Title – Sea of Stars
Platforms – PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One , Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date – August 29th, 2023
Developer – Sabotage Studios
Publisher – Sabotage Studios
MSRP – $34.99
ESRB – E for Everyone
Disclaimer – This product is being reviewed on the PC. A review copy was provided by Sabotage Studios for this review. Gaming Instincts is an Amazon Affiliate and does gain financial benefits if you choose to purchase this product on this page.
Sea of Stars is the latest entry from Sabotage Studios who previously developed a game called The Messenger, a throwback to 8-bit retro side-scrolling action platformers from the SNES days. Now, Sabotage Studios is returning with their next title – Sea of Stars, which takes place in the same universe, but the way in the past. This specific game is meant to harken back to the PlayStation 1 days of Square Enix JRPGs such as Illusion of Gaia and Chrono Trigger. With that said, let’s see how well Sea of Stars re-creates the retro experience. Welcome to our review of Sea of Stars.
Let’s talk a little bit about the plot before diving into the visuals, art style, music, and gameplay. In Sea of Stars, there are two main characters, Zale and Valere who have been training since they were children to become Solstice Warriors. Valere has powers of the moon and Zale has powers of the sun. Their purpose is to protect the world from an evil alchemist who’s known as the Fleshmancer. The first hour or so of the game introduces you to the universe and acts as a tutorial for the game’s combat system and other gameplay elements.
In a nutshell, it’s a basic, easy-to-understand story with nothing really special about it. However, the game does an excellent job of introducing you to the world, the characters, and further plot development. It has really good pacing and it made me feel young again. If you’ve played a game like Chrono Trigger or even the old-style Final Fantasy titles, then you’ll understand what I mean. The plotlines are similar in a way, but it’s how they are told and the plot twists that make it fun and exciting.
Another aspect that I like about the story is its consistency. There are no weird plot holes or unanswered questions as you get further and further into the game. It’s quite easy to follow and understand. As you play, you will also come across cinematic style 2D drawing cut-scenes which is also a nice touch. The game doesn’t have any kind of voice acting and the story is told through dialogue. There is a ton of reading and text, but that is how those old-school retro titles are. Sea of Stars nails that aspect as well, but for some people that might be boring, so that is a subjective matter.
The Combat, RPG, and Exploration
Sea of Stars shines in its combat and gameplay pace. As you traverse the world in your quest to find and defeat the Fleshmancer, you will utilize a variety of different characters, their abilities, and spells. The game plays just like Chrono Trigger in terms of its turn-based combat, except with one simple twist that makes it a lot more engaging.
As soon as the combat starts, you can choose whichever character you want to attack or cast a spell, then pick which enemy you want to attack first. Now here is the kicker, Sea of Stars has added an interesting gameplay element where you can make your attacks more meaningful. In previous titles like Chrono Trigger, you would normally pick an enemy to attack, give the character the command, and then watch them do damage. In Sea of Stars, when your character starts to attack an enemy, you can press a button to either continue an attack infinitely (depending on the spell you choose) or time it perfectly to make it stronger.
A good example of this is Valere’s Moonrang attack, where she throws a moon-shaped projectile towards an enemy and it returns to her, but if you hit your attack button at the right time, she will deflect it to another enemy and then bounce back again. I think you see where I am going with this. If you are skilled and you have good timing, you can pull off insane tricks like killing all enemies at once using that single spell. I know that sounds extremely broken, but as you progress throughout the game, the enemies get harder and a lot of them are also gain resistance to magic damage, which is what Moon rang does. It’s probably my favorite spell in the game, not only because it’s so powerful, but also because it’s such a signature move for the character.
Your attack button is also helpful in defense. If you manage to hit it right when the enemy strikes your character, you can mitigate some of the damage. This addition to the turn-based combat system makes it a lot more interesting and fun to participate in than the usual choosing a command and watching the action. The player is engaged the entire time and is constantly pressing buttons as if it’s an action game.
Just like Chrono Trigger, you also have elemental damage types. In Sea of Stars’s case, you have sun, moon, poison, and others. As you journey through the game, you will also meet a new cast of characters. These new characters also have their signature abilities and attacks that add quite a lot more depth to the combat. During combat, you can only control three characters at a time, however, if you do have a fourth party member you can swap one of the characters out in the middle of battle. Technically, yes the game does let you utilize your entire party, but you have to do it strategically.
