Sea of Stars Review — Classically inspired, modernly brilliant

Sea of Stars tells a story worth telling, with phenominal characters and improvements on classic systems that even an RPG hater would have fun with.
Sea Of Stars Featured

Sea of Stars is a turn-based RPG inspired by retro classics. Fantastic art, great world-building, and an innovative twist on classic RPG gameplay will reel you in, but what really hooks you is the game’s phenomenally well-written characters and the inspiring relationship between them. Sea of Stars will take you on a memorable and exciting journey, and I hope to set you down that path with this review of my time with this crowdfunded gem.

Sea of Stars opens with the choice between two characters, Zale and Valere, warriors who represent the Sun and Moon, respectively. Though this might be a bit of a daunting choice right off the bat, knowing nothing about these characters, you’ll be glad to know that the two of them are together for the vast majority of the game, and picking one won’t deprive you of learning about the other. These two are the Warriors of Solstice, magic-wielding celestial warriors who were trained to defend the world against the evil of the Fleshmancer.

Sea Of Stars Early Battle
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

The game opens up said training, showing us Zale and Valere as kids in a small town built around a temple. Said temple houses and trains the Solstice warriors, teaching them incredibly important skills in combat, magic, and (of course) sewing so that they may defeat the Fleshmancer’s minions. Zale and Valere are particularly rare and gifted individuals, delivered to the town by a great eagle as babies. They are eager to begin their own training, something their idols, the previous warriors of the solstice, seem opposed to.

You’ll spend about the first hour of the game learning about the intense, ten-year-long training the two go through. Along the way, you’ll learn the game’s basic mechanics and also see how the life they so eagerly set down isolates them from normality. This section serves to build an attachment to these characters and set up the bigger picture of what’s to come, and it does it incredibly well. Two hours into the game, I was already completely attached to our protagonists and feeling the effect of one particularly heartwarming moment that came early.

Like any good RPG, the story is strong and has a great mix of humor and drama. Its particular strength is in the friendship and dynamic between our protagonists, which I was invested in thanks to some clever writing, especially around one character I’ve yet to mention. Also, like any good fantasy setting, the world is super unique and highly fleshed out and interesting. I never got tired of learning of the traditions and histories of the world, and the ideas behind some of the magic systems were particularly interesting.

Also, using the sun and the moon as an aesthetic is a time-worn, proven recipe for success. It just works.

Sea Of Stars Friendship
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

There are many RPG classics, the inspirations for Sea of Stars, with memorable stories and characters. However, where Sea of Stars really stands out is with its innovative turn-based combat, building off of an improvement on the familiar tried and true systems with modern upgrades that make the game feel so much better. One of the hardest parts of playing classic RPGs for me is often the combat, but I can safely say I don’t have that issue with Sea of Stars.

Fundamentally Sea of Stars combat encounters are familiar. You walk into an enemy, and turn-based combat starts, with each side going after the other and using a series of skills and attacks to claim victory. Familiar, like I said, but in the execution is where things get really creative.

First of all, combat encounters don’t have any screen transition or level load. When you encounter enemies on the map, the fight starts right there, with both sides snapping to positions opposite each other on the spot. This transition is great and feels immersive while also cutting down on unnecessary load times present in some RPGs (I’m thinking about YIIK as I type this.) It doesn’t always look super right, sometimes putting your allies in front of your attacks, but it has no effect on combat and is usually good.

As I mentioned above, you have your standard basic attack action and some skills, which are thematically and mechanically unique for each character. Pretty standard, however, the game switches things up with an element of Quick Time Events (QTEs) that reward a player for good reaction times and learning animation frames. By pressing space before an attack hits, you can initiate a combo that double-strikes your enemy for extra damage and effects. When an attack hits you, properly timing space before being hit blocks the attack for reduced damage.

Sea Of Stars Trials
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Your spells also function in a similar way, gaining bonus effects based on good reaction time. This can be a little trickier, like deflecting Valere’s moon-a-rang to get an extra hit, or it can be simple, like holding the space bar to charge Zale’s sunball. Zale’s spells are the most fun to use, and I love nuking enemies with a blast from the sun.

Your foes have spells too, which are pretty powerful and can wipe your party if you aren’t careful. Thankfully, the game allows you to break their concentration by hitting them with the right combination of attacks before the spell goes off. This adds a depth of strategy to the game and rewards you for focusing on the correct targets, not just with higher damage, but preventing damage to yourself.

These are just some of the many mechanics that get switched up and improved on in Sea of Stars. From alternatives to going down in combat to special attack buffs to creative cooking and healing item gathering, the game is absolutely packed with little clever twists on mechanics. Overall, it feels a lot faster, innovative, and fun than many turn-based RPGs out there.

Sea Of Stars Sea Of Water
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention the beautiful pixel art of Sea of Stars. I am super grateful for my job as a reviewer, as it’s exposed me to so many modern classics with fantastic art direction, especially when it comes to pixel games. Sea of Stars sprites are gorgeous to look at, be it with the super animated characters who portray emotion and humor through their expressions and movements, to sailing a ship across a sea of wonderful pixelated water.

The game also features a wonderful hand-drawn area that further brings the characters to life beyond their already expressive sprites.

Sea Of Stars Cutscene
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

The Final Word

Sea of Stars is a fantastic RPG that pays homage to its inspiration while standing out on its own. A beautiful world and a story that’ll captivate anyone, this is truly a game I recommend to all audiences. Even those who aren’t a fan of turn-based RPGs will find something to enjoy in this game, which cleverly innovates on classic gameplay and delivers a title worth truly trying for yourself.

10

Try Hard Guides was provided with a PC review copy of this game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Sea of Stars is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation.

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges is a hobby writer and a professional gamer, at least if you asked him. He has been writing fiction for over 12 years and gaming practically since birth, so he knows exactly what to nitpick when dissecting a game's story. When he isn't reviewing games, he's probably playing them.

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