Sea Of Stars Review (PS5) – Let’s get one thing clear – I’ve never been a huge fan of turn-based combat systems. In most games, I found that the combat wasn’t engaging enough, and I was quickly bored of the whole game, especially once discovering how much combat I’d have to endure.
The only turn-based combat focused games I’ve been able to play for years have all had the word “Pokémon” in the title somewhere. Which makes Sea Of Stars a huge anomaly for me. I was intrigued from its announcement, as a huge fan of The Messenger, but hesitant because of developer Sabotage Studio switching from platformers to an RPG adventure, with turn-based combat.
Upon playing the demo, my concerns regarding the combat were dashed, and my excitement grew. When I finally booted up the full game for review, what I got to experience was something so much more than I could have hoped for.
Sea Of Stars is a real adventure with exciting, tense moments, some that pull at your heartstrings and an all-together exciting story wrapped in a beautifully drawn pixel art.
In a year of massive, high-quality RPGs, the much smaller Sea Of Stars arrives showing just as much quality in every pixel.
Sea Of Stars Review (PS5) – For Garl
Friendship Is A Bond Like No Other
Before I dig into the combat, which I do really love and enjoy with Sea Of Stars, the heart of this game is its characters and their story. Everything works in Sea Of Stars because these characters work by being so charming, easy to care for and love, and simply put a smile on your face.
I can’t talk about all of the characters in order to avoid spoilers, but the best character takes the title of this review. Garl, the Warrior Cook and best friend to the game’s other main characters, Valere and Zale, is just truly the best, and has such a good heart.
Garl is to Sea Of Stars what Samwise Gamgee is to The Lord Of The Rings, when it comes to their loyalty, personalities, and priorities in life.
They’re both actual cooks who fight alongside their friends for both a sense of adventure and because they understand it to be a fight worth fighting.
The Fleshmancer, a practical god in power level and ability to create evil beings and deliver cruelty upon cruelty, serves as the game’s ultimate antagonist, and you’re journey to stop him and his minions is, barring some really great story beats, a tale that doesn’t really reinvent the wheel in any way.
Which is part of what makes it work, because your focus can then stays on the characters, their charm, the music, world design, and everything else working together to pull you along for the ride.
In two areas specifically though, Sea Of Stars goes above and beyond. In its music, and its gameplay, namely the combat.
Turn-Based Combat Defined
Alright, as I admitted at the beginning of this, I don’t have a lot of experience with turn-based combat games not called Pokemon. I’ve not played Chrono Trigger, Golden Sun, Super Mario RPG, and other games of the same ilk.
So I don’t have a lot of games to compare it to, but I still don’t think I’m wrong to say that the combat in Sea Of Stars takes the best part of those games and any of its other inspirations and has made the sum of all of them more interesting than they all were on their own.
You’re constantly engaged both tactically and physically, by timing your attacks for extra damage or trying to time a block. I also loved the lock mechanic, where you break an enemies lock by hitting them with specific kinds of damage.
It’ll stop the enemy from whatever special attack they were about to perform, and do extra damage. How you break locks through combos and the order of your actions was always a fun little puzzle.
There will be some fights where you’re not given the chance to break a lock, but even then it becomes an added layer of strategy, to try and decide if you can deal at least one, or two of the kinds of damage listed, to try and lower the power level of their attack.
And it should be unsurprising to learn that the combat looks incredible. The skills and spells you learn all have visually appealing affects, one of my favourites being the “Moonarang,” where Valere throws a crescent moon like a Bat-a-rang that can bounce back and forth between you and your enemies.
Not only does this attack hit all targets, but it increasingly does more damage the more you keep the moon bouncing. You can even boost attacks by building up “living mana” to deliver stronger attacks.
Normal attacks build up mana, so how you balance out normal attacks with your spells and when to boost them can be the difference between walking away from a boss fight or a game over screen.
There’s also combo attacks, that you unlock during fights with every turn, and if you use combos enough, you’ll be able to use an ultimate attack, all which look very, very impressive and deal a ton of damage.
You’re always building towards something, which is another huge part of what makes the combat engaging.
It also helps that when you level up, the whole party gets a stat boost, and then you decide for each of them which of those stats to then further increase.
