Windows Central Verdict
From the beginning of the game to the end credits, I loved Sea of Stars. It has an engaging combat system, gorgeous pixel-art graphics, a large variety of intriguing side content, and a fantastic plot featuring a charming world, likable characters, and crazy twists that I didn’t see coming. If you grew up playing JRPGs in the 1990s or are a younger fan who likes JRPGs in general, then I guarantee you’ll love Sea of Stars.
Beautifully animated and detailed pixel-art graphics
A simple yet satisfying turn-based combat system
Huge world with side quests and mini-games
Characters with endearing personalities and memorable designs
Its plot gradually builds into an epic tale
Farming for gold to buy supplies can be tedious
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The period from the 1990s to the early 2000s is considered by many gamers (including myself) to be the golden age of JRPGs. During this era, many iconic titles like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, Super Mario RPG, Illusion of Gaia, Breath of Fire, EarthBound, The Legend of Dragoon, Grandia, and the recently remade Live a Live made their debut. These games, alongside hundreds of others, would amaze young gamers the world over with their timeless stories, magical worlds, memorable characters, and addictive gameplay.
As the years went by, many of those youngsters would grow up to become indie game developers, creating their own JRPGs inspired by the classics, which had left a lasting impression on them. These indie titles include the likes of Undertale, Chained Echoes, LISA: The Painful, CrossCode, Star Renegades, and today’s topic – Sea of Stars.
Sea of Stars is a JRPG created by Sabotage Studio, whose previous work included The Messenger. Sea of Stars aims to recapture the magic of 16-bit era JRPGs while using modern gaming sensibilities to create engaging turn-based combat systems and exploration mechanics with a rich storyline that both new and old JRPG fans will enjoy.
As a longtime lover of JRPGs since the original PlayStation era, I was looking forward to playing Sea of Stars after seeing its debut trailer, which showcased the game's gorgeous pixel-art graphics and intriguing battle mechanics. I was able to get my hands on a code from the folks at Sabotage Studio to see if Sea of Stars has what it takes to live up to the inspirational classics of old. Does it succeed? Here's my full Sea of Stars review with a final verdict.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Sabotage Studio. The company did not see the contents of the review before publication.
Sea of Stars: The Pros
Developer: Sabotage Studio
Publisher: Sabotage Studio
Playtime: 41 hours
Release date: August 29, 2023
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC (Steam)
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
The story of Sea of Stars takes place in a world threatened by an evil being known as The Fleshmancer. This mysterious villain terrorizes this once-peaceful world by unleashing horrifying beasts called Dwellers to devour all life and corrupt the land. The Solstice Warriors are the only ones capable of stopping The Fleshmancer and his Dwellers.
Solstice Warriors are humans born with the innate ability to harness the power of the sun and moon to create Eclipse Magic, the only force known that can harm Dwellers. You play as Valere the Lunar Monk, and Zale the Solar Blade Dancer, a pair of rookie Solstice Warriors who have recently graduated into fully-fledged warriors and are on a mission to help defend their world from The Fleshmancer.
As our heroes leave their hometown and journey into the unknown, little do they know that their quest will be filled with peril, humorous hi-jinks, mystery, tragedy, self-discovery, and high adventure.
I very much enjoyed the story of Sea of Stars. It starts with a simple premise of saving the world from evil with lighthearted story arcs where you learn more about the world and help the locals with their problems. However, when I reached the halfway point, Sea of Stars started to take a more dramatic turn and threw in crazy plot twists, which I never saw coming, while introducing wild concepts that elevated the story to new heights of entertainment.
What also helps keep me invested in the plot is Sea of Stars’ characters. Everyone from your party members to the NPCs has endearing, likable personalities, which made me want to protect them from The Fleshmancer’s abominations and see their character arcs reach satisfying conclusions.
Explore the vast world of Sea of Stars
The gameplay structure of Seas of Stars follows that of the JRPGs it is inspired by. Half of the time, you will explore the world, visit towns to buy supplies for your journey, and talk to NPCs to learn in-game lore or take up side quests that offer lucrative rewards. The other half will see you and your Solstice Warriors traversing dungeons, collecting hidden treasure, and fighting hordes of bad guys in turn-based battles to ultimately reach the final boss.
