Games Of The Year: Sea of Stars Is the Very Definition of Gaming Harmony

While we try to write about as many games as we can as a small nonprofit, as the year winds down, we pay homage to some of the great games we missed upon their release. Here’s Kimari’s look at Sea of Stars, which we purchased for her to review.

By Kimari Rennis

Leave it to indie developers when you’re in dire need of a retro gaming experience with a fresh coat of paint. I wasn’t even aware just how badly I needed to sit down and indulge myself in a warm story with pixelated characters until I stumbled upon the hot bowl of homemade soup that is Sea of Stars.

Sea of Stars is a turn-based RPG that weaves together the various elements that made the most nostalgic RPGs of their time stand out into a singular experience that leaves fans of the genre pleasantly satisfied. Developed by Sabotage Studio, the great minds behind The Messager, players can rest assured that a grand love letter to the RPG genre is in excellent hands.

To set the stage you meet Valere, a bright blue-haired lunar battle monk, and Zale, a tan-haired solar bladedancer. Gifted with lunar and solar magic by the Guardian Goddess Luana and the Guardian God Solen, they are trained to be Solstice Warriors. Following the tradition of the Solstice Warriors preceding them, they are on a mission to defeat the Fleshmancer’s forces that threaten their world and the people within. 

With a villain being dubbed the “Fleshmancer” and  the capability of summoning creatures vicious enough to put the world at risk, you’d think Zale and Valere would radiate stoicism and unwavering seriousness. But they’re young. Despite being capable fighters and wielders of the sun and moon, their youth speaks volumes in how light-hearted, kind, and playful they are. Their personalities are only heightened when they are joined by their childhood friend, Gale, an ordinary human whose power lies in his love and dedication to his friends and culinary prowess. Together, they set out on a journey filled with difficult twists and turns, but at least they have each other.

One of the major things that makes Sea of Stars such a remarkable game is the story. Sea of Stars is more than just a kid waking up one day and choosing to wield a sword and save a princess – not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you. It’s a well-woven tale about fate, the importance of friendship, doing the best you can regardless of your abilities, being true to yourself, and learning to have fun while also being disciplined. Lighthearted and expertly told narratives like these are few and far between and the world needs more of them.

I could go on and on about the statistics of stress and loneliness in our generation but that would get in the way of the sheer love I have for Sea of Stars. What I will say is that the themes embedded within this game grew the appreciation I had for my life and showed me that regardless of how stressed I am working long hours in college, I can still have fun while achieving my goals. I suggest playing the game for yourself and feeling just how far this game reaches into your soul and tenderly reminds you that you are seen.

Let’s say you’re the kind of gamer who doesn’t care for wholesome stories with the potential to change your outlook on life. Sea of Stars has the most dynamic turn-based RPG combat I have ever experienced – and it is addicting! Let’s start with the basics, in typical RPG fashion, on your turn, characters have the choice of doing a basic attack or a magic attack. Magic attacks reduce the magic points or MP you have available in a fight. Instead of waiting for your entire party to finish their turns before it’s your turn once again, all enemies have a stopwatch icon next to them that indicates how many turns it’ll be before they attack. Already you have to think about who you want to attack and when to do it. Now let’s add the timed hits idea to the equation. When you do a basic physical attack or magic attack, if you press the action button at the right time, that character will do increased damage and land additional hits. The same can be said for blocking. When an enemy attacks you if you press the action button at the right time, you’ll take less damage from that hit.

Then there are special attacks. As you and your party damage the enemy, you start to fill up a combo meter. When it’s full, you can perform group attacks that deal incredible damage at the expense of the meter you’ve built up throughout the fight. The timing rule applies here as well, rewarding you for knowing your attacks well and paying attention. Enemies can also do special attacks and they are devastating, to say the least – even more so for bosses. How do you stop these horrific attacks? You can interrupt them  with a specific combination of attack types from your party within a certain amount of turns. Depending on the weapon of the character you are controlling during that turn, you can deal either blunt or sword damage. Zale’s solar magic deals solar damage and Valere’s lunar magic does lunar damage. Fulfilling a combination of these attack types while an enemy is preparing a special stops them in their tracks. Because enemies have different vulnerabilities and resistances, prioritization of resources is another aspect to keep in mind.

If you pair all of this in an encounter with multiple enemies, each demanding your attention as they prepare to batter you into the ground, every decision you make in combat has meaning. You need to think carefully about your next moves and be able to adapt quickly to mistakes and missed timing. Sea of Stars’ combat is focused on execution and strategy rather than using the same attacks to mow down monsters. As it is with so many outstanding games, combat is easy to learn and hard to master. The tide of battle can easily change and learning how to adapt and win the fight is incredibly satisfying in this game.

Let’s say you’re the kind of gamer that doesn’t care for stellar RPG combat. Sea of Stars has fishing and cooking features as well. Fishing and cooking isn’t just a niche part of the game that people do once and forget about. It’s a crucial part, one you return to frequently. As you collect different recipes and wild ingredients you can cook a variety of unique meals that heal and restore magic points in the middle of combat. There are no super-mega potions you can stock up on and just brute force your way through every encounter like other RPGs. You need to source the ingredients you can and make the most out of them. You also only have a limited amount of space to carry meals so you need to think carefully about what you cook – you need to be smart about your nutrition!

The way the fishing and cooking design is implemented adds another depth of play that lets you connect with the fantasy world in which Valere and Zale live. Nearly everything about Sea of Stars requires strategy and preparation. Not to the point where the game becomes exhausting, but to the point where you feel intense satisfaction in your progression and the well-being of the characters in your party. You’ll feel good after each fatty fish you catch and the secret caves you uncover for delectable mushrooms.

Let’s say you’re like me – the kind of gamer who devours wholesome stories fully immerses themselves in dynamic combat, and scours the game world for fresh produce. That means that this game has everything for you. Sea of Stars has scratched every itch I couldn’t quite place my finger on. Usually, when I play games that attempt to fill several different roles at once, I feel overwhelmed by the content, or underwhelmed by the lack of cohesion. But Sea of Stars feels like the definition of gaming harmony.

Maybe this is due to me being a Game Design major, but I enjoyed this game so much that I took the time to watch the documentary “The Making of Sea of Stars” produced by The Escapist. It was heart-warming to see how a team of talented game creators had an idea and brought it to life. They had belief in their ability to make something breathtaking and iterating on a genre that inspired them since the very beginning of their studio. Hearing the CEO of Sabotage Studio, Thierry Boulanger, talking about the elements of different RPGs such as Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG and so much more that we used to make the masterpiece of Sea of Stars made all the dots connect in my head. Sea of Stars really does have it all.

Senior Intern Kimari Rennis, who has been with the NYVGCC for many years, is a junior at NYU’s Game Center.

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