[Preview] Sea of Stars – the past can be brought to modern times
Posted on March 1, 2022 by Elias in Previews
Sabotage Studio brought us The Messenger back in 2018, and was quick to launch a Kickstarter for its next project, Sea of Stars. With a team that has grown from 7 to 25 strong, the game has been in the works since 2017. We were recently invited to sit in on a playthrough of a section of the game, and to have a casual chat with the studio about their latest endeavor. As before, this new project boasts detailed pixel graphics that truly bring their world alive, but what sets Sea of Stars apart from it’s predecessor the most is not the use of more colors, but the changeover of genres into the turn-based RPG realm of gaming.
Turn-based RPGs have quite a dedicated fanbase, from players of old classics like Breath of Fire, or Lufia, to those who prefer more popular hits like Final Fantasy or Shin Megami Tensei’s Persona spin-offs. The team itself has a lot of fond memories of growing up with games like EarthBound, and of course the ever-inspiring masterpiece to some that is Chrono Trigger.
Sea of Stars takes place in an archipelago before the flood that set up for the Messenger. Solstice warriors are children born on a solstice and get the power of the sun or the moon. They have the ability to push the game’s day and night cycle forward, which will be necessary for some puzzles and quests.
Opening up the demo brings us to a party that shows both the Lunar and Solar party members. There is a third party member on the team without Solstice abilities, and while he doesn’t show with the party on the map just yet, we are promised that the whole party will be showing in the final version of the game. We venture forth to a team of pirates who will be helping us gain access to the next dungeon. We don’t have a lot of story lore at this time, but most characters have portraits and are beautifully animated. After a bit of dialogue, we do a quick bit of shopping to upgrade our gear and make sure we are good on sundries, and we promptly exit the town onto the overworld map.
As the world springs to life before me, I notice the coral falls to the left and promptly am reminded of playing Chrono Cross as a child. The team laughs when I mention it, and say that they wanted tracks from Yasunori Mitsuda for several reasons. I smile widely as we head northeast to a mossy ruin, as we enter to the structure, our pirate crew folk meet up with us and we are able to gain access to the building before us. With huge areas of space and shining crystals all about, what we were experiencing didn’t seem at all like the decaying ruin that I had seen outside. Soon though, we are up for a fight against strange luminescent creatures, and the team sets to work to route the enemy.
There is no active-time mechanic for Sea of Stars, but a classic turn-based system that allows the party to all move once per turn in battle. Enemies have little timers above their heads to show how many moves the party can use before they decide to act, and at times other icons will show up over enemies that warn of a special action. Depending on the icons, the ability may be able to be interrupted or stopped all-together either by using a certain type of weapon, or a Lunar or Solar ability on them. The more hits, the more close you can get to immediately defeating them. This was observed when the party was up against a strangle little mechanical doodad that was announcing its own self-destruct ability. By hitting the enemy according to the icons overhead, we were able to not only keep our adventurers explosion-free, but also get rid of the threat in its entirety.
As we made our way through the dungeon, we came across different colored orbs we could pick up along the way. By placing them in one of the three altars, the colors would create different portals. Solid colors would create portals of their own color, but mixing orbs would allow for other color combinations, one of which brought us to a beautiful pond inside the ruins. After speaking with a rather hungry NPC, we agree to get them a fish. The fishing minigame brought me back to playing Breath of Fire III and IV on the PlayStation – being able to see the fish, cast your line, and line them up for reeling them in was easy to understand and catch on to. After catching the fish, we completed the quest and went on about messing with the orbs again to show off the different colored portals and their destinations.
A little more exploring later, I realized just how many little nods there were peppered in to reference past RPGs. On thinking about this, I asked the team about a few things, including the following:
Can you rummage through peoples’ stuff in their homes?
“Yes, very much so. You can find items and equipment in dressers and other fixtures.”
What inspired you to go this direction with Sea of Stars, instead of using the same genre as The Messenger?
“Chrono Trigger was a big inspiration. From the outset, these were the types of games we wanted to make. We wanted to make The Messenger to get our name out there before taking on more lofty goals.”
Will there be post-game content?
“Yes! Before the end-game fight, there will be a lot of content the player can engage in. There will even be an extended epilogue that players can unlock!”
While our chat wrapped up with a lot of smiles and laughter about games of our childhoods, I was able to ask about the upcoming release date of the project, with the developers answering thus, “We are in the final year of production and it’s still too early to commit to a date at this point.” That aside, I’m happy to be so close to getting my hands on this game, and am very hopeful for it to be a success. Such a beautiful fusion of references and nods to the past can hopefully inspire the future RPG fans out there with iconic moments and core memories of growing up, and we’ll be glad to see it within the year.