Two special children, one born on the day of the winter solstice and the other the summer solstice, are trained at a young age to take out one of the last evils remaining in their world—Sea of Stars starts off with a prophecy like role-playing games of yore, just like it set out to be when it was but a wee Kickstarter page. Developed by Sabotage Studio, this game is the culmination of multiple RPG mechanics from those old RPGs of old and refined to be not just a smooth and well-made experience, but a very fun one as well that can be played by just about anyone.
There’s a lotta Stars to spot in this review. Don’t blink or you’ll miss ’em.
Fated Birth and Humble Beginnings
Sea of Stars starts off the player with a story, told by an unknown individual surrounded by a unkempt library only those with the power of ‘orderly chaos’ can understand. He talks about two children, Valere and Zale, born with the powers of the moon and sun respectively, and how they would be important to the fate of the world. From there we’re moved to the perspective of these kids and are immediately tossed into the game’s bread ‘n butter: the combat system.
In Sea of Stars, players will exchange blows with baddies in a turn-based manner like usual, but with a small twist: you have the chance to deal extra damage, and in turn, take less damage by timing your swipes and blocks to the right moment that the strike is dealt. It’s not unlike AlphaDream’s Mario and Luigi games, actually. Which is why I got into the groove right from the start, bonking baddies with my sword and skills on the right key frame always feels good. Timing is key to making the best of your turn in Sea of Stars.
But it doesn’t just end at similarities. Sabotage Studio added new mechanics to the mix, encouraging players to use specific attack types and elements to prevent foes from pulling off powerful specials as well as breaking their stance for the turn. Doing, regular attacks generates mana points (“MP”) as well as boost orbs that charge up your next action, stackable up to three times, and can really make your cool skill, combos, and those awesome ultimate attacks land a tonne of damage. It’s a lot of fun to pull these off in quick succession.
The game’s turn rules let you switch between three on-screen party members at anytime, as long as they haven’t completed an action for that turn. You can even swap to backrow members without eating a turn. That’s a very refreshing feeling, I might add. The game’s combat system also is quick to catch you up to speed if you’ve fallen behind in levelling. Sea of Stars discourages grinding by making set squads of baddies roam particular areas and once they’ve been clobbered, they usually don’t respawn. I like this approach to encounters, but one downside is that you’ll rarely be able to give these mobs the runaround when you really just want to move on.
Now with the combat I have three things I want to note. One is how the game starves you of your MP. Sea of Stars encourages you to use skills and regular attacks in tandem to keep a nice cadence going between attack types. But often times I found myself using a skill at a bad time and ended lacking MP to break a foe’s charge attack and getting the short end of the stick. So everytime I leveled up, I made sure to always choose the extra MP point. And of course this problem does become less of an annoyance as time goes on, so it’s not that big of a deal.
But this second point is annoyed me enough to stay long enough in my goldfish-equivalent of a noggin: Timing my attacks and defenses. Like I mentioned earlier, actions are one thing but you need to press ‘A’ at the right frame(s) to deal additional damage and even a second swing. It’s an involved combat system for sure, but towards the end of the game I never really felt like I got the timings down on a lot of my moves. And depending on the baddy, defending against certain enemies could get grating.
I partly blame this on the game’s isometric perspective during combat, which leads me to one last point: positioning. How you position enemies is useful because it allows for wide-range attacks to hit multiple targets. This also includes your positioning too but for most of the game you won’t have to worry about that. Now sometimes, combat encounters flood your zone with multiple enemies and this can make some of your attacks hard to do. For example with Valere’s moon boomerang, which sometimes makes for awkward juggling depending on where she decides to attack from.
Fortunately, these don’t take away from what is ultimately Sea of Stars’ best gameplay system. And the game does offer assists in the form of Relics if you find yourself stuck or really interested in moving the story along. And I felt that Sabotage Studio did a phenomenal job with balancing difficulty and offering frequent save point locations.
Now I can’t go without talking about just how beautiful Sea of Stars is. The spritework is phenomenal and so is its environmental art and direction. There’s a clear sense of scale as you roam about tropical islands to mountaintops and see what’s below from the edges of the map. These aspects are amplified by the game’s lighting, offering dynamic shadows to just about any surface you can see—even door handles. The game’s music is a treat, too; wait til you get to some of the game’s boss fights, offering an electronic bop to percussive sounds and my favourite: the shredding of a floppy disk drive. Plus the short animated cutscenes provided a nice transition to certain major scenes of the game.
As you’re roaming about the Sea of Stars, checking out the visuals and fighting the many baddies with their own distinctive traits, you’ll be doing what I like to call “sequential puzzle solving”. Essentially, you’ll follow a set path, moving obstacles out of the way and/or into place until you get to the next story beat or combat sequence. Nothing really brain-teasing, but there are a few secrets here and there that you can pick up to make your journey easier. Cooking, for example, is a great boon for MP and health regeneration when you’re in a bind—and the cooking animations are very mouth watering.
And speaking of story beats (no spoilers, don’t worry), I can’t say I had much interest in the game’s world or its characters. Our leads Valere and Zale are about as interesting as watching a dryer cycle complete (to the point that I forgot their names multiple times) and I ultimately struggled to find interest in their world. At some point I started to mash through dialogue to get to the fights. But I will say that the game does offer some interesting conversations but they only show towards the later half of the game. Also, if I were in charge of editing this game’s script I’d throw Yolande into the cutting room floor with the quickness.
Anywho, cool things happen later on, but I’ll leave it to you to find that stuff out.
Sea of Stars takes formulas and gives them a nice fresh coat of paint. Even though the narrative won’t hold your attention, you’ll find a game that offers stunning visuals and sound design that accompanies a fun battle system with unique mechanics. Easy to pick up and play for everyone, old and new.
It’s a day one Xbox Game Pass launch too. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t try it. ∎
Sea of Stars
Windows 11 PC, Xbox Series X
- Beatiful spritework amplified by fantastic lighting and backdrops.
- Fun combat system that encourages flipping through strategies/mechanics.
- No grinding needed, game gets you up to speed when you fall behind.
- Great music.
- Perspective and unit positioning sometimes makes for annoying fights.
- Overall narrative likely won't hold your attention much.