Sea of Stars: A Retro-Inspired RPG That Surpasses Expectations

A Surprisingly Thought-Provoking Story

Sea of Stars, developed by Sabotage Studios, is not your average fantasy RPG. From the moment I started playing, I expected a lighthearted adventure filled with fourth-wall-breaking humor. However, halfway through the game, the tone shifted dramatically, revealing a deeply emotional and masterfully crafted story.

Zale and Valere, our Solstice Warriors, are on a mission to defeat the sorcerer Fleshmancer and his powerful creations known as Dwellers. But their journey takes an unexpected turn as they encounter new territories, formidable enemies, and a prophecy that extends beyond the stars. This gripping interstellar journey kept me hooked until the very end.

Valere, Zale, and Garl as children in front of the magic willow
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Sea of Stars seamlessly blends elements from beloved classics such as Super Mario RPG, Illusion of Gaia, and Chrono Trigger. The combat system is innovative and engaging, with timed hits and dual attacks that require precise attention and strategic thinking. The diverse enemies and vibrant pixelated landscapes keep the encounters thrilling. It’s safe to say that Sea of Stars is the best indie RPG I’ve experienced this year.

Turn-Based Combat with a Twist

Sea of Stars’ combat mechanics are its crown jewel. The animated sprites and the unique “lock” system add depth and excitement to each battle. You must exploit enemies’ weaknesses before they strike back, encouraging strategic decision-making. This turn-based combat system allows you to control up to three party members, choosing who acts first in each turn. Swapping characters becomes essential, whether to survive enemy attacks or exploit elemental weaknesses. Each party member feels indispensable, a refreshing departure from RPGs that overwhelm with numerous characters.

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Valere, Zale, and Garl fighting a ram monster
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The timed hits mechanic is particularly captivating. Skillfully pressing buttons at the right moment lets you break multiple weaknesses or deal additional damage. Properly timed attacks can even trigger character combos and powerful ultimate moves. Managing energy meters and using the “live mana” ability to infuse characters with magic adds another layer of challenge and strategy. Sea of Stars’ combat system actively involves you in every battle, making it a truly immersive experience. If you find any aspect of the combat less enjoyable, you can fine-tune the difficulty using Relics, items that offer customization options. I rarely relied on them to maintain the game’s pure essence, but the “signal flare” relic helped me perfect my timing.

What a Wonderful, Confusing World

Sea of Stars is not only an RPG but also a puzzle game. Each map presents challenges that require you to utilize environmental tools and acquired powers. From manipulating wind to moving platforms along a designated path to solving memory-based tile matching minigames, the game keeps your mind engaged. It’s immensely satisfying when you finally crack a puzzle after pondering over it for minutes. However, Sea of Stars would benefit from subtle hints or objective markers to aid players who may find themselves stuck. While these moments of uncertainty might not deter me, less patient players could easily become discouraged.

Zale, Valere, and Serai fighting a wind dragon in Sea of Stars
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Sabotage Studios skillfully avoids the grind often associated with RPGs in Sea of Stars. Random encounters do not force you into combat, although monsters will give chase if they spot you. Additionally, battles seamlessly transition without loading screens, maintaining a smooth and enjoyable flow. The need for grinding is eliminated, and you can engage in occasional battles without endlessly traversing the map in search of experience points.

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The game also excels at reducing backtracking, an essential feature given the limited fast travel options. Completing stages often reveals hidden shortcuts or previously blocked areas that are now accessible due to new tools or acquired powers. These thoughtful design choices eliminate unnecessary frustration while avoiding an over-reliance on modern RPG conveniences.

However, improved fast travel would have been welcome given the expansive world of Sea of Stars. Although some options, like living statues that transport you between islands, exist, revisiting towns can be a tedious task. While steering a haunted pirate ship has its charm, it lacks convenience.

If you can overlook these minor shortcomings, Sea of Stars stands as an impressive homage to classic RPGs. It successfully captures the essence of the past while delivering a fresh and unique adventure filled with humor, drama, and an innovative combat system all its own. This title is a testament to the potential of indie RPGs, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Sea of Stars was reviewed on PlayStation 4.

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To learn more about Sea of Stars, visit OnSpec Electronic, Inc..

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