Exploring dungeons in Sea of Stars may initially seem simple, but you'll quickly discover a hefty amount of intricate platforming. Jumping across gaps to reach certain areas and solve puzzles will require using your Solstice Warriors' magic. There are some minor 'Metroidvania' elements where some parts of a dungeon will have treasures that aren't accessible until you acquire an exploration tool or a key item that can help you obtain it later.
Exploration in Sea of Stars was a surprisingly engrossing experience. Not only were the puzzles fun to solve (especially as someone admittedly not so good with puzzles,) but the levels are a delight to spelunk in as they have gorgeously designed environments thanks to this game’s impeccable 2D pixel-art presentation. Plus, I admired the Metroidvania elements as they gave me good reason to backtrack these dungeons later in the game to see what kind of rewards these previously inaccessible treasure chests were hiding.
Master Eclipse Magic to defeat your foes
Crawling through dungeons isn’t a walk in the park, as many monsters lurk within their halls. There are no random encounters in Sea of Stars, and enemies freely roam dungeons so that you can engage or avoid most enemies at your leisure. However, if you want to get stronger to defeat the bosses, you will have to slay some enemies to earn EXP so you can level up your party’s abilities.
Combat follows the typical turn-based formula of you and the enemy taking turns to strike each other with physical attacks and magic spells. However, you will quickly learn that this game’s combat system has several mechanics to master if you wish to survive.
For starters, attacks in this game feature timing-based mechanics, meaning if you press the confirmation button during a character's attack animation, it will inflict extra damage. Conversely, if an enemy is about to strike you, you can press the confirmation button to block it and reduce incoming damage. Your characters' special skills also have timing-based mini-games where you will have to press the confirmation button multiple times or hold it down long enough to inflict maximum damage.
As you use regular attacks and special skills in battle, they will help build a 'Combo Meter' in the background. This meter is a resource that can be used to have multiple party members combine their special skills to perform powerful tag team moves. These combo attacks also have timing-based mechanics, which, if timed correctly, will absolutely annihilate most enemies that stand in your way.
Next on the list of mechanics is 'Live Mana.' Whenever you hit an enemy with a normal attack, your character will recover three MP, which can be used for skills, and Live Mana will drop to the floor. It's used to increase the damage of your special skills or augment a character's regular physical attacks with magic damage based on their innate element.
For example, Zale's innate element is Solar, so if I have him absorb Live Mana, his regular attacks will be augmented with the Solar element, and his Solar-based skill attacks will inflict more damage. However, keep in mind that the maximum limit of Live Mana stacks that can be generated on a battlefield is three.
Understanding proper use of Live Mana, special skills, and your party’s innate elements are crucial in battle as they will help you overcome the Lock System. When an enemy prepares a spell, a series of locks will appear above their head. These locks have symbols indicating different elements and physical attack types.
When this happens, you must attack the enemy using the elements indicated on the locks to break them. Breaking most of the locks will cause the incoming spell to inflict less damage, and if you do manage to break them all, it will cancel the attack entirely and cause that enemy to lose their turn until the next round.
I absolutely loved the combat system of Sea of Stars. It takes cues from classic titles like Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG while adding its own tricks to create a unique combat system that’s easy to learn and gratifying to master. The combat system shines during the game’s boss battles, most of which are epic in scale and difficult to overcome if you haven’t got to grips with the gameplay mechanics.
Coordinating your party’s attacks to cancel the enemy’s spells and timing your Live Mana-empowered attacks to obliterate them was so satisfying. Especially when you manage to kill a boss using your character’s flashy, over-the-top combo attacks and getting a cool photo finish for your efforts.
However, if you feel any aspect of the combat is too challenging for you, there are Relics hidden throughout the world that can alter the game’s difficulty, such as reducing incoming damage or providing stronger feedback when you successfully time an attack, for example. Conversely, hidden Relics can make the game more challenging if you feel the game’s default difficulty isn’t hard enough – providing a nice balance of options to suit any player’s comfort levels.
