Sea of Stars - PC Review

Sea of Stars by developer and publisher Sabotage StudioPC (Steam) review written by Susan N. with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes.


Introduction

Sabotage Studio which is located in Quebec, Canada released Sea of Stars, a fun retro turn-based RPG that had me laughing my guts out. It has fun story beats, interesting characters, fantastic nostalgic music, and spectacular pixel graphics. At the beginning, I was able to choose playing the blade dancer or the staff wielding monk. Originally, I decided to take on the powers of the moon with the female monk, and found that technically I wasn't beholden to using one or the other. These two characters begin their journey in training to be mighty Solstice Warriors. 

Story

Admittedly, the beginning of the game was my least favorite part of the playthrough because it didn't grip my attention. The developers might have reached a little too far back from the inciting incident in the story as it felt like a ton of it could have been skipped over. Sea of Stars drops a lot of textboxes on the players which I wasn't incredibly thrilled with. It also begins the story when the main characters are still children getting into trouble. While this gives players backstory to the characters and the mission, it drags on. 

In contrast to the above, when the game starts to put small cutscenes of strange masked figures, I felt myself starting to wonder about their role in the story and when I might find myself double crossed - like in any good story. These characters appear a few times, which helps to grip players like me in the universe. It is an aspect of the story telling that I really enjoy from Sea of Stars. The sense of wonder and curiosity will grab me by the arm and pull.

Characters

I have to say that I love the characters in Sea of Stars. Each one brings something different to the table. The two Solstice Warriors are driven by a sense of purpose in saving their town, and by extension other towns, from evil creatures. Garl, their best friend is a happy-go-lucky character who had me wailing. His sheer belief in positivity would normally be a bit off putting, but his animated reactions are worth its weight in gold. Even to the pirates...

Speaking of the pirates, they were not what I was expecting. I assumed pirates that would have me walk the plank, but instead got wrapped up in a clever bet. Poor Garl. One should never trust pirates! Anyways, this wild band of misfits made me laugh for several reasons. They also surprised me at several points in my interaction with them. Honestly, Sabotage Studio gets bonus points for this whole section. 

Cooking

Unlike most RPGs, Sea of Stars has a slightly unique feature in the use of a cooking skill for healing instead of other titles that use potions. A familiar friend from the beginning of the game joins the party to be an adventuring cook. He even serves to help with general survival tips. While you can collect food items to cook into useful meals, they don't spoil which means that you can whip up some more food when needed. 

What is neat about cooking is the small amount of consideration it takes in your gameplay strategy. This is two-fold. Firstly, most games allow players to hold an infinite amount of food or potions giving them little reason to be mindful of entering battles. Secondly, there is a limit on how many cooked dishes your party can hold at any given time. 

As there is a maximum of 10 food items held at one time, it forces players into being more strategic in heal spells used during combat. Not only does this satisfy the notion that a player will never be over-encumbered, but it ensures that players use their attacks and combos to greater effect. They aren't relying on simple moves and constant potions to regenerate health and mana. Players have to consider how much mana is being used each round, which can also be regenerated through food! It feels much more organic in nature than quaffing a potion every couple of rounds.

Combat

As for the gameplay itself, I found it to be a wonderful nod to RPGs of old. I didn't play many RPGs when I was younger, but I did play a couple fighting games, tons of puzzle games, and platformers. All of those game styles help to see patterns and solutions in games like Sea of Stars. The combat requires a small bit of timing in order to execute combo generating abilities. While its not a particularly sophisticated combat system, I liked it for what it is. The strategy comes from knowing which characters are best suited to attack at different points. Alternatively, I found myself using combo attacks with one of the characters so that I could use my healing abilities with the others. It was more interesting to determine the order of initiative than it was to nail the timing of an attack.

That said, the combat timing can be made easier through the use of relics. These relics can be found or purchased throughout the game (for a low price) and they are used to make the game easier or harder depending on what is preferred. I found that normal difficulty was sufficient for my skill level, but I did use a couple of the relics to assist in the initiating of combo attacks. At times, the opportunities to attack were too specific for my liking, but wholly doable. One of the things I like about this system is the difficulty can be toggled on or off. At 15 gold a pop, the relics can be worthwhile depending on what sort of experience is desired. 

Graphics and UI

One of the major selling points about Sea of Stars is the graphics. The pixel art style harkens back to the days of old turn-based RPG titles. It reminds me of Chrono Trigger or classic Zelda where there are areas to explore and take down hostile creatures. Like Chrono Trigger and Zelda, Sea of Stars also has an overworld map which is brilliantly drawn. If you are in the overworld, not only is the environment translated into a smaller pixelated world, but it is incredibly well detailed.

Part of the reason I adore Sea of Stars graphics style is because it doesn't feel like a 'cheap' pixel art game. It doesn't look like a title that has assets copied and pasted onto an image; the whole map has a ton of minute details that indicated the amount of care taken to make the game. For example, I love the fact that when the main characters are staying at a nice looking inn, that the band is animated. In fact, I'm unsure of how deliberate this element was because the characters were playing in time with the music that was playing! One of the band members is a small octopus who plays a flute of sorts. Each time the flute part was about to begin, the octopus brought the instrument to its mouth. The guitar player wasn't just plucking at one part of the head, she moved her hand to hit different frets.

As for the UI, I quite liked its similar design to other RPGs. During combat, there are options for Attack, Spells, Combos, and Items. This is a common order of operations in turn-based titles which doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Like other RPGs, opening up your menu will give you options to equip armor, weapons, and artifacts. Sea of Stars even has a classic enemy HP display bar which is an element commonly found in this genre. The previously mentioned relics are also found in the base menu - a nice added touch.

Music

Sea of Stars feels a bit like Chrono Trigger because of a famous musician's contributions to both games. I know I delved into music back in the graphics section, but did you know Yasunori Mitsuda composed the music for both games? Check out this article here! The man is well known, for good reason!

Final Thoughts

Sea of Stars has many aspects that made me smile, laugh, and ponder. It has numerous logical puzzles that kept me invested in the gameplay the whole way through. Various characters made me laugh more than I expected to laugh for a retro-style RPG, and I'm happy about that. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't what I received. I ended up with more. Heck, I even really enjoyed playing Wheels! It's not specifically explained, but I figured it out before I finished the first casual game. Even I can't resist the pull of a really good mini-game. (Triple Triad, you have a competitor! And I LOVE Triple Triad. Can you tell?)

Despite the slow beginning, I absolutely adore Sea of Stars. It checks so many boxes and even scribbled in several more. Besides, Sabotage Studio is a Canadian developer and that makes this reviewer extra happy! Take this 9 out of 10 and level up your characters!

Score: 9 out of 10



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