Bite Sized Thoughts: Blasphemous 2
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Bite Sized Reviews: Sea of Stars
This took me longer than I would have liked. The last few months have been intense on a personal and hobbyist level. Lots of things happening behind the scenes, most of it health-related. I haven’t been able to create as much content as I would like. It sucks, but it is life.
On the plus side, there are so many great games around that I’m spoiled for choice. August was a massive month for gaming. I’m already gearing up for Phantom Liberty, and as someone who loved Cyberpunk 2077 — I am ready for it. Paleo Pines also looks gorgeous. Hell yeah, cosy games! Not that Cyberpunk is cosy, seeing how messed up that world is. Anyhow, onto the topic at hand, Sea of Stars!
Sea of Stars was one of the games I was looking forward to most in 2023. Big thanks to the developers at Sabotage Studios for providing me with a review code for their new game. Previously known for The Messenger, Sea of Stars is a gigantic leap forward. Based on my impressions so far, Sea of Stars largely hits the right buttons for me. I don’t even like JRPGs that much, but there’s something about Sea of Stars that drives me to keep playing.
First — I love this game’s visual design. I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I did, but every environmental piece breathes life. This is only enhanced by the animations. From the little quirks my characters make when they prepare an attack, the thinking expression on Garl’s face as he searches his backpack for snacks (also my favourite character in the game by far), and the diverse enemies, there’s so much love added just by this. Everything looks great, and with the custom lighting system, Sea of Stars might be the most gorgeous pixel-art game I’ve played this year.
As a JRPG, Sea of Stars opens slowly. We’re introduced to the Children of Solstice, about to journey up a great mountain for their trial. Then the game jumps into a flashback that’s essentially a big training montage. That took me a little by surprise — there’s a lot of dialogue and tutorial sequences during the Solstice Warrior arc. I probably would have preferred the game ignoring the flashbacks.
These two teen heroes Zale and Valere introduced me to their childhood friend Garl, and I was worried that we’ll never see Garl again after the introduction. This cheerful, food-loving chap deserved to go on the adventures too! So, you can imagine how happy I was when Garl returned after the montage, joining his friends, and even holding his own in battle! The story is classic JRPG. These children are chosen to defeat a great evil known as ‘The Fleshmancer’. So yes, not the most original thing out there, but hey, Fleshmancer is a pretty cool name for an evil force. That’s something in its favour.
Speaking of combat, I like how Sea of Stars handles it. There are no random encounters — every battle is telegraphed in the overworld, allowing players the chance to prepare. They also respawn so grinding up the experience isn’t a pain in the arse. There are the classic turn-based gubbins of the battle system, with our Solstice Warriors providing the backbone of player power. Combining the power of the sun and moon to create Eclipse Magic to overcome enemies, the combat is the right balance for me. It has some challenges to overcome — I got royally smacked around during the Owl boss fight for some time until I worked out the tactics to win that fight, but overall, well done. Even Garl can do pretty well, throwing giant enemies around and serving as the team healer.
While there aren’t quick time events in combat, players are rewarded for timing their attacks correctly. Holding down the attack button with Zale’s fireball attack will increase its power, while Velere’s moon boomerang can strike multiple targets with the right timing. I would have preferred it if this wasn’t in the game, but it’s not difficult to pull off and it does allow for variance in battle. This also applies to blocking attacks, taking less damage with successful timing. While I was frequently slapped down in fights, the player doesn’t lose until all three characters are down at once. The game automatically revives your team at some stage, so it is pretty fair in handling challenges. While it’s not an easy game, it’s not bullshit either. Just kill those damn insects before they multiply!
It’s not just combat and pretty visuals. The exploration part of Sea of Stars is pretty impressive too — the player will jump, climb and run across vast swathes of land. Imagine my shock when after the Owl trial, my team was grabbed by a giant rock…. Thing, and thrown to the destination. A catapult as a traversing system was pretty cool. When exploring, you can grab ingredients that can be used for cooking meals at campsites. Campsites serve as the save system as well as a way to regain full health and magic points — while I would prefer to save anytime, there are plenty of these save checkpoints in the world, so you’ll never feel too far away from one. There are the usual little villages and shops scattered around the world, and you can fish. All games are better with fishing.
It’s early days, but I cannot help but be impressed by Sea of Stars. It’s not perfect of course — the story isn’t winning any awards, and while I love Garl’s character, I don’t feel much for either Zale or Valere right now. They are just… there. Not a bad thing and I’m sure they’ll change my mind as I play further. I haven’t had any major performance issues, but occasionally the characters will bug out on certain terrain. This isn’t a big bug and doesn’t affect gameplay — they will catch up with your lead character. There’s no risk of fighting a host of termites or bulls alone! Still, this is something I hope they fix.
I’ve rambled on enough today, I think. So much for ‘bite-sized reviews, huh?’ Sea of Stars is lovely, and while I don’t think it beats Chained Echoes, it’s a gorgeous pixel JRPG that oozes passion from the creators. If you’re a fan of turn-based combat or JRPGs at all, Sea of Stars is an easy recommendation.
A beautiful JRPG that oozes care and charm from every orifice
Main characters lack something to me so far. Story does not break any ground
No tedious grinding, combat is surprisingly enjoyable
A few movement glitches, although these are minor
Garl is precious character bean and must be protected at all costs