Take a break with fun mini-games
Story, exploration, and combat aren’t the only gameplay activities that Sea of Stars has to offer. There are also a few optional mini-games like quizzes, fishing, Wheels, and more that serve as a nice change of pace from the main game if you want a break. My favorite mini-games out of them all are fishing and Wheels.
Fishing involves going to giant ponds on the world map and throwing a line out to catch as many fish as possible by reeling them in without breaking the rod line. It’s surprisingly fast-paced and doesn’t require you to waste money buying fishing equipment, so you can immediately get stuck into the angling action. In addition, you can fillet any fish you catch and use them as food ingredients to cook up healing items that will be useful during battle.
Wheels is my second favorite mini-game and is the most complex out of them all. It is best described as a 1v1 slot-machine battle game where two players deploy two heroes and use their skills to deplete their opponent’s life points. Getting a row of a certain number of square or triangle symbols will gradually activate a corresponding hero’s turn and order them to attack the enemy. You can also build a wall to protect your life points from attacks by getting a row of hammers.
Some heroes are designed exclusively for attacking or delaying a hero’s turn, while others provide support by healing life points, activating an ally hero’s turn faster, or building a wall to protect your life points. You can generate EXP for your heroes and level them up during battle so they can become stronger. In addition, once a hero reaches their max level (Lv.3) and you fill up their EXP bar, they will throw bombs that completely bypass walls to damage an opponent’s life points directly.
Wheels was daunting at first, but after figuring out the rules, I became addicted to this mini-game. There’s a surprising degree of strategy involved, as certain teams of Wheels heroes do better against certain AI opponents than others. I also had to adjust my plan of attack constantly as each AI opponent had different tactics, so I couldn’t rely on the same strategy twice.
What also aided my enjoyment is that you could mitigate the randomness of the slot machines. You can lock any number of slot machine rows in place so you can keep the symbols you want while you roll the unlocked ones to get more symbols to activate your preferred hero’s turn much faster. Wheels was so much fun that it made me wish Sea of Stars had a multiplayer feature so I could play this mini-game with real people or, better yet, be released as a standalone game so I could challenge my friends online.
Sea of Stars: The Cons
I don’t have any major negative criticisms for Sea of Stars, except for one minor nitpick which is that acquiring gold to buy gear or food ingredients to cook up healing items can be a tedious and time-consuming chore. This is because enemies in this game don’t drop money or loot upon defeat. Instead, they drop only a small handful of food ingredients.
This isn’t a major problem for the most part, as most of the enemies in this game don’t require much level-grinding to overcome, and most dungeons contain upgrades for your characters’ gear load-outs and treasures you can sell for money. However, it did become an issue when I used my money to purchase healing items and then immediately ran into sidequests where I needed to buy expensive items to complete them.
I had to resort to selling off fish I acquired from the fishing mini-game to get the money I needed as it was the most efficient money-farming method I could find, but even that ate up more time than needed. I much rather prefer earning gold the old-fashioned way by beating enemies and looting their bodies for items I could sell off instead of selling off fish like a fishmonger.
Sea of Stars: Should you play it?
Sea of Stars was an amazing game that blew all my expectations out of the water. The combat system was enjoyable, the level design of the dungeons was well thought-out, and the characters were well-written and fun to play. There are tons of enjoyable side activities and endgame content to partake in, and the plot was an epic adventure that went to wild places, which I wasn't expecting, but I'm so glad it did.
If you're a fan of turn-based JRPGs, then I cannot recommend this game enough, as it is a wonderful tribute to classic JRPGs that mixes old-school gameplay with modern gaming polish. Not only is Sea of Stars one of the best Xbox JRPGs on the market, but it's also one of the best Xbox games I've played in 2023, and I can't wait for you to play it, too.
Alexander Cope is a gaming veteran of 30-plus years, primarily covering PC and Xbox games here on Windows Central. Gaming since the 8-bit era, Alexander's expertise revolves around gaming guides and news, with a particular focus on Japanese titles from the likes of Elden Ring to Final Fantasy. Alexander is always on deck to help our readers conquer the industry's most difficult games — when he can pry himself away from Monster Hunter that is!