Sea of Stars just came out, and boy is it a good time to be a fan of RPGs. The past few years have been seeing a huge amount of high-quality indie and classic JRPGs making their way to the Nintendo Switch, and Sea of Stars in particular has a lot of buzz around its release. And with a guest composer like Yasunori Mitsuda, from the legendary Chrono Trigger, how could it not?
Sea of Stars tells the story of Garl the Warrior Cook and the Solstice Warriors Valere and Zale, burdened with saving their world from corruption left by an ancient alchemist. Travelling through a flooded world, they’ll seek the remnants of the ancient evil, and learn secrets about their dying order. There are only five Solstice Warriors left, and the masters all bear their own scars.
There’s more beneath the sun and the moon than you expect, so come along - let’s sail through the Sea of Stars.
There’s no reason for me to get complicated with this one: Sea of Stars is just really fun to play. The combat is simple and intuitive, but keeps the player's attention by incorporating parries and timed hit mechanics like in Paper Mario, and the dopamine of seeing the second meatier hit on a successful timing just never gets old!
Running around the maps and moving around is fun in itself, too. The devs really flexed their level design muscles by giving each area many intricate paths to get through by jumping off ledges, climbing, hopping, and after a certain point, zipping around at high speeds. Areas all feel like a delightful puzzle that are fun to get through, with encounters that remain just challenging enough.
One thing that stands out to me in particular is how good the game looks. While I love classic RPGs, I have started to develop a little bit of burnout on pixelated art when it lacks distinction between games. But Sea of Stars is just so beautiful and detailed that there are times when it almost doesn’t look like sprite work. Attacks, characters, scenarios, animations - everything is incredible. And of course, the music is top-notch all around - not just the tracks created by Mitsuda, either!
But in my opinion, the strongest part of the game is how fresh and original it feels. It plays and feels like a classic JRPG, using many common tropes, but the presentation and the amazing aesthetic both feel so unique. The sun, moon, and stars as sources of magic, the wild character designs and abilities, the combat mechanics all come together in a way that feels apart from the rest of the genre, in a good way.
- Very fun combat and traversal mechanics
- Great area design
- Beautiful art that stands out from other pixel art games
- Fresh, original aesthetic and story
The plot of Sea of Stars is very tight and easy to follow, making for a satisfying story… that is up to a point. The devs created a beautiful, interesting-looking world full of fun and eye-catching characters and concepts, but it feels like everything is there only to serve its role in the narrative, and stagnates immediately after without being given time to breathe or expanded on. It’s like every aspect of this beautiful and interesting world exists only as a setpiece.
And that is frustrating, because there are some amazing introductions and characters with a lot of potential that either go nowhere, or have extremely unsatisfying conclusions to their arcs. Allies and bosses oozing with potential are set up as important, and time and again, they are only given enough time to do the bare minimum in order to move the plot forward.
NPCs with interesting things to say that make the world feel lived in are few and far between. Grand concepts such as Guardian Gods and stories of long-gone people such as the Travelling Historians are introduced and either not followed up on, are relevant for only a brief moment, or come to an unsatisfyingly vague conclusion. The world of Sea of Stars has a lot of fascinating history, but it’s very hard to actively partake in it.
How hard? Well, the adorable character Teaks is the only way to learn anything about many aspects of the world. It is something that fits with the character, but when I travel across the world and visit many different places, why is it that I can’t learn what I need from the places and people that live there? Teaks herself has limited screen time and dialogue, piping up mostly when the plot demands it, and the world suffers for it.
And the most ironic part of it all? The plot of the game feels much weaker and poorly written because of all that.
Another issue is the lack of possible customisation and variables in the game. Armor and weapons don’t have interesting effects or gimmicks; there are no sidegrades, only bigger numbers. The only customisable equipment options are accessories, which have minor benefits and aren’t nearly enough, seeing as each character only gets to wear two or three.
You can pick bonus status increases, but every character already has their own stat growth ratios, so their strong points are pretty set in stone. Each character has three pre-determined abilities and an ultimate, with no input from the player on their strength or order of learning. Playing the game is fun, but unlike most JRPGs, you will not really be able to play Sea of Stars in your own way. Customisation is something that sets RPGs apart, and Sea of Stars feels shallow in that very important point.
- Unsatisfying character arcs
- Restrictive character progression
- Shallow world and character integration
- Unexplored characters and concepts
Final Score: 7/10
Sea of Stars is definitely a good time. I enjoyed my time with the game a lot, but the more I thought about it, the more the nagging feeling that it was missing something grew inside me. I still recommend it as a well-made and very fun game, but it lacks some aspects that really give classic JRPGs the spark that makes them masterpieces, and it fumbles its own story and characters far too much to ignore.
On the counterpoint, though? The parts that are good are really good. I can go on and on about wasted potential all day, but Sea of Stars delivers a great experience, with a lot of fun to be had and beautiful visuals from minute one. I enjoyed all of the good it offered me, and I am excited for what its developers will cook up in the future; they’re definitely worth keeping an eye on!
Thank you for checking out our Sea of Stars Switch review, thank you to Sabotage Studio (via Tinsley PR) for providing the review code and thank you to our Patreon Backers for their ongoing support: