Sea of Stars Looks Like the Old-School RPG Fans Have Been Hungry For
Sea of Stars clearly draws a lot of inspiration from RPGs of the past like Chrono Trigger, but Sabotage is injecting plenty of its own, new ideas into the studio's latest project as well.
Sabotage Studio wears its love for the games of yesteryear proudly on its sleeve. The developer’s first project, the 2018 release of The Messenger, paid homage to 2D platformers of the past, such as Ninja Gaiden, while simultaneously providing all-new twists and turns that the genre hadn’t seen before. The final result was one that was largely praised endlessly by fans and critics alike.
Now, Sabotage is looking to subvert expectations once again in a genre that hasn’t been seen or heard from very often over the past few years: the turn-based RPG. The newly announced Sea of Stars, which Sabotage unveiled alongside a new Kickstarter campaign just yesterday, shares a lot of common DNA with beloved RPGs from the SNES era such as Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, and Illusion of Gaia, but it also brings about plenty of its own, new ideas.
Prior to the official reveal of Sea of Stars, Sabotage Studio let me get a look at around 30 minutes of gameplay from the title in order to more aptly understand what they’re aiming for. The resulting footage that I saw made me far more interested and eager to get my own hands on the title than the initial elevator pitch of “an RPG by Sabotage Studio” had me to begin with.
Sea of Stars centers around two characters named Zale and Valere, both of which have the power to control the Sun and Moon. These two are in the pursuit of becoming Solstice Warriors and will have to do battle with a foe known as The Fleshmancer throughout the story. Zale and Valere are the primary protagonists of the game, but they belong to a larger cast of six companions that will be added to your team over the course of Sea of Stars.
Likely the coolest part of Sea of Stars’ narrative is that it serves as a prequel to the events of The Messenger. While the game is set hundreds of thousands of years before The Messenger, the two will seemingly tie-in in ways Sabotage is still somewhat keeping under wraps, even when I prodded for more info. Sabotage also went one step further and made clear that not only will The Messenger and Sea of Stars share this same world, but all future titles from the studio will be set in this universe, too. Thierry Boulanger, the CEO and Creative Director at Sabotage, told me that the ideas for these games have been ruminating in his head for nearly 25-years at this point and the plan has always been to have them intertwine. It’s an ambitious idea, to be certain, but one that also sets the developer’s games apart greatly.
On the writing front, Boulanger also confirmed that he’s once again the primary writer behind Sea of Stars, meaning that much of the levity that was found in The Messenger will also be found here. This means that Sabotage will once again be poking fun at a variety of things in Sea of Stars, perhaps most notably many of the classic tropes that are found in RPGs. Character dialogue wasn’t one thing that I saw much of in the gameplay demo that I viewed, but Boulanger said that the witty writing of The Messenger will transition to Sea of Stars, essentially because it’s the only way he knows how to write.
Combat in Sea of Stars will play out in a turn-based fashion, like mentioned, but it won’t strictly rely on arbitrary stats, abilities, and other routine variables that are found in RPGs in order to take down foes. Boulanger explained to me that he wants battles to have an element of skill, too. Essentially, you’ll be able to utilize certain button prompts during a battle to either take less damage or to deal out more to the foes that you’re squaring off with.
One aspect of this that I saw in the demo came in the way of a fireball ability that Zale could fire. When charging up this attack, you’re then prompted to press a specific button as fast as possible to add more power to the move. The more you charge the ability, the stronger it will then be. If you’ve played the classic, original entries in the Paper Mario series, to name one example, Sea of Stars looks to basically be doing its own variation on those combat systems.
Part of the reason why Sabotage said it wants to focus its combat system around these mechanics is to offset the need for grinding. While some might love to grind in RPGs, Boulanger and the rest of Sabotage are trying to ensure that it never becomes something you’re forced to do. Instead, if you can just learn the attack patterns and weaknesses of the enemies that you’ll be facing over time, you’ll stand more than a fair chance in most of your bouts.
Another nifty aspect of combat that Boulanger told me about in Sea of Stars comes with how you’ll be able to use your companions. Once you earn all six of the playable characters that are in the game, you’ll be able to swap them out at any point during engagements without taking up a combat action. Even though only three characters will be able to be present at a time on the battlefield, the fact that you can freely swap in your companions like this means that you’ll always be thinking about which character should be best used in each scenario that you might find yourself in.
Overworld exploration and puzzle-solving seem to be another large pillar of Sea of Stars, too. The presentation I watched showed an instance or two of how changing the day/night cycle can lead to you unlocking new areas to traverse through. Boulanger also directly invoked the Uncharted series when it comes to how Sabotage wants to approach puzzles. While Sea of Stars is obviously much different from a series like Uncharted, the goal seems to be to scratch that same itch that the latter might give you with puzzles. Additionally, the environment also seems to be quite accessible in a variety of ways, with both Zale and Valere being able to platform across pillars, swim through water, and shimmy up mountainsides that contain vines.
One area of Sea of Stars that was emphasized to me greatly, although I didn’t get to see it in my own, private demo screening, comes in the way of sailing. Even though I only saw gameplay snippets from one of the game’s islands, Sea of Stars will let you and your crew hop on a boat to sail around the world to different islands. This sailing won’t be automated, either, and will instead be an active gameplay mechanic. Sabotage told me that they’re really focusing on fleshing out this sailing so that it keeps the player involved and having fun, unlike traversal mechanics from a game like Final Fantasy XV where you just tell your vehicle where you want to travel to and then have to sit back and watch as it takes you there. While I’m usually trepidatious about travel systems like this, how Boulanger roughly explained it to me seemed interesting and I’m looking forward to trying it in action down the road.
As a final mentionable, Rainbowdragoneyes, the composer of The Messenger, is once again returning to work on Sea of Stars. The brief demo that I watched contained a few initial songs from the soundtrack and they each sounded excellent. A soundtrack is never going to make or break any game, but they often prove to be something that can bring the whole experience together. If Sea of Stars ends up matching The Messenger in terms of musical prowess, there’s a lot to be stoked about.
If there is one thing above all else that I came away impressed by after getting a deeper look at Sea of Stars, it’s just how polished the game already is. Sabotage has a very clear vision of what they want Sea of Stars to be and the gameplay demo that I was able to watch already looks surprisingly well put together despite only coming about after a few months of pre-production. As Sabotage now looks to enter full production on the game, I expect that high level of polish to extend to the full product, which makes me extremely excited. If you’ve been champing at the bit for a classically-styled RPG, it really seems like Sea of Stars has more promise than one might initially expect.
Sea of Stars has already hit its funding goal on Kickstarter as of this writing, but the campaign is still ongoing for the next four weeks and features a variety of stretch goals. While specific platforms for the game have yet to be released, Sabotage expects the development of Sea of Stars to take another two years with plans to ship the title in March 2022.