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Sea Of Stars Review

Set sail by the stars

When you’re following in the footsteps of greatness, it can be a perilous journey. Dictated by the rules of the past, to set out and forge your own path yet maintain a sense of familiarity invites unfair comparisons and, in turn, a praise for faithfulness at the expense of standing atop the field. Many have tried to embrace the classics over the years, but so few come out the other side with the same bright light that enveloped their predecessors. They fall into the constant trap of emulating instead of innovating, which makes me very happy to say that Sea of Stars deftly avoids any such pitfalls across its own independent voyage.

Set across a recognisable backdrop of fantasy tropes, a magical kingdom fighting off a dangerous threat and two children trained to become the next Solstice Warriors, Sea of Stars sets off in familiar fashion both in narrative and visual tone. Its 16-bit world seems straight out of the Square-Enix playbook, with turn-based battles and a lively cast of characters who come together on a quest to protect their land. Sabotage Studio is behind this love letter to the role-playing game and, though not a household name in the likes of Supergiant Games or Team Cherry, has quickly established itself as a contender thanks to some specific design rules, being true to the past while looking to the future. The Messenger set that standard, relishing in its retro-inspired platforming yet bending the rules of storytelling and creativity to craft something unique. Sea of Stars follows this same mentality, as from afar it looks just as you would expect a SNES or early PSOne RPG to be, adjusted to the point where modernity seeps through its pixelated pores the more time you spend within it.

Take the combat system for starters. Whereas most turn-based battles within the role-playing genre follow the simple blueprint of taking turns before dealing damage or healing your party, Sea of Stars plays with those ideas just enough to keep you active instead of lulling you to sleep. Every character in your party can conjure different attacks, both standard and magical, based on their available magical power (MP), but the tweaks come from how you perform said attacks. Much of it comes down to timing, whether that’s chaining an attack one after the other or pressing the corresponding button at just the right time to trigger a combo. You’ll also build up a combo meter, which can effectively be used to turn the tide of a battle thanks to mass healing your party or dealing some heavy strikes.

It certainly looks familiar, but that’s only the half of it

The same goes for defence, where every incoming swipe from an enemy can be blocked, and damage reduced, if you trigger it at just the right moment. Further to that, enemies will preface any of their special moves with a box over their head, indicating what moves you can perform to prevent that attack from happening. This becomes increasingly important down the track, as certain enemies can heal their party, throw up a shield, or do a devastating amount of damage with one play, leading to some important strategies on your end to stop the enemy in its tracks. It isn’t revolutionary, but this constant ebb and flow across each minor skirmish or major boss battle kept me on my toes, leading to some enjoyable moments of outsmarting the hunter. It’s that level of interactivity that staves off that feeling of constantly doing the same thing over and over to achieve a similar result, as almost every enemy you come across brings with them something different to think through, every new ability uncovered or ally added to the party adjusting your strategy.

The world which your group of heroes inhabits has some equally interesting ideas across it. Where as most RPG’s will have you running from one set piece to the next, conjuring surprise attacks from enemies out of the blue, Sea of Stars has you exploring environments in much the same way as a platform puzzler, smoothing out some of the frustrations I’ve personally had in the past with games of its ilk. Gone are the long, drawn out runs back and forth between locations to retrieve artifacts or sudden battles with invisible foes on a world map, replaced with clever shortcuts, climbing mountainsides and enemies you can just as easily sneak past instead of face head-on. It feels more alive here, built to make you want to explore and discover. Hidden treasures are everywhere, mini-games such as fishing and a fun (though slightly confusing) board game called Wheels can be partaken almost everywhere you go. It’s a world I wanted to fully consume, which isn’t easy for an RPG to always accomplish. How often have you just wanted to get to the next story beat having spend the past ten hours tracking down some random side quest objectives? Sea of Stars streamlines that experience, putting a bigger focus on the quest at hand and the dangers our heroes come across.

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You can tune Sea of Stars to your level of expertise, though there’s a catch. Relics can be activated to reduce the amount of damage taken or indicate enemy health and weaknesses, among a solid assortment of options, but you’ll have to discover most of the relics within the handful of shops you’ll come across outside of a small few you are given from the off. These extras certainly make things simpler for those who wish to focus on the Solstice Warrior’s grand tale, more RPG’s should incorporate them, it’s just unfortunate that they aren’t all available by default (ala Rogue Legacy 2’s excellent accessibility features).

There’s plenty of humour in-between the action

Mechanics aside, the journey within Sea of Stars is its biggest strength. I felt connected to these characters, chuckled at every silly joke and choked up when the emotions ran high (and they do just that). Though not quite as fourth-wall breaking as The Messenger, there’s a few specific moments that push the boundaries and have a similar kind of impact in terms of altering your perspective. Like I said before, the more time you spend here the more you realise how broad Sea of Stars’ palette is, cleverly blending concepts and story beats into a cohesive, enjoyable whole. You might think you know what’s about to happen next, until another twist comes along to keep you guessing.

Sabotage Studio has rightly pointed out that you don’t need to have played The Messenger previously to ‘get’ the world of Sea of Stars, but having done so myself I found those intriguing narrative threads and cheeky references all the more enjoyable. To anyone else they’re a fun addition, but I couldn’t help but smile at a familiar name drop or musical tone. It’s like an extra bit of tasty cheese that might go otherwise unnoticed amongst the flavours of a well-crafted sandwich, if you know it’s there you’ll savour it more.

Final Thoughts

Across every hour of my time with Sea of Stars, I was taken by its wonderfully crafted world, its slight tweaks to the RPG formula maintaining a high level of quality across its tale of magic and friendship. It feels fresh in just the right way, not reliant on a long playthrough or exasperated quests and putting the focus squarely on a highly likeable cast of characters, well-designed boss battles and surprising lack of convolution despite the genre it takes on. That’s a good thing, because I didn’t become lost amongst a sea of statistics (pun intended) or character builds, nor ever found myself scratching my head to solve a puzzle because the missing piece I’d accidentally left behind three hours ago on a different island. Sea of Stars keeps things straightforward and entertaining, leaving me with a tear in my eye one minute and pumping my fist at a big moment the next.

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Sea Of Stars Review
The stars have aligned
Sea of Stars is a breathtaking ride through familiarity and originality, engaging in its mechanics and colourful in its story, culminating in some of the best twists and turns of any RPG I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying.
The Good
Efficiently crafted RPG mechanics
Enjoyable story and cast of characters
A constantly engaging world that flows wonderfully
Musical score is a banger, especially towards the latter half
Visuals sparkle with 16-bit goodness
The Bad
Wheels is a good mini-game but could have been streamlined
Relics should be more broadly available from the get go
9.5
Bloody Ripper
  • Sabotage Studio
  • Sabotage Studio
  • PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Switch / PC
  • August 29, 2023

Sea Of Stars Review
The stars have aligned
Sea of Stars is a breathtaking ride through familiarity and originality, engaging in its mechanics and colourful in its story, culminating in some of the best twists and turns of any RPG I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying.
The Good
Efficiently crafted RPG mechanics
Enjoyable story and cast of characters
A constantly engaging world that flows wonderfully
Musical score is a banger, especially towards the latter half
Visuals sparkle with 16-bit goodness
The Bad
Wheels is a good mini-game but could have been streamlined
Relics should be more broadly available from the get go
9.5
Bloody Ripper
Written By Mark Isaacson

Known on the internet as Kartanym, Mark has been in and out of the gaming scene since what feels like forever, growing up on Nintendo and evolving through the advent of PC first person shooters, PlayStation and virtual reality. He'll try anything at least once and considers himself the one true king of Tetris by politely ignoring the world records.

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