As I started scrolling through the Next Fest offerings, I found Sea of Stars listed under games on my wish list. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was or why I’d wanted it, but I decided to trust Past Eric and give it a shot.
By the time I finished the one hour demo, I was glad I did.
The Combat: Mario RPG Meets Chrono Trigger
Sea of Stars has turn-based, JRPG style battles, but that’s just the starting point.
First of all, never let it be said that Sabotage Studio doesn’t know their audience—they’ve taken iconic ideas from some beloved classic JRPGs that are sure to please fans of the SNES era. Like Super Mario RPG, you can hit harder and defend from enemy attacks using timed hits (pressing the attack button at the right time during the attack animation). Like Chrono Trigger, enemy positioning is important, and you can often hit multiple enemies at once with your special moves. Also like Chrono Trigger, characters can combine their skills into powerful combo attacks.
Unlike Chrono Trigger, the enemies don’t move around during the battle, but perhaps that’s for the best - its a tricky balance of making a game an homage without coming across as taking too much.
These enemies were smart enough not to stand too close together.
It didn’t save them.
With all that said, Sea of Stars has some ideas of its own to add to the nostalgic mix. Basic attacks refill your MP, which allows you to use special moves in every combat instead of saving it all for boss battles. Attacking will also cause enemies to drop little… boost… orb… things, which you can then use to make other attacks stronger.
But the biggest twist to the classic JRPG formula is the Lock system. An enemy who’s powering up a special move will display a series of symbols representing different types of attacks. Using those attacks will weaken the enemy’s technique, or possibly even cancel it completely. This adds another layer of strategy to combat, especially during boss battles, when you might need to save up your MP to make sure you can use the right special moves at a crucial moment.
Just don’t make the mistake I made, and assume that you have to break the locks in order—you don’t.
Outside of combat, Sea of Stars is simple yet solid. You walk around, find treasure chests, bump into enemies, and sometimes have to solve puzzles to progress.
There’s nothing too exceptional here, at least not in this short demo, although the one dungeon you get to play through has some great atmosphere. There's a lot of nostalgia in how the controls work if you remember playing RPGs on the SNES. Definitely take a moment to enjoy the music, as Yasunori Mitsuda of Chrono Cross/Chrono Trigger fame is a guest composer.
You do have to interact with ledges to jump up or down them, which is supposed to make exploration a bit more interesting. This feature actually bugged me a little… but only because I kept getting stuck when I forgot I could do it.
I also had a weirdly hard time finding my way out of the first town.
What’s Coming Next?
The website for Sea of Stars says that the final product will have six playable characters, a rich story, plenty of side quests and activities for when you’re tired of fighting, and a seamless day/night cycle that will play into some of the puzzles. Sabotage Studio also promises that it’ll be epic, funny, and touching by turns—I can’t personally vouch for that, as the demo mostly has a humorous tone, but at this point I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
As far as I can tell, Swole Pirate is unfortunately not going to be one of the playable characters.
While I wish I had a little more to go off of, the full release for Sea of Stars is scheduled for this year on August 29th. It’s currently slated to release on Steam, Switch, PS4, and PS5. There’s no word yet about an Xbox release, but Sabotage seems hopeful that it’ll happen, based on the Xbox symbol that appears on the game’s website.
Final Thoughts: A Fun Demo That's Worth Testing Out
That’s it, that’s my conclusion. The demo is only about an hour long, and well worth the time for any fan of classic JRPGs.
It’s worth noting that Sea of Stars is a prequel to Sabotage Studio’s first game The Messenger. Their first game was a different genre entirely, being a metroidvania title, but it proves that this team knows how to draw from the classics and try something new. Give this game a shot, and if you are like me, get ready for the end of August when you can sink your teeth into the full game.