You may not have heard of Sabotage Studio yet, but you should definitely know their name. This small indie developer made a splash back in 2018 with a fantastic ninja-platformer called The Messenger. It took clear inspiration from 8-bit classics like Ninja Gaiden while adding modern twists. Now with their sophomore title Sea of Stars, Sabotage Studio pays tribute to another beloved retro genre – the Japanese role-playing game.
Specifically, Sea of Stars aims to capture the magic of Super Nintendo-era JRPG masterpieces like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. You play as two young heroes, Valere and Zale, who team up to save their fantasy world from an impending evil. The journey takes you across sweeping landscapes and through dungeons bustling with baddies. It’s packed with all the charm and wit you’d expect from a classic JRPG story.
But Sabotage Studio doesn’t just settle for nostalgia. Sea of Stars adds ingenious new combat and exploration mechanics that make it feel fresh. Timing your attacks just right rewards you with bonuses. Navigating the multi-layered environments reveals hidden treasures. There’s even fun side activities like fishing, cooking and minigames.
In this review, we’ll dive deep into everything Sea of Stars has to offer. Does it stand tall next to those SNES legends that inspired it? Or does it stumble under the weight of high expectations? Read on to find out!
An Epic Journey with Lovable Heroes
Sea of Stars whisks you away on an epic adventure across a fantasy archipelago. It all begins focused on the two main heroes – Valere and Zale. These youngsters have trained since childhood as “Solstice Warriors”, gifted fighters that wield the powers of the moon and sun. Once they come of age, the pair set out on their first quest to defeat evil forces plaguing the land.
Of course, this inaugural mission quickly balloons into something much larger. They get swept up in the mystery of an evil alchemist called The Fleshmancer and his deadly creations known as Dwellers. The story twists and turns through haunted castles, pirate coves, research labs and beyond. Our heroes even join forces with resistance groups trying to topple corrupt kingdoms.
Throughout their journey, Valere and Zale really grow on you. Their fierce determination in the face of danger is admirable. And their unwavering friendship makes them a duo you want to succeed. That said, they aren’t overly serious all the time. The witty banter between them and other characters adds moments of levity.
One of those other colorful characters is Garl, a self-proclaimed “Warrior Chef” who provides hearty meals and moral support. He’s quite the optimist, always trying to lift his friends’ spirits. You also meet unique folks like the assassin Seraï, who starts as a foe but becomes an ally. Or Teaks, an eccentric researcher of ancient technologies. The cast runs the gamut from pirates and royalty to even entire societies of sentient fish people.
Despite all the wacky characters and locales, the storytelling remains focused. The stakes feel real as you uncover sinister plots threatening the entire world. And the character motivations stay clear, driving them forward through every triumph and tragedy.
Even when you think you have a handle on where things are going, Sea of Stars still manages to surprise you. Late story revelations shed new light on events from much earlier. The game weaves an inspiring narrative about overcoming differences to face a common threat. And it all wraps up in dramatic fashion while still leaving you hoping for more adventures in this now-familiar world.
Strategic Combat and Rewarding Exploration
The foundation of any good RPG is a robust combat system. Sea of Stars delivers with turn-based battles that feel both fresh and familiar. Your party takes turns trading blows with menacing monsters. But the way those attacks play out is quite unique.
Many of your actions can gain bonuses if you time them just right. Land a hit at the perfect moment during an attack animation and you’ll deal extra damage. Nail the timing on a block and you’ll reduce incoming damage. This fills battles with frantic rhythm as you try chaining together these timed hits.
You also need to manage MP carefully, since your special skills and magic cost MP to use. Normal attacks help recover it, so balancing both is key. Building up a combo meter by landing attacks unlocks powerful duo moves from your party. And exploiting enemy weaknesses when they appear can totally shift the tide in your favor.
This all combines into dynamic turn-based combat. It starts out manageable but grows appropriately challenging as you progress. The thoughtful balancing means grinding never feels necessary either. You can tweak the difficulty with modifiers if you’d like an extra edge. But no matter your skill level, the battles stay engaging from start to finish.
Of course, you’ll want to explore the varied environments to find those baddies in the first place. Sea of Stars features gorgeously-drawn pixel art worlds brimming with secrets. Shimmering waterfalls, lively ocean ports, ancient temples – the setting diversity is staggering. And each area has multiple layers and hidden nooks to uncover.
Creative platforming and puzzle mechanics help navigate the landscapes. Grappling hooks let you swing over gaps, while gusts of wind might lift you to new heights. Challenges test your dexterity and lateral thinking without ever slowing your pace. The rewards for fully exploring are always worthwhile, whether it’s useful items or tidbits of lore.
Sprinkled across the journey, fun side activities offer a change of pace. Fishing spots let you reel in exotic aquatic creatures. Campfire cooking then lets you prepare meals with effects like healing or stat boosts. The simple card game Wheels can be played competitively in taverns. And optional quests with quirky characters tell self-contained stories.
These distractions all tie back into progression in subtle ways. The materials from fishing might help craft new weapons. An elusive Wheels player could give you a useful relic. The rewards always feel worth your limited time. And it’s easy to take a quick break without losing momentum on your epic quest.
With satisfying progression, rewarding exploration and engaging combat, Sea of Stars hits all the right notes for RPG enthusiasts. It respects the classics while carving an identity all its own.
