When Sea of Stars was first revealed, I knew I’d dig it because I’m a sucker for 2D RPGs. Like many of us, I grew up with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy and could not wait to dive in. A game rarely grips me to the point where I dump 50 hours into it within the space of a week, so when it does, you know it’s good. That’s what Sea of Stars did. Seriously, I don’t know what Sabotage Studio put into it to hook me so hard, but I could not put it down.
A Wonderful Story With an Equally Wonderful Cast of Characters
In Sea of Stars, you follow the story of two Children of the Solstice, Zale and Valere, who wield Solar and Lunar magic. They’re delivered to the village of Mooncradle on the day of a Solstice and sent to a school in the sky to learn how to hone their powers in a quest to defeat an evil entity known as The Fleshmancer.
Once they’re of age, they set out on an adventure to learn “how to use magic without using magic” with their childhood best friend, Garl. I’m putting this out there nice and early: Garl is the best character. He’s one of those people you fall in love with instantly and adds so much charm to an already beautiful story. I wasn’t sure how a story about three best friends would feel as opposed to one with heavy romance themes, which I usually prefer, but it is excellent.
I’ll keep this as spoiler-free as possible because Sea of Stars’ story is something players must experience for themselves. But along the way, you meet a whole host of characters that are all equally as cool. Especially those that join your party and aid you in combat. Each supporting character has their own backstory, and each is just as interesting as the one before it. Whether I met a character in the first couple of hours or 40 hours in, I found myself caring about everyone. Which, without spoiling anything, did mean that I cried a lot. And I mean a lot—multiple times. So make sure you stock up on tissues. It’s one of those games filled with twists and turns but in the best way possible.
“Whether I met a character in the first couple of hours or 40 hours in, I found myself caring about everyone.”
Sea of Stars’ Combat Feels Fantastic
As you explore the game’s many islands, you encounter various enemies, which you must fight to gain EXP and level up. Enemies appear on the overworld, meaning there are no random encounters, so if you’re stealthy enough, you can avoid some battles if you want to. Admittedly, I did this often toward the endgame because there was no way to speed up combat, and I wanted to progress the story.
Fights are turn-based, so you can really take your time and be strategic. This is important because of Sea of Stars’ “locks” system – AKA how you break an enemy, like in the Final Fantasy series, which requires you to use specific elements and moves to succeed. Each lock requires a certain combination of damage types, some of which can only be attained via combos, which are special moves pulled off by two characters at once.
There’s also a timing element to battles. As you or an opponent attacks, if you press a certain button at the exact right time, you can either boost your damage or lower the damage a character takes from an attack. Some moves, like Valere’s Moonerang, can be extended if you get the timing right.
I timed my moves and counters in literally every single fight because, while it may only influence the numbers slightly, it adds up over time and can mean the difference between life and death in boss fights. It also helps you be more conservative with your healing spells and items.
When it comes to grinding, well, you can’t. There’s no ability to grind in Sea of Stars, at least not easily. If you fall behind, it’s very easy to catch up, and if you get ahead, it won’t be by much. The game is built in a way that lets you follow story progression naturally without it being too easy or difficult via items called Relics.
Relics add custom effects to your gameplay, such as additional HP and the ability to auto-heal after battle. If you want more of a challenge, you can increase the damage taken from enemy attacks and reduce your HP. You can stack as many Relics as you’d like, allowing you to customize your combat experience in a way that is unique to you.
Sea of Stars Has Some of the Best World Design in Years
Sea of Stars looks stunning while exploring a mountainous region or a busy seaport town. Each of the game’s areas is visually impressive and stands out in game design, too. For example, in one of the early locations, there were several waterfalls my party could ride down, each leading to a different path, which stoked my curiosity. I made it a point to revisit each waterfall, which led to hidden treasure I wouldn’t have found if I hadn’t gone back to explore. There’s something to find in almost every location, whether it’s by taking multiple routes, solving a puzzle, or simply stumbling across a cave by accident, so there’s plenty of reason to revisit past areas.
If you want to take a break from saving the world, there’s so much side content to dive into. Make sure you speak to everyone you come across because, chances are, they’ll offer you a side quest. Some are quick, some require some puzzle-solving, and some lead you down lengthy paths for epic rewards.
It’s not just side quests, though. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Sea of Stars has fishing, and admittedly, I spent way too long catching every single one. Add fishing to a game, and I’ll literally spend hours and hours doing just that with no shame. There’s also cooking, which you do using ingredients collected worldwide. Meals can then be used to restore health and mana during battle.
And then there’s the Wheels minigame. Oh, boy. When I found the tabletop game in a local tavern, I knew I was a goner. Whenever there’s a game inside a game, that’s it. I spent 20 hours just playing Gwent in The Witcher 3, and you can bet I spent 20 hours playing Wheels. It is relatively simple: You score points against your opponent by damaging them using two different characters, which you can power up for more damage. The type of damage you do, which character gets powered up, and your defenses are determined by a slot machine that you reroll. It may not sound like much, but it is dangerously catchy.
“It’s been a week since I finished the story, and I’m still thinking about it and finding myself getting emotional about the journey I went on with Zale and Valere.”
I’m Still Thinking About Sea of Stars Days After Finishing It
I loved my time in Sea of Stars so much that I ended up not only starting a second playthrough, but going out of my way to unlock every single achievement. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it is one of my favorite video games ever. It’s a title I know I’ll keep going back to over and over again for years to come and something every fan of RPGs needs to play – it really is that good. The soundtrack is a 10/10, too. Eric W. Brown really outdid himself here, as did the rest of Sabotage Studio.
It’s been a week since I finished the story, and I’m still thinking about it and finding myself getting emotional about the journey I went on with Zale and Valere, which is not something I can say happens often. Sea of Stars truly is so incredibly special.
SEA OF STARS
Sea of Stars is beautiful tale of friendship that tugs at your heartstrings and is impossible to complete without shedding a tear. If you're a fan of classic RPGs like Chrono Trigger and Golden Sun, you're in for a real treat here.
- The story is full of surprises that constantly leave you on the edge of your seat.
- Combat is incredibly fun.
- World design is fantastic.
- Plenty of side content to explore while you take a break from the main story.
- The soundtrack is beautiful.
- No way to speed up battles, which can feel a little bit tedious by the endgame.
- Sea of Stars, more like Sea of Tears. Made me cry a LOT. Seriously, bring tissues.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PC/ASUS ROG Ally.