Sea of Stars demo preview Sabotage Studio excellent RPG Switch good as it looks

I’ve been following Sea of Stars every step of the way since its reveal back in March 2020. Sabotage Studio’s follow-up to 2018’s The Messenger, Sea of Stars is a genuine and gorgeous ode to foundational 16-bit JRPGs like Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG. And while the game’s beauty has been crystal clear in every screenshot, animated GIF, and video released, it wasn’t until the surprise demo drop alongside a solid release date of August 29, 2023 that I truly began to understand something wonderful – Sea of Stars feels every bit as good as it looks.

The demo is broken up into three sections, each one showcasing some of the core pillars of the game. The short opening has you navigating a mountainside after having newly arrived via the game’s incredible kaiju baseball transportation system. This brief section lets you get acclimated with the traversal, which has a sense of verticality to it that you didn’t normally see in those SNES inspirations. You can climb up ledges, hop off short drops, and swim in the various oceans, lakes, and ponds that you come across on your journey. Exploration is encouraged in Sea of Stars, as every time I poked around off the beaten path, I inevitably found a treasure chest filled with new weapons, armor, or cooking ingredients.

That last one is important, as I really appreciate how Sea of Stars leans into the thematic importance of crafting without forcing the player to get bogged down in menu hell. The only crafting here in the demo comes in the edible kind, as any time you come across a fire or decide you want to camp for the night, the game transitions to a wonderful little scene reminiscent of Chrono Trigger’s excellent campfire moment. Here you can chat with your party members or other NPCs who are joining you for any given adventure, hear them tell spooky stories, and get caught up on the status of your current mission.

Sea of Stars demo preview Sabotage Studio excellent RPG Switch good as it looks

But most importantly, you can channel your inner Final Fantasy XV and cook up something good at the fire, so long as you have the ingredients for any specific recipe. If you have mushrooms and dairy, you can whip up some mushroom soup that cures 40 HP to the whole party, while a handful of berries will let you make a jam that restores 6 MP. It seems like you can only hold 10 meals at a time (waste not, want not), so I dug the strategy in deciding which kinds of healing items I wanted to have with me at the moment.

The next section of the demo lets you explore the Port Town of Brisk and a bit of the surrounding overworld. This seaside village is packed with lively bars, bustling docks, and twisting alleyways to explore. While much of it is cut off to you in the demo, what’s on display seems to be Sabotage flexing just how gorgeous its pixel art truly is. There’s a sense of movement to everything, from the swaying of grass in the wind, to the soft ripples of waves hitting the shore, to townsfolk just going about their business. If every city in the game has the same beating heart as Brisk, we’re in for a treat.

Venturing outside the town is a small slice of the overworld to poke around. This includes a pond with an excellent fishing minigame that will please even our own JM8. It also contains an area called Coral Cascades that you can’t enter in the demo, but trying to do so pops up a little message from the developers encouraging you to hang out nearby so you can listen to one of the guest tracks from the great composer Yasunori Mitsuda, whose work on Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, and the various Xeno-gears/saga/blade games throughout the years is the stuff of legends. All of the music on display in the demo was great, but this track in particular was something special.

Sea of Stars demo preview Sabotage Studio excellent RPG Switch good as it looks

The final section of the demo gives you a taste of one of the game’s dungeons, filled with neat puzzles, more rewarding exploration, and a healthy dose of action. Sea of Stars’ combat system has Chrono Trigger’s brisk pace and lack of transition to a separate battle screen, all married with the situational timing bonuses of Super Mario RPG and the Mario & Luigi games, meaning that I felt engaged in every turn of every battle, as opposed to just mindlessly mashing the attack button until it was over.

I loved every second of what I got to play with Sea of Stars, but my one lingering question mostly has to do with what we haven’t seen yet. My short time with the game didn’t allow me to really get invested with the story or characters, which is one of the main things that helped make Chrono Trigger such a timeless icon. I haven’t found anything in my core party of two main heroes and their pal to latch onto in the same way that Crono’s band of chivalrous frog knights, intrepid inventors, princesses in hiding, peaceful post-apocalyptic robots, prehistoric warriors, and goth icons has stuck with me after all these years. But hey, the demo is less than an hour long, and given just how incredible every other facet of the game has been so far, I’m giving Sabotage the benefit of the doubt to win me over later on in the year.

You may also like