I’m Over The Moon For Sea of Stars
If you ask someone who grew up in the nineties what the best game ever made is, there’s a good chance they’ll confidently say Chrono Trigger. And for good reason: the game was made by a dream team composed of the key figures behind both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest and oozed heart. All to say: making a game inspired by Chrono Trigger and that era of RPGs carries inherent risk – there’s a huge reputation to live up to. Sea of Stars rises to the challenge, not only living up to lofty expectations, but shattering them. Friends, Sea of Stars is one of the best RPGs, nay, games I’ve ever played.
Sea of Stars is the story of Valere and Zale – Solstice Warriors who harness the powers of the Moon and Sun to battle the forces of evil. Namely, the fabulously named Fleshmancer and its minions. You’ll select your party leader at the start of the game – I chose Valere – though the story and gameplay are irrevocably tied to the pair and their duality. The writing in Sea of Stars is superb.
Laugh out loud funny in places, and deeply introspective in others, I hung on every word. From Garl and his inalienable positivity and zest for life, to Yolande’s fantastic trope busting zingers, I grew to care deeply about the cast and where the adventure takes them. As teenagers tasked with saving the world, Valere and Zale grapple with young adulthood’s lessons, and Sea of Stars’ writing is up to the task. It’s a brilliant adventure the whole way through.
Lessons From The Past
As a game inspired by the past, Sea of Stars has massive reverence for the 16 bit RPG era. Deep cut references and weaponized nostalgia burst constantly from every location. The learned gamer is likely to catch a reference every few minutes. Any early game example of how perfectly executed it all is: “Mountains are nice.”
Critically though, Sea of Stars refuses to lean too heavily on the past. For starters, there’s a well implemented cooking system (complete with lick-your-screen delicious looking pixel food), a fishing system that’s actually fun, and Wheels – Sea of Stars’ cards/dice game. Most importantly though, this adventure and cast of unique characters stand on their own, apart from titans of the past.
The Whole Package
Gameplay happens in two phases that seamlessly coexist. During traversal, exploring the vibrant landscapes is addictive. Zale and Valere are agile, and environments have a lot of verticality to take advantage of that fact. Crossing paths and hard to reach spaces are endlessly enticing, and the experience is all the more authentic thanks to the lack of a map. You’re pulled into the expertly crafted world instead of staring at a mini map. Searching for treasure, secret passages, and other lore-expanding secrets became a habit, both because the gameplay is enjoyable, and because the world is fascinating. Collecting everything in a single playthrough would be a tall order indeed.
Enemies are visible on the map – no random encounters here – and can be snuck up on ala Earthbound to get a head start in battle. Once a fight kicks off – immersively without a transition – there’s a lot to love. For one thing, Sea of Stars feels perfectly balanced. There’s a complex interplay between systems requiring both forethought and strategy in every fight. Each character has both physical and magical types attached to their attacks and skills, and juggling them strategically is incredibly engaging. I loved experimenting with different strategies and characters.
Mechanics that Matter
I don’t like getting too mechanical in reviews, but I want to go deeper into combat here – there are too many awesome systems not to. Valere’s Lunar magic is effective against more spectral enemies, and expending some Mana to deal extra damage in those situations is well worth it. However, Mana pools are small, and can be regenerated via physical attacks or items. BUT, magic effects can also be attached to physical attacks by Boosting them with Live Mana, which is generated by physical attacks.
Meanwhile, enemy attacks are on a turn based countdown, and have Locks attached to them when charging up a special attack. Locks can be broken by doing the right combination of damage types before the countdown is up, thereby staggering the enemy. In larger boss encounters, there are often a hilarious number of Locks to be broken. And yet, Sea of Stars offers the tools to make it through by any number of different tactics.
Reading that last bit, it sounds complicated. It is, but the way systems are introduced and implemented makes it all really approachable. Where it might be tempting to stick with what works in other games, I had zero desire to do so in Sea of Stars. I also didn’t have to grind levels at all, allowing for perfect event pacing.
A Joy For Both Eyes and Ears
Those perfectly paced events are accompanied by a stunning soundtrack. Composed primarily by Eric W. Brown with contributions from the legendary Yasunori Mitsuda, Sea of Stars is an auditory delight. There’s a lot of Chrono Trigger influence throughout, though Brown adds his own flavour with heavy guitar and other metal vibes. The battle theme is an absolute banger – you’ll never get sick of it. Mitsuda’s tracks are equal parts Chrono Trigger and Cross, and fit beautifully into the overall and the fantastic world of Seas of Stars.
I alluded to vibrant landscapes earlier, but Sea of Stars’ art deserves its own section. It’s phenomenal. Shadows dance across the ground from flickering fires, while clever use of shading communicates verticality. Characters emote brilliantly, perfectly accompanying both the dialogue and score. In battle, each new spell, effect, and event had me grinning ear to ear. Incredibly detailed pixel characters and environments harmoniously coexist with more modern effects and techniques – this is what you remember 16 bit games looking like (they didn’t. Not quite).
Balance is important, so I searched high and low for something to cite as could-be-better. I found nothing. Lovingly crafted by Quebec City’s Sabotage Studio, Sea of Stars is quite a departure for the team responsible for The Messenger. It’s a risk that’s resulted in one of the most beautiful, heartfelt, and well balanced RPGs I’ve ever played.
*PC review code provided by the publisher*
- Phenomenal score and art
- Creative and engaging combat
- Reverence for the past
- An outstanding achievement
- It eventually ends