Sea of Stars takes all the best aspects of retro RPGs and breathes new life into them. Developed by Sabotage and funded through Kickstarter, the prequel to The Messenger expands on that world in all the right ways. From the area design to the bosses and the music, Sea of Stars is a must for fans of turn-based RPGs.
Sabotage went above and beyond when developing Sea of Stars. The main story is almost twice the length of their first release, coming in at around 30 hours. Clearing the full game can take up to 60 hours, four times the total of The Messenger. The story’s filled with interesting characters, plot twists I didn’t see coming, and numerous bits of comic relief that provide giggles to counterbalance the other gut-wrenching moments.
Sea of Stars Review: An Ocean of Nostalgia
Old-school RPGs always bring back happy memories of childhood for me. From the pixelated graphics to the limited battle animations, there’s just something satisfying about the simplicity of it all. Unlike games of the past, though, Sea of Stars has the wisdom of its predecessors to aid it in putting on a smashing display. Simple in presentation, the story, music choice, and characters bring this world to life in compelling and multi-layered ways.
For me, the music is the most nostalgic part. The different tracks remind me of the motorcycle chase from the original Final Fantasy 7, exploring different lands in Legend of the Dragoon, or beating the big bad in just about any old-school RPG. It’s a rush of adrenaline, the sweeping, melancholic ode, a triumphant march.
While the visuals harken back to the classics, evoking the sprites of SNES RPGs like Chrono Trigger — or modern callbacks like Octopath Traveler — and the color schemes are vibrantly entrancing, there are times when the visual presentation gets in the way. Specifically, when certain colors mix with the game’s flashing effects, whether that be when you level up or when you fight certain bosses, things can quite literally become painful. For migraine sufferers like myself, these sections can really bring down the fun factor. Though relatively brief, it would be nice to have a way to turn them off.
Visuals aside, the story of Sea of Stars is fantastically gripping. Once you get into the meat of things, you’ll be drawn deeply into it, wanting to know how it all unfolds. For those who played The Messenger, this story is set far in the past. The large time gap makes it so you don’t need to have played Sabotage’s first game, and if you’re a newcomer to the world, like myself, you don’t have to worry about any of the lore to understand what’s happening.
The myths and legends of the world are often told to you when at Camp by the Traveling Historian. Giving her artifacts of the past allows her to tell you a story associated with the item. When first joining the crew, she only has the story of the Vespertine, but it can expand to multiple stories that encompass the entire lore of Sea of Stars.
Camp also gives you time to cook. You don’t have to set up a full camp to whip up tasty morsels, but you must be at a fire. Crafted dishes restore HP and MP, while some also provide full-party effects and buffs. This really highlights Garl’s role on the team, since he’s the Warrior Cook.
It’s thanks in part to the well-rounded characters that the story is such a success. Not only do you have the usual cast of strong-willed heroes, but you also have the fourth-wall-breaking bardcore pirate crew. As the funny bone of the game, these pirates bring to life various tropes seen in video games at large — but always in an interesting, unexpected way. I don’t want to spoil any of the fun in discovering all the Easter Eggs, but they’re a great time.
Battles occur just about everywhere in Sea of Stars, and the mechanics are rather good. Calling forth the tried and true turn-based systems of the past, your team can dish out damage by physically attacking, using solo skills, or working together to perform combos. Timing hits just right means a character can attack a second time or deal increased damage. Defending at the perfect moment means a reduction in the damage you take. It’s a song and dance that requires practice and dedication to master.
An addition I love is the ability to switch out party members at will, where the newly active character can attack instantly. Typically, switching out a party member takes up that turn, but being able to pounce with a slash, magic attack, or skill right away is great for breaking locks on enemies. The boon is that doing so ends their concentration on a skill and negates their upcoming turn, often changing the flow of the battle.
Another challenging aspect is the variety of puzzles you’ll face while traveling. Many of these are built into an area as a means of creating interesting traversal, while others are actual puzzles you need to solve to get specific rewards. Most are relatively easy and involve moving blocks into certain positions, using wind to raise ledges, or changing the time of day to cause certain effects on the landscape. Those that hide new combos and treasures, however, are bigger brain teasers.
What’s more puzzling than the puzzles themselves is the way quests are tracked throughout the game. Alongside the main quests are challenges and tasks that could be viewed as side missions. The issue is that there’s no log to keep track of them or review the progress you’ve made. It means some content is hard to find — or rediscover once you’ve found the required items or decided to come back and finish them.
Sea of Stars Review — The Bottom Line
- Tons of nostalgia.
- Fantastic soundtrack.
- Well-written storyline with interesting characters.
- Ability to switch out characters mid-battle.
- Wide range of puzzles.
- No quest tracker.
- Some visuals trigger migraines.
Overall, Sea of Stars is a phenomenal entry into the turn-based RPG genre. The story vastly expands on the world first introduced in The Messenger. It’s gripping through all aspects of gameplay, from the characters to the areas you explore. It does have its detriments, but those are far outshined by the overall experience presented. It’s a solid game with hours of content to entertain you with.
[Note: Sabotage Studios provided the copy of Sea of Stars used for this review.]
Sea of Stars Review: An Ocean of Nostalgia
An entrancing voyage through classic RPG nostalgia.What Our Ratings Mean