I find it weird that I've never once talked about Chrono Trigger in my five years of writing about games. I didn't go into it because we all know it’s one of the best video games ever. But it does dovetail quite nicely into the topic of the discussion for this post Sea of Stars. I played the demo for it a few months back and the game has been on my radar ever since. So with the release of the game onto Game Pass, I figured “Welp, that’s the next writing post taken care of”. There’s going to be some retreading since while talking about the early game, there’s a bit of overlap between what I played and what was in the demo, but there’s more narrative stuff included. So I’m mostly going to be giving a first impression of Sea of Stars’s early game in terms of the full game.
Sea of Stars was developed by Quebec City-based developer, Sabotage Studios, who were previously known for their first game, The Messenger. I’ve never played The Messenger, but I've heard that it's a damn good love letter to Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden. And you can tell that it’s the same thing here with Sea of Stars because in the near dozen or so hours I’ve put into it so far, it feels like it was made by a bunch of folks who really, really like Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.
The first way this is obvious is in the story. You play as a pair of teens named Zale and Valere. They are the two most recent Soltice Warriors, a group of heroes who use the powers of Eclipse Magic to keep their world safe from looming threats. The most recent at the time of the story’s beginning is the Fleshmancer, a powerful spellcaster who wishes to unleash the Dweller of Strife, an ancient evil sealed away long ago. The duo is joined by their childhood friend Garl, a warrior cook who trained to help his friends fulfill their destinies because he’s what we refer to as a true ride-or-die. There are others that join later, but I’m not getting into it for spoiler reasons. I like what the narrative is doing so far.
It’s not actively going out of its way to tell an ambitious story, but what’s there serves as a fun romp so far. It may get to where the Chrono games get to, with narrative beats that completely recontextualize the rest of the story, but so far, it's keeping it simple. This is good because the character dynamics and writing are carrying things for me so far. The main trio’s dynamic is so fun that I'd willing to just go through an entire slice-of-life story with Zale, Valere, and Garl. I like them very much. Small thing, but it’s also doing the thing I liked in the small bit of Chrono Cross and Pillars of Eternity 2 where the setting is in a chain of Caribbean-inspired islands as opposed to other more continental settings. I like it, I think it’s neat.
The gameplay also takes cues from the Chrono games in one way. There’s a lock and weakness system that, while not the same as the absolutely wild Elements system in Chrono Cross, does do quite about to keep things interesting. The use of Solar and Lunar magic on top of slashing and bludgeoning in the early game all serve to make combat encounters feel like puzzles that need to be solved before you can fully wreck shop. Granted, while the game outright tells you what you gotta do, it's not a deal breaker. This is done on top of the timing-based offence and defence AND the Live Mana system where you can have characters absorb mana that falls out of struck enemies to empower their attacks and spells AND the Combo attacks that are basically just Tech Attacks. All of these come together to make a combat system that can be very good, if a little overwhelming when you first get into it.
All of this was in the demo that was released back in the previous Next Fest, and it all holds true here. It does open up more but I can't get into it because of spoilers, Trust me, it opens up. There’s also one last pillar of the game and that’s the survival mechanics. Sea of Stars treats exploration as a thing that needs to be treated as something equally vital to the experience as combat and the story. While the level design does do its best to make for wild areas that can navigated as challenges, for the most part, it amounts to mostly making food that can be used as healing items by collecting ingredients out in the wild and cooking them. And that’s fine.
So far, Sea of Stars feels like it is doing a good job of being a good homage to Chrono Trigger. While the early goings so far have the narrative not being as interesting as those games, I get the feeling that it's going to pick up eventually. And in the event that it doesn’t? I’ll more than gladly stick with it for the gameplay that going on at the moment.