All of this together, along with the interesting and varied attacks make the combat not just fun, but practically irresistible to the point where even when backtracking for secrets, I still didn’t wholly mind having to go through fights against enemies that were so very under-levelled in comparison to my endgame party.
Maybe I’m wrong, because I don’t have plenty of other turn-based games experience to compare to, but the combat in Sea Of Stars is absolutely top class among turn-based games.
Retro Style With A Modern Polish
Sabotage Studio has an interesting mission, in that it is trying to take the classic games we know and love, keep parts of what made them classic, and take everything else and make it work for a game coming out today.
Across both its games now, Sabotage has been more successful in this mission. The Messenger was an excellent action-platformer that paid homage to its inspirations, and Sea Of Stars is no different.
Sea Of Stars is a beautiful game visually, with excellent pixel art work on display everywhere, split up by some very well animated cutscenes that seemed to only emphasize important moments and characters.
However it’s the music, as it was with The Messenger, that makes everything about Sea Of Stars come together far more beautifully than it could have without it. You’ll never find silence in Sea Of Stars, instead you’ll constantly be aware that you’re in a magical world because the soundtrack will carry you there.
Composer Eric Brown, otherwise known as Rainbowdragoneyes is an excellent, excellent talent, and I found my playtime now that I’ve completed the game to just inflate as I’ve been writing, because now I just leave the game on and my characters idle so I can listen to the soundtrack.
Of course one of the big points for Sea Of Stars music is that legendary composer Yasunori Mitsuda provided some tracks for the game. Across a total of 10 tracks, Mitsuda’s work shines as brightly as it ever has, while all of it feels consistent with the rest of the soundscape.
Rich In Fun, Secrets, And Heart
Sea Of Stars may not have any other modes beyond its main campaign, but there’s definitely more than enough to do in the game’s world. Beyond the main story, there are plenty of secrets and treasures to find, 187 treasures to be specific, all of which I’ve found, including 60 conch shells which I can’t tell you why, but I highly recommend you collect.
That’s also not to say I’ve uncovered everything about Sea Of Stars, there are still a few flimsy secrets that continue to allude me. But I’d be remiss if I ended this review without talking about my favourite mini-game, Wheels.
Wheels is a game within Sea Of Stars that’s entirely optional unless you’re treasure hunting, but is very fun and very much worth the effort of beating all six Wheels champions across Sea Of Stars.
It’s a simple game with intricate designs and dopamine-inducing sounds and clicks that make a game within a game feel somehow tactile. I could never get over how much I really felt like I could feel every click and spin when playing.
I should also mention there is a fishing mini-game within Sea Of Stars, which I did love, though when I was done with Sea Of Stars I found myself wishing that the last secrets I’ve yet to figure out would be more Wheels champions to face.
For everything I love about Sea Of Stars, specifically with its visual and world design, there were times where I found it difficult to interpret the verticality within the level and where my characters could travel.
It was an issue I found in a couple of areas, and it made backtracking for secrets a little more tedious as I was running into every wall trying to reveal a hidden passage I may have previously missed.
And as I said previously, the story in Sea Of Stars doesn’t really break the mold or anything, but I was also partly disappointed at how one-note both Valere and Zale felt throughout the story. They’re the two ‘chosen’ ones, the Children of the Solstice born to be Solstice Warriors and fight The Fleshmancer.
Beyond that, there’s very little you learn about them. It’s every character around them who’s motivations are more intricate and more defined that Valere and Zale’s that really make the whole party special. I also didn’t love how things played out when it came to my enemies motivations, as they didn’t feel fleshed out (pun intended) enough.
These issues stop Sea Of Stars from being a perfect experience in my eyes, but they don’t stop it from being a beautiful one. Plus, with Garl at the core of everything, any time I jumped into Sea Of Stars was always heartwarming.
Sea Of Stars is an excellent, retro-inspired RPG that I would recommend anyone play, with feel-good characters, a stunning soundtrack, a beautiful world with a wonderful sense of adventure, friendship and love.
Also, if you’re a PS Plus Extra or Premium subscriber, you can jump right into Sea Of Stars when it launches as part of the PS Plus Extra catalog, so it’s more than worth checking out for anyone in that boat.
Sea Of Stars is available on PS5 and PS4 on August 29, 2023.
Review code generously provided by publisher.