You may know Sabotage Studios from their work on the critically acclaimed action-adventure game, The Messenger. You may also have been just as confused as I was when Sabotage Studios announced that their next game wouldn’t be a sequel to The Messenger, but a turn-based RPG instead. I was given the opportunity to watch about 30 minutes of Sea of Stars hands-off gameplay played by Sabotage Studios President & Creative Director, Thierry Boulanger, and let me say, there is no need to worry.
Sea of Stars takes place many years before The Messenger, on an archipelago where two solstice warriors must fight the Fleshmancer. This project started in 2018, and as Boulanger told us, was Sabotage Studios’ dream project. Even though they were worried about the genre change, their successful 2020 Kickstarter showed the team that their fans were just as excited for this game, too. With the budget big enough for them to make it happen, the team wanted to be sure they present a modernized definitive take on the genre they are very close to, just like they did with The Messenger.
In the context of the preview, we saw Boulanger take on a quest that required the two solstice warriors to help pirates get a prize from a mysterious cave. In that 30 minutes, Boulanger tackled the puzzles of the cave, fought several enemies, and showed us some shocking exploration elements too.
First, Boulanger expressed that any feature the team thought would make the game better will be in this game. Like climbing, for instance. Not only can you climb up certain rock faces, but any wall that looks high enough to climb can be climbed. The same goes for the open-world elements. There is so much detail in just about every corner that we were shown, and all of it promotes exploration and discovery. Specifically, the world is so detailed because it’s “about letting players touch the world and learn”. Which I love as an approach.
As for the combat, I was worried when Boulanger told us that there would be six party members but only 3 could be on the field at a time. I get turned away so quickly when RPGs have more party members than active members just because it’s almost inevitable some will get out leveled and obsolete. I also hate when I get tied to party choice and cannot change up the lineup easily. Sabotage Studios fixed all of these issues with ease. Instead of character levels, there’s a party level! Plus, leveling lets you choose what stats each character gets, making the party your own. Also, party members can be changed out AT ANY TIME in and out of combat!
Instead of also focusing on a “bruiser”, “warrior”, “mage”, etc. roles for everyone, each brings their own utility, and that is the key focus of combat. Because combat is focused to be a lighter focus and about synergizing rather than pummeling enemies, combat is like a puzzle. For instance, each character can only have four skills, so making sure every ability type available is key. Enemies will start casting spells, and three “locks” will pop up over their heads corresponding to different ability types. Hitting those enemies with those spells breaks their cast (and in some cases will kill them immediately).
This is where the combo system comes into play. You can combine attacks, use a Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga style of timing with attacks to make them be more powerful, or bounce around more enemies. There were lots of options shown, but the key point I took away from it was it’s up to you how you can tackle these fights. If you find something that doesn’t work, you have the ability to change things up at any time to make it work.
Also, similarly to Golden Sun and other 2-D RPGs, there are many world-based puzzles to conquer. Two that we were shown involved matching crystals to open specific portals and push blocks. Boulanger made it clear that puzzles are meant to be fun. None of them will be head-bangingly difficult but just will require you to think a little to get through them. Another type of puzzle (which we didn’t get to see), involved lighting and timing of the day. Certain puzzles can only be conquered by using the solstice warriors’ powers over the sun and moon (e.g. changing the time of day at will). We got to see a glimpse of this in a town. It is not only a cool feature but is beautiful to see happen in real-time with the game’s dynamic lighting. Watching this happen in a town is one thing, what with the shadows moving, and town lights turning on and off. My curiosity has already been grabbed about how it will look in many other situations, like in caves, in different environments, and so much more!
Finally, I expressed concern about the writing shown so far. Just about everything we’ve seen through trailers or during this gameplay session felt much drier compared to The Messenger. Boulanger, the writer for The Messenger, confirmed that he is also the only writer for Sea of Stars as well. So, while there will be more serious tones, Sea of Stars will still have the same humor that many fans enjoyed from its predecessor.
Sea of Stars has been cemented as one of my most anticipated games this year, thanks to this preview. Sabotage Studios showed me that they know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to the RPG genre, while also making it as fun as possible. And the reason why I’m even more excited now is the same reason Sea of Stars doesn’t have a release date. The team cares and wants to be sure everything meets their standards before they release this game. And I believe Boulanger when he said this too. Just about every gameplay mechanic shown was added because the team thought it’d be fun, and it looked fun! Mechanics were added because they’d improve the player’s experience and they do look like they’re going to make 2-D RPGs better moving forward! Sabotage Studios is making their dream game, and I can’t wait to see more of that dream realized.
Sea of Stars is set to release sometime in 2022 on PC and Nintendo Switch with more platforms to be announced soon.