From Sabotage Studio, creators of the critically acclaimed The Messenger, comes a fresh take on the JRPG formula with Sea of Stars. Inspired but not shackled by the gold-standard of JRPG – Chrono Trigger. Sabotage Studio look to evoke the nostalgia of the genre, whilst making it fresh and modern. Don’t be put off that it’s not a sequel to The Messenger. Sea of Stars is a spiritual prequel, with both games set in the same world.
During the Nintendos Direct (8/2/2023) we were once again greeted with another look at the game. The gorgeous hand crafted pixel art style is an absolute stand out, whilst hitting all the JRPG notes. A diverse and unique party, an equally unique overworld and even music from legendary composer Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger / Xenoblade Chronicles 3) . I’ve been eagerly anticipating the game for years at this point and at the end of its trailer we got a date – 29th August 2023.
As of this article this demo is currently only on the Nintendo Switch, but there will be a demo on PlayStation soon. The demo itself is a playable vertical slice. It took me around an hour to beat it and in that time I got a great impression on a variety of aspects in Sea of Stars. Before you jump in, I highly advise reading the ‘How To Play’ section. It’s broken up with Traversal, Survival and Combat and it’s so in-depth on every topic. At the start you can choose your protagonist, blade wielding Zale – born on the Summer Solstice. Or Valere, a monk born on the Winter Solstice. The game prefaces you can change it later and it doesn’t affect the story.
The game opens with a traversal section that ends in a small combat encounter. Off the bat, Sea of Stars level design is phenomenal. The amount of detail Sabotage Studio manage to succeed whilst not looking overbearing in its handcrafted pixel art style is sublime. The depth of textures and lighting breathes so much life into the game. Whilst there is a set path, the ability to climb, swim, jump opens up opportunities to be an untethered experience when exploring. This carries on into the dungeon section where you’ll play through a variety of puzzles mixing traversal and brain power to conquer them.
You end the first section in a combat sequence but the demo elaborates throughout with a good handful of fights and even a boss at the end. On the surface it’s a very straight forward turn-based combat system. However, the magic is the addition of time-based attacks and defence. If you hit A at the right time during an attack or blocking one, you can achieve extra damage or on the receiving take less. These attacks fire glimmers on the battlefield from the enemy, scattered on the floor. Pressing ZR collects them to energise the character you’ve chosen on your turn to deliver harder hitting attacks.
On top of all that, there’s a combo meter that builds up during turns which unlocks a new method of attack or defence. These are usually moves that are pulled off by more than one party member resulting in crushing attacks. It’s a lot to take in for just the hour that I played and as a vertical slice it’s a little overwhelming, but I assume in the final game these intricacies of warfare will be drip fed to the player. All of the mechanics aren’t necessarily groundbreaking, but the weaving of all of them made fighting the boss at the end of the demo extremely satisfying.
One highlight was Valere’s Moonerang attack which sounds self explanatory. It’s an attack using your MP (Magic Points) bar that you can refill with normal attacks. Flinging a blue boomerang at the enemy and if you hit A as it comes back you deflect it back to the enemy again. The flurry continues getting faster which could seemingly go on forever till all enemies are slain.
The final part of the demo is experiencing some of the world. You start off in a tavern inside the Port Town of Brisk. Here you’ll come across a gang of pirates who you want to help you sail across the sea before the eclipse. In true pirate fashion, nothing is at it seems and you’re bartered unfairly into a job for… Captain Klee’shaë. It’s all self-aware dialogue which isn’t met with an eye roll from me as I played it, but rather it’s a sign that Sabotage Studio get it. Tropes and story devices in JRPG are overused, but in Sea of Stars it pokes fun at itself just enough to feel more reverent of the genre.
You’re free to explore the Port Town to an extent, it felt a little closed off maybe for demo purposes. However, there are merchants and NPCS with one-liners that just adds to the attention to detail. As you leave you’re met with the Overworld. It’s a JRPG staple to have a sprite traverse a world between the levels, Sea of Stars is no different. For now, I just walked from place but I’ve seen footage of sailing a ship so it must really open up to something grand.
There’s still so much more I can say about the smaller delights of the game. The camaraderie of the party, the fishing mini-game, the camp site – it all feels meaningful. I envision there will be a lot more time to spend with the group. More tales to be told at the campfire. It feels like a sincere love letter to the genre, and I cannot wait to dive in head first for the full release 29th August 2023.
You can also Wishlist the game on PlayStation and Steam.
(Source: Press Release)