Since 1995, Chrono Trigger set the bar very high for all future RPGs. The emotionally charged music inspired a sense of adventure, and the large, beautiful sprites make it an engaging game to revisit even decades later. The simple and easily understandable story adds to its appeal, while the gameplay successfully treads the fine line between strategy and accessibility.
Despite being one of the most beloved RPGs on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, very few developers dared to imitate it. With the rise of indie game development, there were occasional instances of independent developers selectively adopting certain aspects of Chrono Trigger.
Sabotage Studio has taken the bold step of entering the arena, attempting to create a massive RPG in the spirit of Chrono Trigger. What is the secret behind Chrono Trigger‘s allure? Can its creative and adventurous essence be captured? How does Sabotage Studio manage to grasp this essence while forging its own path? All these questions are answered in this Sea of Stars review!
This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review or read the full review of the below:
Sea of Stars
Developer: Sabotage Studio
Publisher: Sabotage Studio
Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: August 29, 2023
Price: $34.99 USD
Sea of Stars begins with an ominous, cloaked storyteller who invites the player to hear his tale. The backstory is efficiently exposited and it isn’t long before gamers are set loose as one of the two protagonists. Zale and Valere are Solstice Warriors, their lives a symphony of training, orchestrated by a master whose every note is in anticipation of an ominous prophecy that may seal the fate of worlds.
The Fleshmancer is a terrible alchemist who is responsible for all the evil monsters that roam the world. Only Solstice Warriors are capable of vanquishing the heinous abominations using magic harnessed by the sun and moon. While the goal of the quest seems straightforward at first, things become more complex as revelations are made and new foes emerge.
With unlikely alliances and surprising twists, Sea of Stars keeps RPG fans on their toes with its narrative. The most sinister figures, the villains themselves, are sculpted with intricate layers, a canvas of depth that unveils the shades between light and dark.
Zale and Valere can’t simply confront The Fleshmancer and will be at odds with mysterious hooded conspirators, an undead queen, pirates, and even a haunted mansion where an entity known as “The Dweller” resides. The magic of The Solstice Warriors won’t be enough and they’ll need the help of some friends they’ll make along the way.
Where Sea of Stars truly excels is in its world-building and character development. The plot maintains a brisk pace during dialogue scenes, effectively conveying points with sharp wit. Surprisingly, humor occasionally emerges when least expected, and the game fearlessly breaks the fourth wall and acknowledges certain RPG tropes.
The cast of characters is imbued with a great deal of heart, even the minor ones encountered briefly in towns receive enough development to leave a lasting impression. While the tone remains lighthearted, Sea of Stars also recognizes the importance of introducing genuine stakes, readily embracing moments of authentic drama when the narrative demands.
Despite the richness of the writing, it’s astonishing how the two protagonists come across as bland and uninteresting. In contrast, the remaining party members and NPCs burst with personality. Characters like the cold and aloof ninja girl, Serai, or the amiable and loyal warrior cook, Garl, are full of life.
Zale and Valere are borderline blank slates and if their flat dialogue was cut, nobody would notice. What little personality they have makes them interchangeable between themselves. The sarcastic innkeeper at the spooky town had more personality and memorable dialogue.
Sabotage Studio thoroughly grasped the enduring essence of Chrono Trigger: a plot that maintains momentum while introducing unexpected twists. Sea of Stars takes players on a journey through imaginative settings, adorned with intricate details, and offers engaging gameplay through a combination of puzzle platforming and turn-based combat.
Among the overhead POV RPGs, Sea of Stars boasts some of the most exceptional level designs ever conceived. While many RPGs, including Chrono Trigger, feature straightforward maps with characters navigating variable elevations, Sea of Stars takes this concept to an astonishing new level. It explores environments with dimension and scale that invite characters to truly explore.
Nearly every ledge becomes scalable, and the heroes effortlessly leap across gaps, climb jagged surfaces, traverse narrow passages, and even swim. Meticulous effort was dedicated to grounding the world of Sea of Stars in a sense of reality and tangibility.
The visuals are stunning and feature vibrant pixel art with expressive character designs. The lighting system introduces an unprecedented atmosphere, a rarity in most pixel art-based games. The light interacts with sprites in real time, anchoring each element within the scene. During sunset, when characters cast long shadows, it creates a picturesque image.
The highly contrasting colors and well-defined silhouettes lend a distinct feel to every setting and character. There’s a consistent sense of cohesion and depth in the graphics. Numerous instances of unique animation frames are present, showcasing the exceptional artistic skill of the team at Sabotage Studio.
This attention to detail goes beyond mere aesthetics—it forms the core of the experience and shapes the challenges presented. In moments away from combat, gamers extensively explore these densely packed maps, uncovering hidden chests and cooking ingredients. At times, environmental puzzles, key items, grappling hook anchor points, and even cheeky Zelda-style block puzzles come into play.
Exploration is only one part of Sea of Stars. The other pillar of the experience is the turn-based combat that takes inspiration from Chrono Trigger’s seamless transitions and team attacks but also incorporates Paper Mario-style timed hits.
The developers carefully balanced the combat so that gamers cannot easily demolish foes with special attacks. Characters obtain very small amounts of MP, and it is quite easy to deplete most of it with a single special attack. Successfully timed hits or blocks earn back some MP, creating battles that unfold with a tug-of-war-like tension.
The combo meter proves to be a clever mechanic fostering strategic gameplay, discouraging immediate reliance on team attacks. With each successful block or timed hit, the gauge fills. Once it’s full, a charge is earned, corresponding to one of three levels of team attacks.
Even battles against basic foes can require planning to preemptively counter the enemy’s special attacks by exploiting their weaknesses. Each character possesses unique properties, and fortunately, players can freely swap between characters during battle. This tight and elegant system realizes its fullest potential.
The team at Sabotage Studio left no stone unturned in Sea of Stars‘ presentation. Recognizing that the finest RPGs boast exceptional soundtracks, they not only emulated the likes of Yasunori Mitsuda but also engaged him to compose several pieces for the game. As anticipated, Sea of Stars’ soundtrack truly shines.
It is unclear which specific pieces of music Mitsuda was directly involved with, as the entire soundtrack excels. Many tracks carry his signature emotional and wistful tones. These melodies evoke a sense of looking back and reflecting on the passage of time, evoking vague memories of happier moments from one’s youth.
Sea of Stars understands what fans of Chrono Trigger have been longing for. It tastefully incorporates homages and exhibits greater originality than might be initially perceived. Sea of Stars is a masterful artistic achievement in both visuals and audio, featuring utterly engrossing turn-based combat that showcases air-tight design.
Sea of Stars was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided by Sabotage Studio. Additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy can be found here. Sea of Stars is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.