. I’m going to be brutally honest; this story is really bad.
The world looks interesting with multiple cultures and races, and the worldbuilding is fine, if a bit minimalistic, everything else really suffers. The plot essentially consists of four heroes going to a place, fixing a problem/finding a MacGuffin, being told the next thing to do and then going to said place, with no down time to focus on the characters. Everything is criminally underdeveloped, and it all goes by so quickly that nothing stays in your mind and half the time I forget what the original objective even was. The characters are especially forgettable, they’re all one-note and bland with most only serving one purpose before leaving the story for good. This is even the case with the main cast, as most of them don’t have any kind of personality or goals outside of defeating the bad guys and saving the world. The one exception to this is Garl, as he is very likeable and actually has a personality. Overall, the story feels like the kind of thing I would write when I was thirteen – incredibly rushed, no character moments and only focused on getting to the next plot point – seriously disappointing.
After that, let’s talk about something positive. I have absolutely no problems with the presentation, this game looks amazing. The world design is simply sublime, each area looks distinct from one another and are all brimming with colour, every section is a marvel to not only explore but to just look at. The character models are all amazing as well, all of them are very diverse, especially when compared to other games, and all bring personality to the characters (that they are so very missing). I especially have to give massive praise to the animation, this game could have easily gotten away with the characters going from one still image when attacking to another, but the developers go far and beyond with this game. Every attack has a different animation, filled with different effects and all are incredibly fluid, it’s genuinely one of the most beautifully animated SNES style games I’ve ever played. The soundtrack to this game was created by a number of composers including Yasunori Mitsuda who had worked on games like Chrono Trigger and Xenoblade Chronicles 3. The OST is massive, with over 100 tracks and it is marvellous, all the songs match the tone of the situation and the area perfectly. The game knows when to sound peaceful, when to sound haunting and menacing and when to turn up the tempo and bring up the intensity. Every track has brought a smile to my face, and I cannot state how much I love it.
Sea of Stars is a turn-based RPG, so it plays pretty much how you think it would. You and the enemies take turns dishing out attacks, you have a variety of skills and spells to utilise that will require MP to use and you’ll have a number of items that will heal your HP and MP both in and out of battles. With that out of the way let’s talk about what this game does differently.
For starters, when you do an attack if you push the A button just as your attack is about to hit, your character deals some extra damage or the attack can spread to some of the enemies close by, that’s not just with your standard attack either, you can also do that with a number of your skills. It will take a bit of practice but eventually it will become second nature. This mechanic isn’t just for your attacks either, if you press the button just as the enemy’s attack is about to hit, you can negate a small amount of damage that they would otherwise deal. This isn’t as easy however as the timing of your opponent’s attacks will vary depending on the enemy. I’m a fan of this mechanic, it makes the player pay more attention to what their character and the enemy are doing, and it rewards you for doing so.
One mechanic that is very unique to this game (as far as I’m aware) is Live Mana. When you perform a standard attack, you’ll notice and the enemies will drop small orbs of light called Live Mana. Your characters can absorb said mana for extra effects to their attacks; your attack will also deal another type of damage depending on what character you’re attacking with (Zale deals Sun, Valere deals Moon for example) and depending on how much Live Mana you absorb, your damage will increase by a significant portion at times.
On top of regular attacks and skills you also gain access to Combos, where two of your party members can perform a special attack or other skills together. You can’t just use these whenever you want though, you’ll have to build up CP (Combo Points), which is built up every time you or your opponent takes a turn, and even fully charging up the combo metre once isn’t enough as most Combos will require you to fully charge up the metre two or three times to use them. These attacks deal a large amount of damage and will deal multiple types of damage to your opponent’s, so they are very useful if you know when to use them.
Enemy Design and Bosses
Another thing I have to give an insane amount of praise for is the variety of enemies. The number of enemies in this game is absolutely insane, and as far as I’m aware there aren’t any clones, and if there are they come up so infrequently that I hadn’t noticed them. Each of them have different attack timings meaning that you’ll have to keep learning when is best to block an attack, they’ll also do different types of attack, some focusing on a single target, some doing multiple attacks on different targets and others doing AoE’s that will hit every party member.
It’s not just enemies that have a lot of variety, as you’ll be fighting a hell of a lot of bosses as well. Each of these bosses also feel incredibly unique to one another as they each fight differently, from having limbs that you have to attack to being able to summon a small group of minions. They’re all a lot of fun to fight and are one of the highlights of the game.
