Sea of Stars on PC

Set in the same universe as Sabotage Studio’s previous title, The Messenger, Sea of Stars is a modern take on the classic 2D RPG game genre that many grew up with. If this has made you hesitant, then no need to worry, as this new addition to the universe is a prequel to the timeline and stands as its own separate story and game.

The story of Sea of Stars kicks off with an incredibly special tale centered around undying friendship, which sets the tone for Zale and Valere’s entire journey. It’s clear that they hold a special bond right from the beginning, joking about their academy days and the strict rules of their Professor in light jabs of humor towards one another.

Zale and Valere in Sea of Stars
Image Source: Sabotage Studio via Twinfinite

However, while Zale and Valere are intriguing and lovable characters on their own, there’s a third addition who absolutely steals the show – their powerless, childhood best friend, Garl. When Zale and Valere left him behind for 10 years to complete their training, Garl spent his own years training alone to learn how to defend himself, without any magical powers. The three had always planned to go on an adventure together, and the fact that Garl never gave up on this dream and worked hard to prepare, despite his friends being absent for 10 years, speaks volumes for his character.

Young Garl, Zale, and Valere in Sea of Stars
Image Source: Sabotage Studios via Twinfinite

Right from his first appearance, Garl is a true hero, even if he doesn’t have powers. He’s not only the voice of reason when Zale and Valere find themselves in a struggle, but also a fiercely brave and loyal friend who doubles as their cook, making sure the Solstice Warriors always enter battle with a full belly. The special thing about this trio is that while they all have their differences, their undying loyalty and friendship with each other gives them the strength to face even the toughest of battles, which makes the game ridiculously fun and satisfying to progress through from a storytelling perspective.

While the main trio of characters themselves are a work of art, Sea of Stars truly comes alive through astounding visuals. While it’s true that many modern games have progressed to favor the realistic 3D approach, Sea of Stars has chosen to revisit and revamp the more nostalgic 2D pixel art style, and with huge success.

Coral Cascades in Sea of Stars
Image Source: Sabotage Studios via Twinfinite

The atmosphere of each area you visit is gorgeous, utilizing bright and vibrant colors to bring each location to life. Landscapes are complete with charming music and illuminated by dynamic lighting, utilizing many intricate and subtle details to breathe life into every scene, such as character animations and expressions during scenes of dialogue, animals scurrying away as you run by, the soft subtle ruffles of tree leaves in the wind, or the ripples of water against the rocks below.

As if the stunning pixel art present in every location wasn’t enough, this level of execution carries over even to the Overworld map, where just as much love and detail can be found. Furthermore, Sea of Stars has implemented a cinematic feel to important moments of the story with fully rendered, hand-drawn 2D animated cutscenes, which breathes another layer of life into the characters and world of this already vibrant and magical title.

Teaks cutscene in Sea of Stars
Image Source: Sabotage Studios via Twinfinite

In every sense, Sea of Stars shows off just how successful and breathtaking the traditional 2D pixel art style can truly be in a modern game, and sets the bar extremely high for any followers. Battle animations are eye-catching and satisfying, exploration and adventure is entertaining, characters are lovable and unique, and the music in every situation, from story to adventure, to combat, uplifts emotion and drive to keep moving forward through the story.

Seriously, I lost count of the number of times I found myself bopping along to the battle tunes or completely immersed in a brand new location purely from the intriguing music that was beckoning me for adventure.

Combat utilizes the traditional turn-based action that was found present in many RPG titles over the years. However, Sea of Stars does a great job at building on this and adding extra elements to keep players entertained in a world of modern games. On top of the turn-based combat, there’s a fun element of strategy involved with the enemy Casting mechanic, which can be defused with clever use of your party’s magical and weapon abilities.

Combat in Sea of Stars
Image Source: Sabotage Studios via Twinfinite

Combat also transitions to and from exploration seamlessly, and makes adventuring and exploring feel exciting and entertaining. Some abilities are a simple select and attack, while others, such as Zale’s Sunball or Valere’s Moonerang will have you holding a button to charge power, or timing multiple inputs to volley attacks between yourself and the enemy. This keeps combat much more interactive, which helps the repetition of battle to be as exciting as possible.

Furthermore, there’s a timing mechanic for every attack in Sea of Stars. Timing an extra button input at the exact moment your attack hits an enemy will allow you to deal an extra swing or burst of magic, and deliver more power. This also remains true for enemy attacks, where timing the input of your space bar button at the exact moment your enemy attacks allows you to block some of the power, allowing you to take less damage. As each enemy in the game has different attacks that are complete with unique animations, learning the timing required to block each move is an enjoyable challenge.

Exploration is highly enjoyable, allowing you to run, jump, climb, dive, swim, and crash your way through each location. You can also forage ingredients along the way for Garl to turn into tasty meals for your party. Many areas that you encounter have puzzles that you will need to solve to progress. At first, I wasn’t thrilled at the idea, as I often lack the patience to complete a long run of puzzles in one sitting with a game. However, with Sea of Stars, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the puzzles are fairly simplistic and straightforward, without being too boring.

You won’t need to worry about getting sick of exploring new areas and beating monsters in battle, as Sea of Stars has several different activities you can engage in to give yourself a break from the main story. You can go fishing at several different locations, head out on a sailing adventure, cook up a storm with your ingredients, or even play the in-game tabletop minigame, Wheels.

Fishing in Sea of Stars
Image Source: Sabotage Studios via Twinfinite

Difficulty is also highly customizable through the item mechanic known as Relics. Relics are a special type of item that can be found, purchased, and collected by your party members. Each Relic has a bonus game mechanic that you can toggle, such as auto-healing after battle, reducing incoming damage, or making blocks easier to achieve. I find this to be rather intuitive, as instead of simply having easy, normal, and hard modes, Sea of Stars enables the player to customize the difficulty exactly the way they’d like to, and this can be changed with a simple press of a button at any time.

After spending hours enjoying this title, I truly struggle to find anything to complain about, and the points that do come to mind are minor nitpicks. Sea of Stars, in my eyes, is a breathtaking masterpiece that tells a heartwarming story of the strengths of friendship through adventure. The game has a somewhat ‘cozy’ feeling to it for an RPG due to the gorgeous aesthetics of the artwork and level design but is plenty entertaining and relaxing without falling into the zone of being boring.

Sea of Stars successfully modernizes and builds on the traditional 2D pixel RPG game and proves how such a genre has the potential to thrive among the saturated market hype for realistic games through beautiful storytelling, engaging gameplay, and brilliantly written characters.

Sea of Stars

Reviewer: Grace Black

Award: Editor’s Choice