STAFF REVIEW of Sea of Stars (Xbox One)

Friday, September 22, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

Sea of Stars Box art When I read Sabotage Studio’s mission statement, it said that they want “to create our own definitive editions of the game genres we enjoyed as kids”. I knew right away that the passion was there, and I was really eager to see if it paid off. Sea of Stars is a turn-based RPG from Sabotage Studio in Canada’s Quebec City that managed to capture my attention even though I wasn’t sold on it at first. I am not a fan of turn-based RPGs at all, and I can’t even explain why. I'm guessing it’s because, from my limited exposure to them, I’d never felt like I was drawn into their world. Sea of Stars somehow managed to change all of that for me and now I’m wondering about all the amazing games I’ve likely passed on simply because they were that genre.

Ultimately, Sea of Stars is a story about the burden of responsibility, even though it’s wrapped up in a bundle of stories about Gods and magic, and it wouldn’t be a lovely story without the underlying story of friendship as well. It feels familiar, like a story you’ve heard before, and although you can likely determine where the plot will lead you, you’ll never regret the journey that takes you there. The journey of Sea of Stars starts when our two Solstice Warriors (Zale and Valere) are children. They can control the power of the moon and the sun and are trained in the art of Eclipse Magic. They can use their powers individually or in tandem throughout the game. With the story spanning multiple decades, you will have a lot of time to learn about our two main characters.

The turn-based RPG gameplay is engaging and well-designed. Each encounter you have seems to be thought through, and no matter how small the interaction or how large the battle, it all seems important when you are in the middle of the encounter. The combat encourages you to lean into your special abilities and moves versus the button mashing that can often get you through battles in a lot of games. One of the key components in the battles relies on your ability to have well-timed button pushing. This can give you extra attack hits or extra defense against enemy attacks. Because I don’t play many games of this genre, I found this to be a bit of a learning curve. Once I learned the timing, I enjoyed the fights more.

Each additional character that joins your party, regardless of when they join, feels important, and because the game focuses on individual characters each having their own skills, it was important to not just rely on a certain set of attacks using only a few characters. Each character that joins has their own weapons and magical abilities. I had to remind myself of this a few times, that just because a character showed up later in the game, doesn’t mean they aren’t there for a reason. They are likely a key to the puzzle or battle ahead of you. Each world encountered had a new theme and a new boss to battle. Minigames and puzzles are also an important part of Sea of Stars, and the skills you learn as you progress will be important in these ventures.

With no grinding required and no random battles to pop up, Sabotage Studio decided to remove two common tropes of the genre. I never felt the desire to skip ahead because of mindless encounters. I preferred to take my time wandering and worried I would miss out on finding something to fill in even more of the story.

Any screenshot will show you that Sea of Stars is beautiful. A lovely 16-bit aesthetic gives Sea of Stars a truly nostalgic feel. The colour and design choices give a nod to past greats in retro gaming, as well as keeping the gameplay fresh for new players to the genre and long-time fans. The world and environments are quite detailed and feel full. Everything feels alive and important. It wasn’t until I really started playing that I realized just how lovely the game was. Every new locale and character encountered was just as well thought out as the previous one. The soundtrack from legendary Japanese composer Yasunori Mitsuda shows why he is a master of his craft and the music created helps set and maintain the different tones throughout your approximately 25 to 30-hour journey.

Simply put, Sea of Stars is an instant classic.

The highest praise I can give a game is when I can say without a doubt that it changed my perception of a genre. Sabotage Studio’s Sea of Stars made me question what it was that I had disliked about turn-based RPGs in the past and made me realize there are multiple styles of games within that genre, and I might just have to wade a bit further into that sea after all.

**Sea of Stars was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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