Developed by Sabotage Studio, Sea of Stars is a new turn-based RPG that has been getting lots of attention, and for good reason. Sabotage Studio is most well-known for their previous game, The Messenger, which gleefully paid homage to the 8-bit Ninja Gaiden series. In a similar vein, Sea of Stars is a love-letter to several classic retro RPGs, including Chrono Trigger, Golden Sun, and more. Fusing nostalgic vibes with modern gaming amenities, Sea of Stars is a must-play RPG that can be appreciated by both genre fanatics and complete RPG newbies.
The Story of the Solstice Warriors
Although Seas of Stars is cheekily set in the same universe as The Messenger, the two games couldn’t be more different in terms of narrative. Like many retro RPGs, Sea of Stars follows a group of young heroes destined for great things, with a tale that spans a glorious fantasy world that’s brimming with intrigue. The story centers on Zale and Valere, two children who are born with magical powers and train to become legendary Solstice Warriors. Imbued with solar and lunar magic respectively, they must hone their powers if they want to become the best heroes they can be.
Of course, all is not well in the fantasy world that Zale and Valere call home, as remnants of an ancient evil still lurk in the furthest and darkest reaches of the land. The biggest threat are Dwellers, wildly powerful beasts that were summoned by an evil sorcerer known as the Fleshmancer. With plot twists aplenty, Zale and Valere’s story is an exciting albeit standard fantasy adventure, but it’s made infinitely better due to its gorgeous pixel art and how it pays homage to some of the greatest RPGs of all time.
Chrono Trigger Meets Golden Sun
At first glance, it’s easy to see that Sea of Stars has been greatly inspired by the 1995 classic JRPG, Chrono Trigger, developed by Square. Like Sea of Stars, Chrono Trigger offers a whimsical tone of adventure, and through the use of time travel, takes the player on a wild ride. While Sabotage’s new title doesn’t have any time-hops, you’ll still visit a wide variety of locales, offering an endless variety of tones and atmosphere. During your adventure, you’ll journey through bucolic countrysides, delve into twisting caverns, take a tour of a haunted island, dive off of waterfalls, and so much more.
Much like 1994’s Earthbound, Sea of Stars is also very tongue-in-cheek, constantly poking fun at genre tropes in lighthearted ways. NPCs will joke about the curious economy of vendors, min-maxing character stats, and other classic RPG cliches. It’s lovingly self-aware, and does a great job making you feel nostalgic for the early days of the genre without having to deal with some of the downsides.
Echoes of other retro RPGs like the Game Boy Advance cult classic, Golden Sun, can be found in Sea of Stars‘ exploration and traversal. In addition to battling enemies, you’ll also use magic relics to solve minor puzzles. Whether you’re pushing around blocks with a gust of wind or using a hook shot to grapple between platforms, it’s very reminiscent of Golden Sun‘s pacing. That said, Golden Sun‘s Psynergy puzzles are far more complex than anything you’ll see in Sea of Stars, resulting in a less challenging yet still satisfying experience.
A Distinct Punch of Paper Mario
Another clear comparison to a retro RPG comes in the battle system, which is clear and straightforward, yet offers a surprising amount of strategy with wiggle room for experimentation. Just like in Paper Mario (and Chrono Trigger, for that matter), there are no random battles, and you jump right into the fight when you engage with enemies in the overworld. Additionally, players can time specific button presses to deal extra damage. Blocking works the same way too, so expert timing can often spell the difference between success and a team wipe.
That said, combat isn’t just a bunch of attacking and blocking, as you can use various skills, team up for devastating combo moves, and much more. If you’re looking to empower your abilities, you can also enhance your skills with magic energy that’s produced by executing basic attacks. This makes it easy to swap strategies, leading to extra-powerful attacks or superior healing spells.
More so than anything else though, Sea of Stars excels due to its marriage of nostalgia and modern gaming. Combat and exploration are equally engaging, with very few moments of gameplay that feel passive. You’re always interacting with the environment, playing mini-games, solving puzzles, and more. As the world changes and new ideas are presented, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the story. At the end of the day, Sea of Stars is yet another shining example of Sabotage’s innate skill of developing retro-inspired games that are often just as exciting as their inspirations.