At first impression, Sabotage Studio’s Sea of Stars was chock full of nostalgic elements. This RPG truly turns back the clock to classic JRPGs of yore with turn-based combat, the 16-bit pixel art, and amazing soundtracks that brought back memories of playing these games back when I was a kid. The opening menu also added to that satisfaction, reminding me of my habits of pressing start and continue on the opening screen. It was at this moment that I knew that the developers are also fans of JRPG’s, and I enjoyed (nearly) every moment of my time playing it.
Despite the callbacks to classic RPGs, the game managed to inject several unique mechanics without ruining the nostalgia factor. balancing what made the game fit into the JRPG category without feeling stale. The mechanics were recognisable, clearly drawing inspiration from the classics like Golden Sun, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Trigger, but never felt like I was playing those exact games.
Gameplay-wise, the game’s turn-based combat also introduces some great features to fit the modern age. Adding a simple space bar tap while attacking increases damage, while defending from an attack reduces the damage taken, meaning combat isn’t just about watching animations play out.
These also play out when using skills, providing more damage if you get the mini-game right. Getting them right took some getting used to, but became a rewarding dopamine hit when I got it right. There’s even an option to launch a shooting star when you get the taps right, providing a more satisfying visual and audio cue.
Enemies count down before they attack or use skills. One of the new features introduced here is the “lock system”, where enemies using skills will show a list of damage types alongside their countdown. Dealing the damage listed will interrupt the skill and skip their turn altogether, providing a small goal during combat to reduce damage taken.
With so many innovations in the combat system, it was a surprise to find out that Sea of Stars had a rather uninspiring plot. It’s a great case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but with a setting based on its cool older brother prequel The Messenger, it’s rather disappointing that there weren’t any attempts to at least break that mould.
Sea of Stars is centred around Children of Solstice Zale and Valere, training up their abilities to eventually join the fight against the evil Fleshmancer that is trying to take over the world. Along the way, the duo is joined by childhood friend Garl, kicking off their adventure to hone their skills and become solstice warriors.
It’s a ragtag-good-party-vs-evil-god narrative that is a staple trope of classic JRPG stories, but the overall pacing was… not good. The game booted up to a quick tutorial on combat and a bit of lore, only to drop me into 75 minutes of exposition right after (according to my playtime). It’s tolerable, but the long drawls of conversations definitely didn’t help.
That said, the story does have its payoffs: I quite liked Garl’s moments of loyalty with Zale and Valere, being the childhood friend that the duo needed for their journey. Certain characters later on have their moments later on, even though it takes 20 hours of gameplay to reach. I would have also enjoyed more interactions between characters, although that might make its pacing issues worse.
My gripes on its length aside, I do have to admit that the music through most locations never felt sickeningly stale, even after sinking hours into the game. Through its 8-bit audio, the game managed to capture moments of tension and calm that made the classic RPGs so successful.
The 16-bit visuals also reminded me of more modern JRPGs, like Summon Night and Rune Factory, who were inspired by their 8-bit predecessors and blessed with better tools. Sea of Stars has managed to capture that nostalgia of the genre, with both its strengths and its flaws.
Sabotage Studios delivered great exploration and combat elements in Sea of Stars, but its pacing holds it back. It stands toe to toe with other JRPGs today, but only if you can dedicate some time to get past its lengthy intro and get into the meat of the plot. For its price tag of $34.99 on Steam, it’s good value for an innovative turn-based RPG with lots of love for the genre.