It’s not often that a game you’ve been excited about and desperate to play for over a year is able to live up to those unreasonable, hype-fuelled expectations. We’ve all had that game that shattered our dreams and underwhelmed us after months of anticipation, and those disappointments can make us wary of falling for the hype once more. Well I can’t personally think of a game I’ve been more desperate to play in recent memory than Sea of Stars, and there’s not a single thing disappointing about it.
The story of Sea of Stars follows Valere and Zale, two Solstice Warriors who can wield sun and moon based magic and are tasked with defending the world from evil. After a childhood of training for battle under a strict headmaster, Valere and Zale have always dreamt of traveling the world with their best friend Garl and helping out those in need. In a genre full of angst and tragedy, Sea of Stars is able to tell a story of a world that needs saving while still being a positive and joyous experience. And a lot of that is thanks to the characters.
You’ll meet all sorts of wonderful folks on your adventures across the globe, from a band of misfit pirates who are massive cliches and know it, to beings with god-like power who wish they could use it for good. The star of the show though is absolutely Garl, who since you last met has been training for the battlefield and the kitchen to aid our heroes on their quest. Garl is relentlessly positive and easily excited, but never in a way that’s irritating. It’s not often you encounter a character who is absolutely morally good and also so likable, but Sabotage Studio have managed it with ease in my boy Garl.
As likable as all these characters are, that doesn’t mean they can’t kick some serious ass in battle. Combat in Sea of Stars is turn based, with each character sporting standard and special attacks that they can use to take down the baddies. What makes the combat really stand out from the pack though, is that every attack you use can be powered up with a tap of the A button at the appropriate time. You’re not often explicitly told when you’re supposed to hit the button to get the power boost, so a bit of experimentation is required with spells and healing skills. You can also dampen the damage from incoming attacks with a similar button press, which means you’ll always need to be on your guard and focused in a fight.
Another important aspect of the combat is positioning. Kind of like in Chrono Trigger all those years ago, the placement of enemies matters if you want to hit them with your AoE abilities. You’ll then get skills that can move enemies around to position them better too, and before you know it will be taking down hordes with one single fireball.
The enemies are no slouches though, and have plenty of powerful abilities of their own to unleash. When they’re charging a particularly brutal attack something called a lock will appear next to them, which displays pictures of certain types of attack on. If you can hit them with, for example, two sword attacks and a sun attack before they’re ready to unleash it you’ll stop it entirely. Focusing on the locks is key if you want to win the tougher fights, and when you start to unlock abilities like a kick that delays incoming attacks and orbs that add elemental damage things start to get even more interesting.
As you break more locks and nail more button presses in an encounter you’ll build up your combo meter, which can be used to unleash (you guessed it) powerful combo abilities. The first of these you get enables the two main characters to use a regular attack together (which although not particularly flashy can be great for breaking certain locks) but before you know it you’ll be slicing through enemies with poison and fire for massive damage. Using your best attacks never stops being satisfying, and is the perfect cherry on top of a sensational combat system.
Like in any RPG, once you get enough experience in Sea of Stars you’ll level up. You level up as a party though, so when this happens you’ll get to select a bonus stat boost for each character individually depending on what you want them to excel at. It’s nice and simple, but what’s really clever about all the leveling up is how much the amount of experience you get scales by area. When you’re getting 80 experience a fight in one place and 500 a fight in the next, it really negates any temptation or need for grinding and just means you can play the game at your own ideal pace.
When you aren’t taking on ghost pirates or demons in battle, you’ll probably be exploring the jaw droppingly beautiful environments of Sea of Stars. Every area you visit is packed full of things to do, enemies to fight (which are visible as you explore and not random encounters),cliffs to traverse and a whole lot of hidden chests to discover. Even getting around one of these lovely locales is an absolute joy, with almost Uncharted style cliff climbing and a whole lot of unlockable upgrades that’ll help you navigate certain areas.
There are so many things I want to gush about in Sea of Stars, but I don’t want to spoil some of the fantastic unexpected moments and additions that come later in the game. Sea of Stars simply never takes its foot of the gas for its entire thirty hour runtime, and I was entranced for the full duration.
The developers of Sea of Stars made sure to throw everything and the kitchen sink into this glorious RPG, and that includes some seriously compelling minigames. Wheels is the star attraction for mini game lovers, and involves spinning a slot machine to power up figures that fight each other. As you beat more people you’ll unlock more figures to try out and get to upgrade your slots with better icons, so there’s a lot of Wheels to dive into if you get hooked like me. It’s not the only minigame either, because Sea of Stars truly has everything.
Now I can’t lavish all this praise on Sea of Stars without talking about the audio, which is truly sensational. There’s not a single song on this game’s soundtrack that isn’t an absolute banger, and the more upbeat tunes are especially catchy. This is one of those soundtracks that will be remembered as one of the greatest of all time, and will be listened to forever.
It’s really difficult to think of a negative point about Sea of Stars, but if I had to I guess it would be that in the first few hours new abilities don’t come quick enough. I was still enjoying myself immensely as I played this portion of the game (and understand that this slightly slower build is to get you used to the combat and timings of the moves that you start with) but I expected something to shake things up a little sooner I suppose.
Sea of Stars is easily one of the best RPGs that I have ever played, taking notes from those that came before it and refining every aspect of the genre. The combat is engaging from start to finish, the characters are delightfully charming and the game looks and sounds incredible. It’s a busy time for video games, but there’s simply no excuse for you not to play this landmark RPG as soon as possible.
A delightful cast of characters and lovely positive story
Packs in everything you could ever want in an RPG
Looks and sounds sensational
Maybe takes a touch too long to start giving out abilities