Sea of Stars is like a great genre film by a skilled director. It looks and feels familiar; you basically know what to expect and can probably even predict the major beats, but it doesn’t hinder the experience. The intention is so well-executed that I was eager to soak it all in and, in this case, swim in the stars. I dreaded Sea of Stars’ conclusion not because I feared the worst but because I didn’t want to leave the world and stop playing.
Overtly inspired by 16-bit RPG greats like Super Mario RPG and primarily Chrono Trigger, Sea of Stars is a journey about a group of friends that grows in size and experience throughout an approximately 25-hour adventure. The story centers on two Solstice Warriors, children delivered by a magical eagle instead of traditional childbirth, who can control the power of the moon and the sun. What begins as an adventure about defeating a monster doesn’t take long to turn into something bigger than everyone involved in ways that impressively feel both small and personal and epic when necessary.
Ultimately, Sea of Stars is a story about the burden of responsibility (and gods, and magic, and friendship), and it does a good job of showing all sides of the story. The villains are villains, and the heroes are heroes, but I understand where every- one is coming from. I appreciate this approach to its story and characters and admire it for feeling familiar within the genre but also playing with larger ideas about the ideology of immortals or toying with fun concepts like shared consciousness. I eagerly pursued all the optional threads and listened to every extracurricular story from Teaks, our traveling historian, which is a compliment to the game’s world-building.
Beyond the story, which is engaging, exists a fantastic turn-based RPG. Every encounter in Sea of Stars, from the random enemies you run into while solving puzzles to the final confrontation, feels fully considered and designed. The combat encourages you to lean on special abilities and combos so you’re not just doing the same basic attack on every enemy. The combat also has timed button-press bonuses, which is the key to my RPG heart. Getting an extra few hits or taking less damage from an attack with a timed press is always a joy, and it feels particularly rewarding in Sea of Stars.
With the emphasis on special character-specific abilities, scenarios feel like puzzles but do so without leaning too much on the same solutions. It also goes out of its way not to punish you for experimenting and using everyone in your party. Sea of Stars is a game where new members join your party late in the journey, but I used and understood the fashionably tardy as much as, if not more, than the core party. It makes everyone feel essential, which is not how I typically feel about RPG party members.
The audio and visuals also deserve highlighting. The music expertly recalls the 16-bit era; plenty of its tracks and musical cues are still looping in my head. The soundtrack does a great job of establishing specific themes early on and then playing with them in new ways later in the story. The pixel art is fantastic, with every environment brimming with detail and color. Huge-scale characters and bosses are awe-inspiring, and lighting effects (that would have been impossible on a 16-bit console) make everything feel alive. Changing the time of day, a frequent effect leveraged for solving puzzles, looks particularly impressive, and I never tired of seeing it.
Sea of Stars is a stellar throwback that appeals to fans like me who love 16-bit RPGs, but it also functions as an excellent entry point. Annoyances that hindered early games that inspired Sea of Stars are nowhere to be seen. Simple actions like moving around the world feel great, the story picks up quickly, and farming experience is effectively unnecessary. It all leads to a smooth, consistently thrilling adventure with fun combat, all in a gorgeous and inviting world.