It has been a while since I sat down with a truly great 2D RPG.
I first began my RPG journey on the old Nintendo Gameboy. Having been a SEGA kid I didn’t see too many RPGs grace the Master System or Mega Drive, but NES and SNES players were treated to Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy titles. Over the years I have gone back and sampled classics I missed out on while being SEGA exclusive. Frankly, I loved them.
2D-HD games never really appealed to me. Just give me cleaner versions of older classics and I am happy. Sea of Stars looks to capture the magic from legendary all-time greats like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy (1-6). Does it scratch the classic 2D RPG itch or is it yet another forgettable run of the mill wannabe?
You start the game controlling one of two young kids – Valere and Zale respectively. Living in a town that has Zenith Academy, an adventure school, leads to the kids having an inquisitive nature and a want for an adventure of their own. I am going to try, for the most part, to avoid story spoilers throughout this review, but if you want to go in completely blind, skip to the score and read the rest of this later as minor early game spoilers will follow.
Zale and Valere get recruited to the school in order to train and make themselves ready to embark on their own journey across the land to vanquish the Dwellers after a tragic run-in while sneaking into the Forbidden Cavern. Years pass and the kids grow into young adults where, after a final exam/test, the headmaster deems you both ready to set off on your own to rid the world of Dwellers.
Pretty standard RPG setup, but that is only the beginning. The story of Sea of Stars is absolutely incredible, full of really great writing and it gets you invested in all of the characters you interact with and meet throughout your playthrough. Don’t be fooled by the cutesy looks though, this is a full blown, lengthy RPG. You can expect your first completion to take anywhere between 30-40 hours depending on how much you invest outside of the main story path.
Gameplay is great. The little touches from the beginning that I didn’t expect saw a smile or three as I continually said “Oh, that’s cool” as they were introduced. Simple things like ledges in 2D RPGs usually mean going back the long way or retreading your path should you accidentally leap off one. Sea of Stars bucks this trend by allowing the characters to climb back up smaller ledges to resume your original path. Such small additions make the game feel viable in today’s marketplace, rather than seeing the usual old school template being used and adhered to throughout. Sea of Stars constantly delights and surprises with QoL improvements over its ancestors.
A lot of your time outside of exploration will be used up by combat like any other RPG; there are monsters and bosses to slay along the way to victory. Combat between Zale’s fire abilities and Valerie’s ice ones becomes a mini puzzle in itself, figuring out the correct combos to defeat enemies and bosses. The problem is it pulls back before it gets deep and interesting, leaving you with a samey approach to most fights when it comes to the combos. You can pair party members strategically to some extent as you get different team-up combos. That means deciding whether to attack or use a healing or mana replenishing move always feels like a risk reward struggle that is mostly enjoyable. I’d love to see a sequel lean into those combos more.
All in, the experience is very user friendly. Menus in the interface are easy to navigate and you never feel overwhelmed, especially when compared to games like Baldur’s Gate 3 where you have a thousand things to manage and worry about. Some may say that Sea of Stars is limited but – for me – Sea of Stars comes in at just the right amount of complexity, perfect for those who can’t dedicate every waking hour to an RPG.
There are further nice touches too, like the villagers and other NPCs who recognise your skills growing as you progress through each of the islands. It’s this which gives Sea of Stars a feeling that its world is alive. Talking of the map, you can sail around the islands to explore each area and take on the bosses and puzzles that reside there. Eventually (minor spoiler) you gain the ability to fly, but it comes way too late in the game and would have made travelling around a lot easier.
Any complaint though should be seen as a minor nitpick. I absolutely love Sea of Stars and will definitely play through again to try and unlock the “true ending”. Sea of Stars also connects to Sabotage Studios’ previous title The Messenger, so you may find it worth checking that game out too.
Sea of Stars comes with fantastic visuals, plenty of little touches and boss fights that are entertaining. Topping it off is a wonderful soundtrack and characters that you get to know along the way. For RPG fans, you could do a lot worse than this one right here.
Sea of Stars manages to modernise a dated formula by raising the bar for all future 2D RPGs. It’s a whopping slice of nostalgia pie with a beautiful art style and engaging gameplay. While combat could benefit from more in-depth features, fans of games such as Chrono Trigger may just find themselves a new favourite in Sea of Stars.