When I first started up the new demo for Sea of Stars, the upcoming indie RPG that draws inspiration from classics like Chrono Trigger, I wasn’t hooked after my first battle. Its combat system confused me at first, with shifting type weaknesses and a mana pool that somehow felt like it was only an inch deep. Only after I read about the combat in-depth did I learn to appreciate its quirks, like its signature “lock” system. If only it teased a more emotionally gripping story, I’d be convinced it’s worth playing from the start to end.
Sabotage Studio’s latest project serves as a prequel to its other game, The Messenger. Our heroes, Zale and Valere, are the only ones capable of using Eclipse Magic, a special power capable of defeating the Fleshmancer’s monsters. It’s up to the two protagonists to stop their foe with their combined powers — something that Sabotage takes care to highlight in the demo with the aforementioned combat.
Sea of Stars blends just the right amount of traditional and modern gameplay in its battles. Players can directly choose if a character attacks, casts a spell, or uses an item during their turn. Each character has a mana bar that refills whenever they use their normal attacks, as well as skills that they can cast when they have enough MP. Ideally, the player should take advantage of type weaknesses. Attacks charge a combo meter that lets characters use dual attacks, which sometimes hit more weaknesses than the characters can on their own.
That’s where Sea of Stars‘ “lock” feature comes in. Locks are the rows of blocks that sometimes appear above an enemy before it unleashes a special attack. The blocks have symbols for the four types of attacks, including Sun and Moon magic. If you hit the enemy with the types of attacks as listed, then it will weaken its attack or, if you break all the locks, cancel the attack altogether. It’s much easier to break the locks with skills and combo attacks. Still, breaking locks is meant to be a bonus and is not necessary to complete the game.
Some attacks, like Valere’s Moonerang, also need timed button presses to increase damage. These prompts makes the player an active participant in the fight with the real-time button presses, even after they select which move to use. It’s a bit of a chore to figure out how to break locks from context clues, so I’d advise that you read the “how to play section” from the Sea of Stars title screen if you plan on playing the demo. For those who want to focus on the story, there’s also an accessibility option that boosts HP and regenerates health after battles.
The combat and puzzle-solving portions of the demo hint at a game with a solid mechanical skeleton. I can’t help but feel it’s lacking personality based on what I’ve played, though.
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Demos aren’t fully indicative of a final game. They just give players a taste of what to expect in 30 minutes to 60 minutes. Sea of Stars focuses on gameplay in its demo but doesn’t offer as much insight into its story or characters. Zale and Valere don’t seem to have much difference between their personalities, to the point where I wouldn’t be able to distinguish their dialogue from each other if they weren’t labeled. Meanwhile, their friend Garl clearly comes off as the happy-go-lucky type, but without much to differentiate him from similar archetypes.
Of course, the game has some clear personality in the form of humor. You can see it in some of the NPC lines, including the poor fellow at the bar who needed a large coffee for their finals. I didn’t feel emotionally attached to anything happening because there weren’t any stakes to get attached to right away, though. The gameplay is clean, but a little too sterile without the juicier parts of the story.
If you’re an RPG aficionado, it’s worth poking into the Nintendo Switch demo to see for yourself how it all plays out. It should take about an hour of your time, even with some light wandering — maybe longer if you want to talk to every single NPC and wipe out a couple of times. If you do pop in, don’t miss the Coral Cascades region outside of town. It lets you listen to Chrono Trigger composer Yasunori Mitsuda’s first guest track in the game.
Sea of Stars will launch for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch on August 29, 2023. The demo is only available for Nintendo Switch right now, but Sabotage confirmed it would be coming to Steam at a later date.