Sea of Stars is the brand new sequel to The Messenger that is a nice RPG 2D platformer of a throwback to a simpler time. It’s an easy plug in and play game that lets you pick up from where you left off with an increasingly difficult level creep once you emerge from the tutorial; all hands blazing. Directly owing its inspiration to the classics it’s a turn based RPG that follows the story of two children of the solstice; who combine the powers of the sun and moon to perform eclipse magic – the only force that can stop the evil alchemist known as the Fleshmancer. It’s got a classic set-up – you’re inducted into a school where you undergo training and then let loose on the world to complete a variety of objectives; ranging from fighting bosses to fishing as a way to kill time.
It’s not a direct lift from the classics but Sabotage Studios do a great job at reinventing the genre. It fits into the JRPG mould with the instant appeal of the presentation; the world is fascinating to look at: it feels like the pixel world brought to life in rare beauty; a real triumph that just shows its work of art as a passion. It takes its characters Valere and Zale who use the power of the sun and the moon to fight their way through the storyline; that revolves around the higher stakes approach to The Messenger befitting of the evolution and the ambitious nature of it.
The storytelling can feel a bit too restricted by its love of the genre and limited to its weaknesses too; some plots are forgotten about and not given as much focus as you would’ve liked. It’s not a major drawback but something worth noting: there’s plenty to discover even outside of the main story with a good 40+ hours of content here, impressive in a game like this.
The gameplay at the heart of Sea of Stars is turn-based combat; you can swap in and out members of your party at well and they grow as the game progresses: starting with Garl; a self-proclaimed warrior chef; lifelong friend of Valere and Zale who wasn’t allowed the same training that they had but maintained his resourcefulness as time went on. The dynamic between the two characters allows different sources of combat approach; Zale is more sun orientated whilst Valere is more moon orientated and their different power dynamics reflect that: but both complement the other.
There are more complex locks behind complex boss fights and the 3 way combo skills are challenging and require a degree of foreplanning. It’s button-timing in key battles that can be offputting but increases the variety of magic; and it’s been enhanced in a way that compliments the game really nicely. Sea of Stars thrives off the puzzles too; engaging and fun to solve and feel actively rewarding once you’ve completed them. It can feel a bit grindy as there’s no new skills for them to develop once the tutorial but it’s up to you to make the combat engaging and fresh, and the maps that you experience earn their purpose well. As Solstice Warriors travelling the world you will experience all the variety of the world has to offer and Sea of Stars delivers on that; with the ability to climb ledges, swim and more as the map progresses and you increase your levels. Each area never feels repetitive and always new – like a mini-game that you’re experiencing for the first time. It’s a testament to the brilliant achievement of this game that it works on so many levels.
My favourite character to use in combat was Valere purely for her playstyle, you can bounce her Moonerang weapon back at multiple targets and it’s suitably engaging to do so – a really rewarding feat when it is pulled off correctly. Zale’s sunbeam is a powerup that requires you to hold the spacebar to activate; a lot of the special moves involve the spacebar; but there’s also the magic-without-magic ability to siphon from the damage you deal to influence more powerful attacks. It’s always entertaining the combat and that’s enhanced by the creative enemies that have a variety of attacks – you never get the feeling like you’re playing the same antagonist twice.
Without any spoilers; the story is Sea of Stars’ strongest selling point and that’s a plus for it to achieve: you’re engrossed in its world and the characters and each give you a compelling reason to keep returning vs. the bigger games that you might go for like Starfield – and it feels cruel to release it at the same time; especially when there’s so many games coming out over the next few months. But despite this Sea of Stars absolutely deserves your attention.
The visuals at the heart of Sea of Stars are a treat whether you’re in a water-dominated map or that of the desert; the full world is made the most out of for a colourful, inventive creation that never backs down from feeling like a real passion project. It can lead to a slow start but the battle system is a real draw once it gets going; making a use of the variety of characters and the more colourful ones like Garl are bursting with personality and life.
The visuals feel innovative innovative and the modern update of the RPG format is really felt – the sea has ripples in it when you fish in it. It’s the little touches that really make Sea of Stars special; every character has their own quirks. The bosses feel intimidating and start big and only get bigger: some of them have swords that take up the whole screen. This can feel daunting but you’re well equipped to combat them; and as mentioned above – the Moonerang and Sunbeam powers allow you to engage in dynamic; entertaining combat – the thrill of watching the Moonerang bounce back and forth at your opponents is one of the reasons why it’s so compelling. I frequently used this weapon even when others would’ve been more convenient, just because it’s fun to use: the energy here is reflected in the weaponry.
Each world is a joy and a pure visual treat to discover. The world has little details like enemies moving through the soil or charging at you like a battering ram; and the platform-esque levelling is cleverly designed to take up the maximum space of the screen possible. The homebase of solstice academy is lavishly detailed in a way that puts Hogwarts to shame; the interior almost makes you wish you spent more time in the early stages at the school – but Sea of Stars encourages you to leave the nest and when you do; the result is so incredibly rewarding it’s a journey worth undertaking in every sense of the word.
The sound of Sea of Stars is another excellent example of the care that is put into the game; truly spectacular. The audio creates two soundtracks for the day and night cycles; with ambient sounds matching the experience to add to the atmosphere. The audio team is lead by main composer Eric W. Brown, but one of the more exciting names working on the team is Yasunori Mitsuda, responsible for Chrono Trigger and the Xeno series. It’s Mitsuda’s score that really amplifies the JRPG feel of the game and creates a nostalgic homage to the fantasy world whilst ensuring that something new is told.
The recommended system requirements for Sea of Stars on PC involve a Windows 7 or Windows 10, AMD FX 4300 or Intel Core i3 2120 Processor and 8GB of RAM with either an AMD Radeon R5 340X or Nvidia GeForce GTS 450, but it is available on both the current generation consoles. It runs smoothly on PC – load times are a breeze; combat is entertaining and the storage space is small but the game packs a powerful punch.
The frame rate is steady and the fast loading times are consistent and entertaining without much of a lag beyond the fancier animated cutscenes. It’s seamlessly run and cosy to start and to finish; with no bugs encountered throughout the game requiring an effortlessly smooth experience.
The Accessibility of Sea of Stars is one of its strengths: you can customise the difficuly and adjust any setting at any point in the game without having to restart the level you’re on, enabling you to adjust the game to suit your needs and style of play. If you prefer a walkthrough on an easy level the game can be set to that and Sea of Stars is very much catered to giving you the experience that you want from the game.
Are you the sort of person that tends to replay story driven games because of how much you like them? Then you’ll be the person that returns to Sea of Stars repeatedly. It’s addictive and always entertaining – there’s not a lot of new material to experience on a second playthrough but you can switch up your lead character and play primarily as either Zane or Valere. It’s enough to justify a second playthrough especially if you adored The Messenger, and fans of JRPGs will be drawn back to this world and not be disappointed at all.
Sea of Stars is a masterpiece;,to put it bluntly. It’s just excellent across the board – visuals, gameplay, sound and performance all run smoothly. The story is epic and there’s enough depth into the world for you to feel like you’re paying homage to the JRPG classics and discovering something new, never slowing down and never tiring of these characters or the setting.