Sea of Stars has been turning heads since it was first revealed, and for justifiable reasons. Stellar pixel art aside, the music of this title is composed by the legendary Yasunori Mitsuda, who many will know from the Chrono and Xeno franchises, as well as more niche hits like Stella Glow. And if those traits weren’t enough, the combat takes notes from classics, like Super Mario RPG, with its timing-based attacks and defenses in turn-based contexts. As a result, I’ve possessed lofty expectations for Sea of Stars for years, and this recently released demo on the Switch eShop has only solidified my hopes.
The Sea of Stars demo primarily focuses on gameplay mechanics rather than story. During the hour or so spent with the game, I was able to experience combat, exploration, and fishing, gotta have fishing. Granted, there are some narrative moments, but this isn’t a place for character-building as much of it provides the surface-level basis without divulging the cast’s individual backgrounds and conflicts.
Still, the personalities of three playable characters are on display so we get a brief taste of what to expect ahead of the full adventure. Valere, for instance, appears to have a stoic front, while Garl is quite carefree and doesn’t seem to take things personally.
Moving on, the demo houses a partially obstructed area of town players can explore, and despite the full area not being available, there are some rewarding pathways and treasures to find if one takes the time to inspect the map, including a hidden shop. Additionally, the NPCs are aplenty, so the whole locale is pretty homely. Then, the world map is teased, and aside from my wishing for swifter movement, it looks brilliant, with the sleeping dragon in the top left being quite standout.
The world map leads to two areas aside from the town, a fishing spot and the dungeon required for the story. As someone who loves fishing in video games, I wasted no time making my way to the water. Fishing took me some time to fully understand, but once I did, it became addicting. After throwing the lure and hook, a fish latches on immediately if they’re in the vicinity, and the reeling occurs. However, the actual reeling must only be done while the struggling fish is in the range of the glowing zone. Trying to reel when the fish is outside that zone will break the line more quickly than usual, emphasizing timing.
Further, the dungeon left me impressed. It contains simple yet effective puzzle designs, utilizing familiar elements, such as block pushing and color combinations, always feeling perfectly paced. And those who think out of the box can also find a few optional rooms with substantial rewards and challenges, notably valuable equipment. Finally, combat is where I had the most significant learning curve. As stated before, these turn-based bouts feature the ability to time one’s attacks and defensive maneuvers to enhance their efficacy.
The game doesn’t make it clear if your timing is correct, so I was confused for a bit, though distinct audio cues and animations will clue you in. Once I noticed these subtle design choices, I had no difficulty spotting the success or failure of my inputs, yet I do wish it was a tad clearer simply so beginner players could be aware without dealing with a potential guessing game. However, the character attributes and skills all coalesce in brilliant ways across each encounter.
To elaborate, select skills require unique button prompts to trigger, and enemies will occasionally have locks presenting the affinities they must be struck with for their defenses to falter. Knowing how to properly balance your party’s resources and items is required when going on the offense. Other elements, including the Boost function for greater attack power and the Combo gauges to enable special attacks, add spice to keep everything consistently fresh.
Thankfully, the demo’s boss will demand a certain level of parsed mastery of these mechanics, providing an immensely rewarding endeavor. Simply put, the more I played, the more hooked I became; Sabotage Studio has truly crafted a masterful combat system here that I can’t wait to experience more of.
I’ve said all that I need to say about Sea of Stars. It’s like it gave me a pile of those scrumptious Red Lobster biscuits and left right before I could devour my entree. Make no mistake, Sabotage Studio, I will be eagerly awaiting your full course on August 2023.
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