With many makers of modern action-adventure role-playing games pushing the genre into new (and problematic) frontiers, Sabotage Studios suggests that RPG-lovers should harken back to the past with their Sea of Stars game. The colorful adventure—available on both Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus Essential at release—is heavily inspired by 16- and 32-bit classics of yesteryear.
This three-quarters-overhead-perspective, 2-D game drops players off in an expansive fantasy world where they can choose to play as either the Lunar Monk, Valere, or the Solar Blade Dancer, Zale. In the early stages of play, these two youngsters think of themselves as a fairly average girl and boy who long to someday become Solstice Warriors and give battle to evil. But little do they realize that they are actually legendary Children of the Solstice, delivered by a mystical eagle instead of traditional childbirth. And they can control the power of the moon and the sun.
With the help of their supportive warrior/cook friend Garl (and others later on), this adventuring duo must eventually utilize the lunar eclipse to defeat a group called the Dwellers, minions of the mighty Fleshmancer. Of course, all those labels and names mean nothing to you now, but those are baddies who use the power of dark magic to terrorize the world.
That quest amounts to some 25-to-30 hours of gameplay split among exploring exotic towns; making your way through forests and wilds packed with leap-from-the-shadows enemies; and working through puzzle-heavy dungeons. Oh, and of course, it includes lots and lots of turn-based RPG battles with monsters, magicians and various other powerful villains and god-like monstrosities.
Fans of old ‘90s RPGs, such as the very popular Chrono Trigger, will feel at home with Sea of Stars battling gameplay. It features time-based attacks and parries. And its combat scenarios encourage players to lean on gained special abilities and combos so that they’re not just doing the same attack every time.
One notable addition here is this game’s “lock system.” Essentially, that means that an enemy (most frequently one of the game’s bosses) “locks in,” or takes the time to charge up a devastating attack, over the course of several turns. And the only way to thwart that zap is to hit it with a specific combination of damage and break the lock before it gets its attack off. This battling style motivates players to be constantly thinking a few moves ahead with every conflict.
At this point, Sea of Stars is single-player-only game. But the gamemakers did announce that multiplayer and co-op functionality would be added at some time in the future.
Sea of Stars is colorful and inviting. If you enjoy role-play, turn-based battling as it used to be, you’ll likely enjoy this game. The story isn’t necessarily deep, but it’s creatively inviting. And if players take the time to gather artifacts and share them with a historian they meet, they’ll be told whimsical stories filled with magic and lore.
The combat is fun, and the dungeon puzzles and treasure chest bonuses add a nice dimension to play. And the game ultimately asks players to think about the burden of responsibility and the benefits of befriending others (in some cases, even those whom we oppose).
Fantasy magic and fantasy darkness are part of the gaming mix of Sea of Stars. The baddies, sometimes dressed in cloaks and masks and looking ominous in their 2-D pixelated ways, are definitely pursuing evil and destruction.
The battles with monstery ants, wizards, slug-like critters, dragons, the undead, plant beasts, dark magicians, huge god-like creatures and such are thumping and zapping. And those conflicts both drain away, and in some instances replace, your character’s health points and mana. Players must always manage their resources to avoid dying. (They use swords, shields, staffs, knives, fiery magic blasts and bouncing moon-boomerang attacks, among others.)
The E-10+ rated battles are not bloody, however. We hear sounds of battle and the explosions of bombs, as well as see flashes of light and color, and foes disintegrate upon defeat. Early on, a very young Garl is attacked and he loses an eye, sporting a scarred slash on his face from then on. (But again, the animated illustrations are pixel art characters with 32-bit styling.)
The dialogue is all typed out, not spoken. Which might present a challenge for some younger players. And the words “d–n” and “h—” show up on rare occasion.
Playing Sea of Stars is kinda like watching an old movie. Its story direction and gaming challenges are fun and comfortable. And its colorful pixel art stylings feel oh-so much more family friendly than current RPG fare.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.