Sea of Stars is Shaping Up to Be 2023’s GOTY Contender
Sea of Star currently sits at a score of 90 on OpenCritic’s website, which lists the best video games of 2023 so far. It initially scored 95, putting it in third place behind The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Baldur’s Gate 3, but 90 is still a strong start. Sea of Star’s developer—Sabotage—previously worked on The Messenger, a delightful Metroidvania that blended 8-bit and 16-bit graphics.
Table of Contents
Ahead of its launch, critics are hugely impressed with the indie RPG. Inspired by the JRPGS from the SNES era, Sea of Stars is pure eye candy. In recent years, we’ve seen many of these games that recreate those 16-bit sprites and vistas slapped together with some catchy chiptunes that make turn-based battles a pleasure to go through for hours. While Sea of Star does all of those things, it’s also much more than that.
The best way to describe Sea of Stars is that it’s akin to a great genre film made by a skilled director. Everything looks and feels familiar—you might also know what to expect and could probably predict major plot points—but it doesn’t hinder your experience and enjoyment.
Overtly inspired by some of the greatest 16-bit RPGs of all time, like Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG, Sea of Stars tells the journey of a group of friends through a (somewhat) bite-sized adventure worth 25 hours. The plot centers around two Solstice Warriors—children delivered by a magical eagle instead of via traditional childbirth. These warriors can control the power of the sun and moon. The adventure starts off small at first, such as defeating a monster. But things don’t take long to get bigger than everyone could imagine.
From a narrative point of view, Sea of Starts uses many of the archetypes of the turn-based RPGs we’re used to, taking bits from genre staples like the Final Fantasy games. But that doesn’t mean Sea of Stars is but a carbon copy of these older games. They do minute shifts here and there to keep things fresh while still giving nods to the olden RPGs.
Sea of Stars’ combat is where the game truly shines. On a base level, you have your standard three-person party, all of whom can use melee attacks and special skills that require MP. However, the ‘Lock’ system turns things up a notch. The Lock system showcases the number of turns you have until the enemy attacks, and you can execute specific actions to stop an enemy’s special attack from occurring.
You’ll see what kind of attacks—like sharp, sun, moon, or blunt—must happen before the enemy’s special attack occurs. By knocking these requirements out, you can cancel the special attack altogether. It’s vital that you keep an eye on this especially during boss battles, and the system adds another strategic layer to proceedings beyond the usual turn-based mechanics.
Sea of Stars is a turn-based RPG refined by its inspirations. It concentrates what the genre offers into its best form, particularly when it comes to grinding and level progression. Now, RPGs are often notorious for the amount of leveling up you have to do. This goes especially when you know you’re about to face a boss. I’m happy to say that grinding is seldom required in Sea of Stars; the pacing against your level is perfectly matched.
This small QoL improvement tumbles down into the other nuances of the game. Equipping and selling items that have just been unequipped from a shop, rather than sifting through your inventory and returning to the shop menu again, should be utilized by more titles beyond Golden Sun. Even if you’re in the 25 to 30-hour mark, Sea of Stars respects your time in a way that many AAA games today don’t.
Most games nowadays try to replicate the look and feel of their retro counterparts, but only some manage to do as well as Sea of Stars. Sabotage’s second title is more than just a throwback to folks who love 16-bit RPGs. It’s also an excellent entry point for people unfamiliar with the genre. I mean it when I say that Sea of Stars took the best parts of the best RPGs and got rid of the annoyances that hindered those earlier games that influenced it. The meticulously crafted world in Sabotage’s latest release is a joy to dive into.