The game’s structure is simple. You traverse the world and come across random enemies and key dungeons that you have to explore and fight in. The dungeons usually consist of traversal puzzles, combat arenas that unlock pathways, and secrets that can lead to valuable items. There is also gear in the game. You can discover chest armor, rings, weapons, and so on for your characters increasing their defense or offense.
Another cool system in Sea of Stars is the relics. Relics are these special items that you can turn on or off in the inventory menu. They act like difficulty modifiers and you can find many different kinds throughout the game. One of the relics allows you to take 30 percent less damage from enemies. I didn’t use it because I wanted to play the game how it was intended to be played. However, if you are having difficulty with a boss, then it might come in handy. Another relic will play a feedback animation for you to let you know when you successfully timed the attack button during combat or defense. This one is really good and I use it all the time because it was hard to tell if I timed the button correctly or not.
The game also has a combo system. The more you attack, the more combo points you gain. After you gain enough combo points, you are then able to pull off fancy combo moves with both Valere and Zale, depending on the requirement of the combat points. There are combo spells that can heal your entire party to a high health amount, and then there are combo attacks that do a lot of damage either to an individual target or every enemy on the screen. The fun part is deciding if you should use a character’s spell to heal someone, an item to heal, or a combo to heal, and the same for attacking and defending. There is quite a bit of depth here, especially later in the game.
The game also has a cooking system, where you can collect a variety of ingredients throughout the world to cook certain foods that restore your mana points and health. You can also find recipes to craft new foods. The game features camps where you can rest up to restore your party to full health, but in return, some enemies may respawn ala Dark Souls. But it’s not that bad, because you can skip enemies here if you manage to quickly go around them before they hit you or before you hit them.
Last but not least, there is also a boost attack/magic system that gets introduced later in the game. Once you hit an enemy with a basic attack such as a melee hit, the enemy will drop orbs. Once it’s your turn again, you can absorb those orbs to boost your next melee attack, spells, or defense. Or if you want to get greedy, you can spawn more orbs and absorb even more of them for an even bigger impact. You can make your character’s potency with up to a total of three big orbs.
My only real gripe with the gameplay is that there is no world map. So if you want to backtrack, it’s going to be a bit hard to navigate. I am not sure if this was an intended design choice or something that got overlooked. It won’t kill your experience, but it can make things confusing, especially when you need to go back for the main quest and you don’t remember what floor of the dungeon you’re on or what path you took to get there in the first place. Because of the lack of a world map, the exploration feels a bit limited, at least to me.
Overall though, the game captures the essence of retro JRPG titles perfectly and adds a twist. While it may not be revolutionary in any shape or form, the objective of this game was to bring back the old days of retro turn-based JRPGs, and it does just that with its systems. The boss battles are also fantastic, however, some may prove challenging at first. But after a few tries and trying to strategize with your characters, and planning your combo system, you can easily figure out the best way to tackle a certain type of boss.
The Visuals and Audio
The visual pixel art style and the old musical soundtrack will bring you back to the PS1 era instantly. There is not much to dislike about the soundtrack or the art. The sprites look awesome, and attack and spell animations look even better. If you miss these kinds of games, when it comes to art style, then Sea of Stars has you covered. If there is one thing that I’d have to nitpick about the game in terms of its presentation, it’s that I was hoping for a bit more variety in combat music tracks. Instead, it’s the same old battle theme over and over again and by the time you get to the end, you will grow a bit tired of it. The boss battles, however, have different music, but those are a lot less frequent than your regular combat encounters.
In a nutshell, if you miss the feeling of old-school JRPGs and want to drown yourself in retro goodness but with modern tech, then look no further than Sea of Stars. It has a solid story, a great combat system, a quirky and memorable cast of characters, and a great art style. The game is also quite long and lengthy and will take you a good while to beat. The best part is that the game only costs $34.99 and is also available on Game Pass day one. You have absolutely zero amounts of excuses to either purchase this game or give it a shot via Game Pass. Sea of Stars is a true spiritual successor to turn-based JRPGs that I believe any fan of old-school Final Fantasy titles specifically Chrono Trigger and Breath of Fire must play. I felt like I was teleported back to the PlayStation 1 days playing a classical turn-based JRPG. Sea of Stars will be receiving a final verdict of 9.5 out of 10.