Sea of Stars is a testament that indie game studios can create something magical and extraordinary that stands proudly alongside RPG classics like Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster and Chrono Trigger.
Join two Children of the Solstice Zale (sun) and Valere (moon) as they embark on an emotionally charged adventure to learn the only magic capable of saving the world from a great evil known as the Fleshmancer.
I knew from the first few minutes of the game’s opening that Sea of Stars would have great quality writing, and I was hooked from beginning to end and it got to the point where I would play until my Nintendo Switch battery ran down. The storytelling made me feel a wide range of emotions such as joy, anger, and sadness which helped me see the love and heart that went into creating Sea of Stars.
I want to give a special mention to the cast of characters because without them we wouldn’t have the makings of a memorable story that I hope will become a treasured classic to RPG fans old and new. Each character you meet whether it’s a new party member, or a support character all have distinct personalities and they are ALL loveable. During my playthrough, I didn’t come across a character that I didn’t like and was impressed by how well-written they were as it increased my emotional bond with the cast. I cared about what the characters stood for, what they went through, and what value each of them brought to the storytelling.
Sea of Stars is an active turn-based RPG and battles begin when you run into enemies on the field as there are no random encounters. There are a lot of battle mechanics that make this RPG truly unique and addictive, however, I will only be discussing my top favorites as Sea of Stars has a wonderfully crafted tutorial section that reviews everything in more detail and can be accessed easily by pressing the + button and selecting “How to Play.” It’s divided into three parts: Traversal, Combat, and Survival. Check this often to refresh your memory, as more tutorials will be added as you’re introduced to new game mechanics!
SPOILER WARNING ☀:
There are huge spoilers in this next paragraph because the battle mechanic I will be talking about only becomes usable after a story event and its accompanied boss battle. Please read at your own risk!
To start with, battles are much more than just crushing enemies with your weapon until they are defeat－ without some strategy you can run into huge difficulty spikes. Early in Sea of Stars, it’s mentioned to Zale and Valere that they have to learn magic without using magic. I read this as a poetic riddle of sorts and didn’t understand what it meant. It turns out that it’s an effective and addictive part of the battle system called Live Mana. Once this mechanic is learned, orbs will drop from enemies when they are hit with weapons. By pressing the ZR and A buttons, you can have a character absorb the orbs and boost their physical attacks with their innate magic energy- causing magical damage without using MP!
SPOILER END ☀
Another battle mechanic that I often used was timing my attacks to execute combos, and timing my blocks to ward off enemy attacks to take less damage. I didn’t always get it right as it was hard to keep track of certain enemy attack patterns, but that’s okay! I just thought of it as an added bonus when I did succeed. But fear not! There is a very generous and stress-relieving game mechanic in Sea of Stars that you receive access to in the first few hours of the story and they are called relics! These items can be turned on or off in the menu screen and help customize your play style. The Amulet of Storytelling, for example, gives you a lighter challenge and restores your party’s HP after a battle, while the Adamant Shard relic automatically times physical attacks and guarantees a combo. As you progress in Sea of Stars, I recommend keeping an eye on the shops because you’ll be able to buy new relics to further customize your play style!
In the screenshot below I have shared my setup.
No matter what your preference is regarding play style or difficulty, bosses will always require some strategy. I had to pay attention to their physical attributes, weaknesses, and their attack patterns to determine the best course of action on the road to victory.
Side Note: If a party member is knocked out in battle don’t worry. They will be revived automatically during the course of the battle and this is indicated by the number of stars swirling above their heads. If they have two stars for example, then it will take two turns before the party member rises like a phoenix again. However, if the whole party is knocked out then it’s game over.
Now we’ve finally come to the biggest elephant in the room that I need to address when it comes to the battle gameplay. I’ve been playing RPGs ever since I was twelve, and I’m not familiar with not being able to run from battles. Sea of Stars doesn’t have the feature to escape from battles which I felt was a strange game design choice. At one point during my playthrough, I was swarmed by enemies that if you didn’t defeat them quick enough, they would summon more of their kind. On one hand, I got a treasure trove of experience points and was able to practice the intricate battle mechanics, on the other hand, I can see why people would want to escape a battle if it’s getting overwhelming and may want to reorganize and regroup.
EXPLORATION & PUZZLES ☽
Sea of Stars has a big lush world to discover and explore and you can do the following things to enhance your experience and if you need a change of pace in-between story beats:
- Climbing ledges, ladders, hugging walls in tight spaces, jumping over gaps
- Sailing a ship
- Cooking meals
And like every good RPG there are always countless treasure chests hidden throughout the world just waiting to be opened! In Sea of Stars, I opened up as many treasure chests that I found, because there were some nice surprises within. I found a recipe in one of them! Explore as much as you can because you can sometimes even find new combo skills for your party to use in battle. These powerful moves are done with an assigned partner. For example, Zale and Valere have a combo skill that heals the whole party and can be found in a dungeon.
Some people may not like the puzzle segments which are a staple in RPGs, and while Sea of Stars is chock full of them, I found them to be well-designed and enjoyable to solve, even when I ran into areas in the game where I felt stuck and didn’t know how to proceed. I never once felt frustrated－ once I took a deep breath and looked around the area I found the way forward. So be reassured that there’s always a way forward and you’ll find it! And depending on the area that you are exploring not every puzzle that you see needs to be solved to progress the story which I appreciate.
Most often any extra puzzles you come across lead you to special treasure which can include new combo abilities for your party.
I do have one suggestion.
During one of the puzzle segments, I was worried that I had made a mistake, and tried to reenter the room to see if the puzzle would reset so that I could try again. When I reentered the room it was still the same so I was a bit bummed out that there is no way to reset puzzles if it seems like an error was made while solving it. I was able to figure it out in the end regardless, but maybe a puzzle reset feature can be considered?
Sea of Stars has beautiful pixel art graphics. Everything about the game’s presentation is wonderful: from having character portraits that reflect a character’s current emotion, give them more personality, and help me empathize with them more, to full animated cutscenes that bring the adventure to life which was a nice surprise! And even when you let the game run for a few minutes you get to see the unique animations of each character sprite–it’s amazing what modern video game technology can achieve in a retro-style RPG.
There was one thing that took me out of the immersive experience and maybe it affected me because I’m an avid reader and writer. I noticed that the chapter title (when you save the game) hasn’t been consistent in its capitalization. Please see the two screenshots below. I would love to see this changed because it will make the game feel more polished. It was a bit jarring to see the inconsistency.
Sea of Stars has a wonderful soundtrack and it captures the beauty of the game perfectly. Unless my ears deceived me, I noticed that depending on the area you were in, the battle theme would either have a different rendition, or the music of the location would be the battle theme. I thought that was cool!
My two favourite tracks were: Encounter! and Hills of Determination:
I also caught on to the fact that each character’s “voice” would be portrayed by a different sound as the text rolled across the text box. I was immediately reminded of Golden Sun, as that classic RPG did something similar back in the day!
REPLAY VALUE ☀
Upon completing Sea of Stars you have the option of starting a new game plus or discovering the side content available. I haven’t tried either of these things yet but I plan to in the future!
FINAL THOUGHTS ☽
Sea of Stars is one of my top RPG picks of 2023. As mentioned earlier, I played this game until my Nintendo Switch battery ran down. I’ve also been recommending or rather begging my boyfriend to play this game as soon as he can, because I know he will really enjoy it. I’m spreading my love for Sea of Stars one conversation at a time!
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
Sea of Stars
Release date: August 29,2023
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) Windows,Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Developer: Sabotage Studio
MSRP: $34.99 USD