Just as The Messenger drew inspiration from Ninja Gaiden and the classic Metroidvania formula, Sea of Stars borrows heavily from classic RPGs like Chrono Trigger, Breath of Fire, and Illusion of Gaia. While this may seem like a jarring leap between such distinct genres, Sabotage says this was the plan going in. “We’ve been wanting to make an RPG all along, but it just was too ambitious as a first project and too risky to arrive with no name for ourselves and propose such a big project,” says CEO and creative director Thierry Boulanger. “We wanted to start building interest about this world. We’re slowly telling the important story arcs of that world, one game at a time. The game genre that we use is always the best way to tell whichever story that we’re telling. For The Messenger, it was a platformer because it was just one character and a more linear, straightforward mission; now it’s all about exploration, a party of six people, and higher stakes, so the RPG is kind of indicated there.”
Sea of Stars takes the world of The Messenger, which was flooded to the point there was only one island remaining, and lowers the tide as we travel back hundreds of thousands of years to a time where you could hop from island to island and explore the various communities that existed on them. In the video presentation I saw, I witnessed a vibrant colony of humanoid seahorses, a group of gorillas hidden deep in a dark cavern, and a cult of lizard assassins working to resurrect their evil goddess. All the while, the threat of a flesh monster who can manipulate bone, blood, and flesh to create abominations to do his bidding looms.
To fight off the flesh monster’s creations, the world looks to Children of the Solstice, guardians who were born on either the summer or winter solstice and acquire the power of the sun or moon. At the beginning of the adventure, you choose to play as either Valere, a girl imbued with the power of the moon and carries a heavy-hitting staff, or Zale, a boy harnessing the power of the sun who uses his agility to blade dance. Regardless of the character you choose, the story remains largely unchanged, and the other protagonist remains in your party and plays a crucial role in combat, solving puzzles, and traversing the world.
During the presentation, I see how two characters play off each other in exploration. As the two protagonists come to a head-shaped stone formation with a moon symbol in the top, the two characters manipulate the time of day into night, illuminate the symbol, and open the door to reveal an enemy scorpion monster to fight.
Battles play out in typical turn-based fashion, but they are far from passive affairs relying solely on random-number generators. By timing your inputs in conjunction with when your attack animation occurs, you can inflict more damage to your target. Conversely, if you time your defensive input with your assailant’s animation, you can mitigate the damage done to you. In addition, when you cast a spell, it sometimes requires certain inputs to maximize the spell’s effectiveness. For example, in one battle I saw, Zale casts a Sunball attack, but before he blasts the fireball at the enemy, the UI prompts the player to mash a given button as much as possible within a given window.
When an enemy goes to cast a spell, it broadcasts a series of attacks you can perform to neutralize the incoming spell. In a different battle, the soon-to-be-casting enemy displays two moon symbols, a sun symbol, and a sword symbol over its head. This means that for every attack that matches those symbols, the spell will be weaker. Sabotage hopes all of these, when combined with the standard elemental weaknesses and interchangeable battle party, delivers a turn-based system that elevates beyond what other titles in the space have done.
One pain point for a lot of RPG players is the grinding requirements present in a lot of traditional titles. Sabotage wanted to ease that pain by making it more about your battle plan and skill in executing your moves than how much time and repetition you put into the battles leading up to that. “Grinding, at least in my opinion, can be tedious,” Boulanger says. “You still have progression; through combat, you still upgrade your character, but you’re always moving the story forward. The game is shorter, but you end up playing it more because you have no friction in replaying it because it’s never a task. It’s constantly moving forward. For us, grinding is probably so you spend more time in the game, but you’ll spend even more time in the game if you want to play it two or three times.”
While I didn’t get my hands on Sea of Stars, the gameplay footage shown to me was gorgeous and engaging. The battle system looks to experiment in interesting ways without alienating turn-based combat fans such as myself. When combined with meaningful exploration and a beautiful world full of mystery, I’m looking forward to learning more about Sabotage’s next title.
Sabotage launches its Sea of Stars Kickstarter campaign today. If you’d like to contribute to it or learn more about the project, head here. The title is still early in development, so players should expect to wait until 2022 before being able to add the game to their PC or consoles.