A Feast for the Senses
It’s clear Sea of Stars draws inspiration from classic 16-bit RPG aesthetics. But the presentation elevates it to new heights with incredible attention to detail. This 2D pixel art world feels alive thanks to fluid animations and dynamic lighting. And the evocative soundtrack immerses you fully into this fantasy realm.
Right from the opening cutscene, the visual splendor is obvious. Light shafts pierce through swaying trees and shimmer off rippling waters. Torches flicker to cast dancing shadows across stone walls. Moonlight reflects off armor with uncanny realism. The pixel art backgrounds are truly works of art.
These environments come alive even more thanks to the smooth character animations. Your party runs, jumps, swims and climbs across obstacles. Battles feature flashy effects as spells and special moves bombard the screen. And major story moments unfold with dramatic pans and vivid close-ups. It’s clear each frame received meticulous polish.
To match the visuals, the soundtrack by legendary composers Yasunori Mitsuda and Eric W. Brown is sublime. Sweeping anthems accompany moments of triumph while somber piano melodies underscore emotional scenes. Upbeat tunes with catchy beats play as you explore lively towns. Even the subtle ambient tracks get stuck in your head. This could easily pass for a long lost SNES classic soundtrack.
Every piece of the presentation works in harmony. Exploring dark caves feels more ominous thanks to echoing sound effects and dim lighting. The airy theme as you traverse mountain peaks syncs perfectly with the wide-open vistas. Sea of Stars fully transports you into its world through sight and sound.
Some retro throwback games try coasting on nostalgia for the presentation. But Sea of Stars sets a new bar for intricately detailed pixel art and a soundtrack that stirs your soul. For RPG fans, it’s a feast for the senses that masterfully recaptures the atmosphere of gaming’s golden age.
An Adventure That Lasts
With many single player games these days, you beat the campaign and then move on. But Sea of Stars is crafted to keep you engaged well beyond the credits. There’s plenty of extra challenges and secrets that make additional playthroughs worthwhile.
Just experiencing the main story takes 35 hours or more. And that’s not even seeing everything there is to offer. A second playthrough in New Game+ mode lets you carry over levels and gear while remixing some elements. You’ll uncover more backstory and character moments you potentially missed the first time.
For completionists, finding every last collectible and completing every side quest takes serious dedication. There are outfits to craft, fishing spots to exhaust, recipes to master – more than enough goals to extend your journey. And clearing optional content unlocks relics that can modify gameplay for future runs.
If that’s still not enough, bonus modes let you tweak variables to create your own custom challenges. Crank up enemy difficulty while limiting your own capabilities for a nail-biting battle of attrition. Or remove restrictions completely to plow through overpowered.
The point is that Sea of Stars gives you the tools to play however you want. The environments open up even further when you’re powered up, letting skilled players break sequence and discover game-breaking tricks. You can pour 100+ hours into this and still have more stones left unturned.
Very few single player games today have this kind of longevity. It’s clear Sea of Stars was crafted as a love letter to JRPG fans. There’s seemingly endless reasons to stay engaged with its charismatic cast, strategic combat, and sprawling world. This journey can last as long as you want it to.
A New Gold Standard for JRPGs
It’s no easy task trying to recapture the magic of beloved classics like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI. But Sea of Stars pulls it off with aplomb, delivering an instant JRPG classic that deserves mention alongside those legends. This heartfelt homage executes flawlessly on its premise of reinventing and modernizing the vintage formula.
Right from the opening moments, you’re swept away by the charming characters, thoughtful writing, and imaginative worldbuilding. The story captivates you through shocking twists and triumphs until an emotional finale. And the 16-bit inspired visuals pop with stunning pixel art vistas brought to life by dynamic lighting and fluid animation.
Underneath the nostalgia lies gameplay systems polished to a sheen. The strategic, timing-focused combat always provides a challenge. Exploration rewards your curiosity with carefully hidden secrets and platforming challenges that break up the pace. Snappy menus and UI make gameplay smooth as butter. It respects your time with no grinding needed, yet offers ridiculous replayability.
Simply put, everything just works in Sea of Stars. Each piece of the puzzle, from writing and quest design to music and crafting mechanics, coalesces into a sensational experience. It sets a new standard for the genre by honoring JRPG traditions while improving and expanding upon them in nearly every way.
Very few games can maintain rock solid quality across a 30+ hour adventure without unnecessary bloat or pacing issues. But Sea of Stars hooks you early and never lets go, consistently impressing with clever new characters and creative locales. Even after the credits rolled, I couldn’t wait to dive back in.
When the bar is set this high, it’s hard not to daydream about the future possibilities. If this is the caliber of game Sabotage Studio can deliver with just their sophomore release, then their next project could easily shape up to be a masterpiece. For any fellow fans of retro JRPGs, Sea of Stars should shoot straight to the top of your must-play list.
Sea of Stars
Sea of Stars is a masterful homage to retro JRPG classics that manages to feel both nostalgic and highly polished. With its endearing ensemble cast, epic storytelling, and strategic combat system, it deserves to be counted among the genre's greats. This is a must-play for any RPG fan.
- Engaging story and likeable characters
- Innovative turn-based combat system
- Rewarding exploration and traversal
- Gorgeous retro pixel art visuals
- Evocative soundtrack fits the style
- Tons of content with high replay value
- Story can feel standard at times
- Perspective issues during platforming
- Combat starts simple and takes time to evolve
- Can be challenging for casual players
- Backtracking to 100% complete everything