A 16-bit Love Letter to the Past: Sea of Stars

A marriage of of old school design with a touch of modern. Is it just a work of art or will the gameplay match the visuals?

a year ago

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February 8, 2023 brought us a  Nintendo Direct with a number of fun announcements. One of these announcements, square in the middle of the Direct, was “Sea of Stars” finally getting its release date of August 29, 2023. A JRPG in the vein of Chrono Trigger and other 16-bit classics, this game was announced a couple of years ago and has been grabbing the attention of JRPG fans all over the world. The development which has been crowd funded, has already raised roughly $1.3 Million and the studio behind it, “Sabotage Studio” already has a previous hit, “The Messenger” a wonderful call back to old school Metroidvania games in its design. On top of that they have a guest musical producer, Yasunori Matsuda known for his work in “Chrono Trigger” and the “Xenoblade Chronicles” series. Many believe this could add up to a possible game of the year, putting it in the conversation with Zelda and Starfield, and with this most recent trailer they finally let us have a little taste! A free demo was announced for “Sea of Stars” available now for Nintendo switch and coming to other platforms in the future. I dove straight into the demo and now I’m here to discuss my thoughts. Is it everything fans are hoping for?

World Design

The demo is a cross section taken from somewhere in the middle of the game rather than the very beginning. I like this decision, allowing us to really get a feel for the gameplay we will be dealing with once the pace picks up. Jumping right in you pick one of two characters known as solstice warriors, and then it starts out with the party landing on a new “continent” or map section throwing the player right in with no tutorial. Come to find out that is what the "how to play" section was for on the title screen. With that said the game was very easy to jump right into and the sense of wonder I immediately had getting to explore this world was overflowing! Right away the music and the lighting and design of this little 16-bit world drew me in. There are even two paths you can take at the start; one quite obvious and the other not so much, but just enough is shown for you to end up back tracking for a cave and a hidden chest of gold. As you progress through the demo you will get to experience a bar, a small sea town, a fishing lake, and a dungeon. The designs have such a fun range but somehow always keeps a cozy feel about them. The dynamic lighting used in this engine is really what brings it all to life.  I found myself running around in the different lighting scenarios mesmerized by how fluid and beautiful everything looked. This is where the modernization of this genre can really be seen and I love this mix of 16-bit design mixed with modern game engines and quality of life features.

Basic Gameplay

Navigation is simple, but fun when paired with the world design. You navigate with the left joystick and the “A” button acts as your action button, allowing you to jump over small gaps and climb up ladders and ledges. The puzzles that can be found in the world and dungeons incorporate verticality and depth for a fun mini challenge, and there are even blocks that can be moved by pressing “Y” to use essentially a force push, in order to explore areas and solve the puzzles. The over world used for traveling between towns and dungeons is very reminiscent of any old school 16-bit JRPG, though I hope they revisit the movement speed as it feels a bit too slow.

Something the developers nailed in this demo, a sign of an excellent JRPG; the fishing mini game. There is a fishing lake you can access from the overworld to test the fishing out. You will cast your line out controlling where it goes with the left stick and pressing “A” when you want it to drop into the water. If the line is cast in the sight line of a fish, they will grab on and the challenge begins. Using the left stick pull left and right to fight with the fish until it is in the lit up zone. Only use “A” to reel the fish in when it is in that zone otherwise the line will break. It is simple in concept but a fun little challenge in practice and the reward of a cooked fish will come in handy when cooking a more complex dish or eating as is in battle.

That leads into the merchants in the sea town. Buying and selling food and gear will clearly become a large mechanic in this world. There is even a secret merchant that can be found in the sea side town if you explore enough, and I think he might have an item to be purchased only in the demo based on what one of the townspeople had to say. Buying food from the merchants will become quite important before heading into large dungeons. Cooking meals with goods from the town seems to be the best way to restore mana and HP, something you will probably be in need of in longer battles.


Last but certainly not least was the combat. This can be described as action-timed turn based combat. At its core the simple turn based party system combat seems like many JRPGs of the past but when you add in the action-timed mechanics it becomes so much more! If you press “A” at just the right time even during a basic attack the characters will deal extra damage or critical hits. On top of that, skills like the moon boomerang (moonerang) can be bounced back at enemies over and over again with well timed button presses, and a sun blast attack can be charged up and released at the perfect moment for maximum damage. Button presses at specific moments can even reduce damage from a powerful enemy attack. This alone feels so rewarding when done right in combat, but there is even more. As enemies start to charge up powerful attacks, they will reveal symbols above them telling you what attacks to use on them to essentially stagger them making them unable to attack or outright defeat them. It isn’t as easy as it sounds though, requiring well timed attacks and specific combos between your characters. If you need to recharge mana points for a turn you will be out of luck so there is a fine balance that needs to be struck knowing when to use skills requiring mana, combos, or just basic attacks. Food can help you restore HP and MP(mana points) as stated above, but you can also just use basic attacks to slowly recharge your MP and even recharge faster with critical hits from the action-timed attacks. All and all this leads to a very in depth addicting loop that I can’t wait to see fully fleshed out in the final release.

Closing Thoughts

Though it barely took an hour to complete the demo, it gave us just the right taste to leave me wanting more. “Sea of Stars” will be released on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 & 5, and PC via Steam on August 29th, 2023, and the price is not yet known. Are you planning to pick this up? Let us know in the comments below, or come hang out in our Discord and discuss all the games on your list this year!

P.S. If you enjoyed this, check out the article on how to defeat your gaming backlog along with me this year.

Michael Dhalle

Published a year ago


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