2023 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for RPG enthusiasts. While there are plenty of massive, sprawling fantasy lands for players to explore, some might be tempted to visit a more condensed world with its own unique feel. The latest title made by Sabotage Studios seeks to provide that experience, influenced by some of the greatest role-playing hits of the past. Sea of Stars manages to live up to its influences and even stand among them as one of the most impressive indie RPGs out there.
Story of the Solstice Warriors
In Sea of Stars, players take control of a pair of Solstice Warriors, young mages with powers based around times of day. These warriors are tasked with facing evil creations spawned from The Fleshmancer, a legendary foe that threatens the world even after its departure. There are plenty of characters to meet throughout the story and quite a few surprising twists, though things rarely get very complicated or difficult to follow. It’s a simple story with plenty of wholesome charm, which is a trait supplemented by its writing… most of the time.
Some might find the writing in Sea of Stars to be its lowest point. Between a few grammatical oddities and hit-or-miss jokes, there are certainly a few moments where dialogue could be improved. But players will be hard-pressed to find any truly glaring errors or inconsistencies, and the game’s humor hits far more often than not. Writing is usually a major factor to consider in role-playing adventures such as these, and some players might find these problems far more troublesome than others. But it gets the job done where it needs to, and it doesn’t affect the less story-important aspects of the journey.
Exploring an Eclipsed World
For yet another retro-pixel indie game, Sea of Stars is perhaps one of the most beautiful. It’s hard not to take in the sights of every environment while journeying toward the next great force of evil. Occasional animated cutscenes only add to this beauty by providing great introductions to certain characters and important story beats. The isometric view can be a bit difficult to travel through every now and then, but the game’s art style makes the most necessary paths clear to see. Either way, those searching for hidden paths will be able to enjoy the game’s art even more closely, searching for whatever nooks or crannies might lead them to secret treasure.
Exploration isn’t a massive part of Sea of Stars, but there’s a surprising amount of depth to it nonetheless. The overall progression — and even access to the world itself — is fairly linear at first, only featuring a few hidden paths with useful equipment or secret skills. But players will eventually get the chance to travel the entire overworld in full, allowing them to regain what they missed and access new areas that were blocked off before. The game isn’t as absurdly huge as most modern open-world adventures, but it stays at a respectable size while slowly opening more of itself for players wishing to see more. It’s comparable to many retro titles in that regard — and in many others, as well.
Creative Combat and Delightful Dungeons
The developers of Sea of Stars made it clear that some of its main inspirations included Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger, among other retro role-playing titles. These influences are most easily seen in combat, where timed hits and blocks combine with predetermined and position-based foes to make every fight feel like a true test of skill and strategy. Magic regenerates when using basic strikes to let players keep up the pressure at all times, and an indication of upcoming enemy attacks rewards smart thinking whenever possible. These features are fun enough on their own, but the most unique thing this title brings to the table is also one of its greatest strengths.
Sea of Stars features a special “lock” system. By using certain moves before a turn ends, players can interrupt upcoming enemy skills. Things get more complicated as more party members become available, but since swapping members can be done during battle — and since EXP is shared across the entire party no matter what — far more options are available than what might be obvious at first. Normal encounters can turn into boss-worthy battles in their own right thanks to this system, and actual bosses can become some of the most intense ordeals players will ever face.
If there’s one criticism to be had about the combat in Sea of Stars, it’s the fact that some timed hits are hard to effectively judge. There’s a relic that provides indication of when players actually perform them correctly, but a demonstration feature would be welcome, especially when getting used to everything in the early-game battles. It’s still great to see timed hits as a feature, allowing for some tougher fights to require more skill than strategy — a trait that most turn-based RPGs sadly lack. But with or without them, the thankfully unnecessary need to grind for levels allows anyone playing Sea of Stars to do so at their own pace.
Outside of battles, players will also find themselves in fairly creative and tricky dungeons while exploring the world. On the subject of inspirations, these Zelda-esque trials contain thoughtful puzzles with an occasional exploration-improving ability upgrade. Their designs are interesting without being overly complicated, and the upgrades — while situational — are fun to mess around with on their own. It’s an extra treat on top of so much to love already, making Sea of Stars feel that much more robust.
Even as a remake of one of its primary inspirations nears its own release, Sea of Stars manages to stand on its own feet as a fantastic RPG. It’s not often that such indie titles feel so robust and in-depth while also feeling so unique. In spite of its minor flaws, long-time fans of the genre are sure to have an absolute blast with this game. It might have been built on inspirations, but one can only hope that Sea of Stars manages to cause its own influence on the industry as well.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.
- This article was updated on August 29th, 2023