Review | Sea Of Stars
"A nostalgic trip that really counts on the nostalgia rather than introducing what Chrono Trigger and such had at these times. Sea of Stars is a love letter to what we all wanted, but failed to deliver to its full extent."
I’m a fan of this studio and their work. The Messenger was such a fresh take on a stale formula of side-scrolling games. With spot-on story (funny and interesting), awesome merchant stories (one of the best writings I’ve experienced in video games), somewhat mediocre gameplay, but awesome music – it was a sign to start following this studio.
Then they’ve announced a turn based JRPG that looks like a modern retro hit from the past, especially Chrono Trigger, which was the biggest inspiration to the team. What can go wrong here? With all above facts, nothing. Add to this that Mitsuda worked on 10 tracks in Sea of Stars (Chrono Trigger, Shadow Hearts…). And yeah, this project was their most ambitious, non-linear experience in direction they wanted to go (founded over Kickstarter).
The game was released for Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S and is set in the same universe as The Messenger (2018).
You know how it starts! Learn, level up, repeat. Choosing a Solstice Warrior doesn't mean a different story, only who you control. Open your ears, the real rhapsody starts right now.
I really have high hopes for games that take inspiration from one of the best representatives in the genre. Trigger is an institution of JPRG genre and one of the best games ever made. It just has that something, and all aspects of the game are brilliant. In the first few trailers and the demo that was available, it also showed that Super Mario RPG is what inspired the combat in Sea of Stars. You remember Super Mario RPG games? When you fight in turn-based style, you either hit the button when taking a hit, or when executing attacks or moves to decrease/increase the damage. That is what happened here – a Chrono Trigger Super Mario Sea of Stars. Yep.
Beautiful pixel art JRPG made by the inspired developer – It got me hooked, I bought the game way ahead of the demo and the late trailers. Was I disappointed? Yes and no, more yes than no, but one step at a time! Let’s put on the music from Sea of Stars (which is brilliant) while we contemplate about what went wrong, and what didn’t.
There are many references to games that inspired this one. It even has animations, too bad they are short. Do you like changing day/night? Well, you can do it! Some puzzles with depend on it even.
The story is mostly a regular one – 2 heroes, Zale and Valere, born in different solstice are to take over the darkness and spread the light to save the dying planet doomed due to evil alchemist Fleshmancer. They can control Eclipse Magic – the only real “cure” to harm the Dwellers – otherworldly monsters created by an evil alchemist. We follow them from their youth towards the present times, youth being a bit boring if I may. There will be other travellers on your journey, and your party will always be a fun one. I really can’t praise the music enough – I still vividly remember all scenes and characters because of the imprint that the soundtrack left in my gut.
The writing is good, and lack of voice acting never felt like a chore. It’s old school, but when you want to read what they say, it’s a proof that it’s interesting. Still, The Messenger was better, even though I loved the characters more here, the overall writing was a step down in this game. Due to nostalgia and simply trying to give us love in a form what we loved the most from our early gaming days – seeing a scene that reminds us of games such as Chrono Trigger always warms our gaming hearts. Too bad the story is a bit of a cliché (one funny note - one of the NPCs is called Captain Klee'shaë!). It’s filled with humour and interesting conversations, but that is where the creativity stops.
My top pros are the humour, the characters, the music and again, the music - after you uncover pirate covers in Inns, boy, you will spend some time there believe me. The giants are cool - they serve as a fast-travel mean, but only at the first part of the game.
Try to endure the tutorial and early years. Whether you start with Valere or Zale, it doesn’t matter. You can switch them on any camp, but the story is exactly the same. The problem this game has is the simplicity and the RPG elements. If you thought about levelling up your team to learn new skills and prepare for the challenges ahead, think again. It’s like everything is predetermined – first, you gain party EXP. Slow as hell. I think I finished the game around level 30. It’s like 1-1,5h per level. And then you get like 7 HP increase. It feels pointless. The combat suffers because of this. All you do is fight for a few minutes while repeating most of the skills and heal all the time. In a long run, this felt like a chore, not a core of what I expected. This is not an RPG. It’s an RPG wannabe.
If you add that you have only 3 skills and a limit break on each character, it gets really weird. Ok, there are combo moves, but like I said, most of the time you will heal instead of using the combo skills. The whole gameplay loops feel the same, but the good news is – it’s fun, mediocre fun. Boss fights were cool, and I loved timing attacks and using the skills, but overall impression of the game is not what I initially expected.
Even the world map (which I love and await in games, but modern times = modern traveling) feels simple, without any real secret you can stumble upon other than reaching some areas with your ship/s when the time comes.
Leveling up is such a big letdown. You know what isn't? A music on the level up screen! It's godly. Serai the assassin was my favourite character, although not in a fight, but her delay skill rules. I expected much more from having a base, rathar than fishing what you already caught and not much more.
Exploring areas is around the combat impressions. It’s all pretty and peachy, filled with some secret here and there – but mostly you can’t miss stuff on the way. It feels like a baby Zelda adventure where you can change the time of day to form a path, move a block, or you can move that block to form a platform. You constantly solve puzzles on your way and probably partially that helped on non-quitting. I wanted to quit on few occasional, I really did.
If you explore, that means you constantly need to fight. By constantly using the same moves, healing your MP (which heals when you hit) – even the exploration sometimes feels like a chore. Then, there are enemies you need to kick when you boost your attacks – you do that with using regular attacks and boosting on the fallen orbs to make your next move count more. It just pointlessly prolongs the combat. The best move they did was the party members change in a fight without penalty. That gave me energy to continue.
Equipment management is also simple, but there are Relics that can speed up the game, ease it up, make it harder… You can buy these items in-game and turn them on/off if you feel like it. I preferred not using them.
Kamehameha! The sun solstice warrior took inspiration from Goku. By the end of the game you would expect some new basic skills, but you will mostly spam the ones from the start of the game - having only 3 on each characters feels like a big letdown.
One thing shines above the rest – side content. It’s cool and gathering all special items means that you will get the real ending. Yeah! Collecting everything in the game unlocks the best outcome you can experience. Plus, the party member quests are awesome. The best character for me personally is Sera, the Portal Assassin. It’s such a well-written character with important background.
In the end, I enjoyed finishing the game. The problem is almost everything in between – lite RPG elements, long fights that feels the same most of the time… Not even the fact that you own a base where you can gather people doesn’t help. I love that, Suikoden-style! But here, it’s just to be here. The team did a good job, just not the great job.
This is a simple lite RPG adventure, fun in its own way. A love letter indeed but missing out on the best from that era. It can be a game to relax and remind yourself about the golden days, just without the parts of that formula.
"A good attempt which nailed some segments, but failed to reach the brilliance of the others we already experienced, and which inspired the team. Music is 10/10, let’s not kid ourselves!"
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