Just like you, each enemy has a Skill and at times multiple Skills to use against you, these attacks are especially dangerous, as they can and will kill one or multiple of your party members at once. Luckily there is a way to stop them from activating them or at the very least weaken their effects. The enemy will telegraph when they’re about to use a skill by using Spell Locks; when a box above the enemy will display certain attack types. Deal the types of damage displayed to said enemy before the timer is reduced to 0 and the attack will be cancelled if you get them all or will deal less damage otherwise. While I do like this mechanic – it urges you to be more cautious before using certain Skills or Combos and it once again makes you think more strategically – there were a few times where the game makes it impossible to prevent the Skill from happening. Fairly often, the Spell Lock would display types of attacks that would require multiple turns to deal and would only give me one turn to do so, sometimes it would even do this on the first turn of the battle, making it even more impossible. It’s frustrating as it feels like the game isn’t giving you a choice but to suffer the attack, it takes away a lot of fairness from the battle, especially since, as I said, a lot of these moves can really damage your party.
Exploration essentially consists of you wandering through the overworld, going into smaller and somewhat linear areas, some being towns where you can rest up, gather equipment and talk to the locals to continue the story, others being landscapes where you just traverse through to get to the next story section, and finally there are dungeons where you fight enemies, complete puzzles and fight bosses at the end.
One thing that I quite like is that this game has no random encounters, all encounters can be avoided or battled voluntarily and after you kill them, they will be gone for good. The one downside of this is that those who like to be Goku levels of OP won’t be able to grind, though I never felt the need to do so, so this is something that I actually applaud.
As mentioned, there are a few puzzles in the game, most of these consist of moving blocks onto a button or to get to a switch at a higher level, changing from day to night or just changing the angle of the sun, using your grapple hook to get to another platform (shut up I’m counting it) or to reach a switch, among others. These puzzles aren’t really that difficult, they may take a minute to figure out, but I never really struggled with them. They were fun to complete though.
Unfortunately, there is one glaring problem with exploration and that’s with the lack of direction. While you do have a map, you can only use it in the overworld and even then, it will only tell you the area in which you’re meant to go, and nothing else aside from that. When it comes to telling you where to go in each area, the game gives no indication or direction on where to go aside from a brief conversation beforehand. I struggled remembering where I was meant to go at times and the most time I spent away from this game was a couple of days, I don’t even want to imagine what my experience would be if I stopped playing for a week or two. This would have been much better improved if you were given a map of each area and a marker telling you where to go, I would easily have saved at least a couple of hours trying to figure out where to go.
One thing that I find very surprising and quite disappointing is how little side content there is. While there are a couple of minigames and a few extra bosses’ post-game, that’s about all there is. I would at least expect some side quests, but there really aren’t any, which is a real shame in my opinion.
The first minigame is fishing (because apparently every indie game needs a fishing minigame nowadays). As you explore the world, you’ll find a few ponds containing a variety of fish for you to pluck from their home. This is pretty simple actually, just throw the rod, land near some fish, make sure to stay in the current when you reel them in and, viola, you’ve caught Nemo. All you really get from doing this is some fish to use when cooking (which you can do at bonfires to create dishes for healing purposes), but it can be a nice distraction at times. It’s nothing you’ll spend hours doing but can be nice as a five-minute break.
The second minigame is Wheels. You and an opponent use small figurines and play a slot machine-like game to deal damage to the other, trying to bring down their defences and reduce their life to zero to win the game. You get to use a selection of figurines that you unlock as you fight against champions of the game, each of which have different abilities and advantages over one another. There’s a surprising number of rules and depth with this game, so much that I won’t be able to describe it well enough, but it’s surprisingly a lot of fun. I found myself a bit addicted to this game I must admit, managing to waste a couple of hours on it, though I did find myself getting frustrated after a while, so maybe only play in small bursts and not for ages like I did (sorry neighbours).
I’ve already mentioned the bigger flaws that I had before (the terrible story, the lack of map, etc.) though there is one more that I feel I should mention. This game does get pretty tedious after a while, and I think the main reason for that is because the game is too easy. I did have my party members die a fair few times, but they would always get up after a couple of turns, and a number of other factors (you gaining MP when you do a standard attack, and being able to go back to the bonfire to get fully healed as often as you want), meant that I only really had a couple of game overs. I died more in Final Fantasy XVI, and I complained about how that game was super easy as well.
A lot of people have been giving this game 9s and 10s, pretty much every review I’ve read confirms this. And while I had a good time with this game, I am going to have to disagree with those scores. I can look past a lot of the flaws of this game, but I cannot look past how disappointing and lacking I felt the story was. I felt like this story could have been great if they just expanded on some factors, but the fact that it was so bare bones and painted by the numbers made me not care for the world or the characters, which is a shame for any game not just RPGs.
I do still recommend this game however, because the gameplay is very solid and well done, and the visuals and soundtrack alone are worth the price of this game. Just be prepared for a bland story and try not to care too much about it, and I think you’ll have a pretty great time.
Anime Amigo and Nerd Consultant
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