Those who have played through Sabotage's The Messenger may remember seeing a lot of references to that world's past. Sun and moon symbology all over, along with references to solstice heroes of the past. It was a fascinating look into that world's history, a history that Sabotage is ready to explore more in-depth with its next project, Sea of Stars.
Sea of Stars will take place in the same world as The Messenger, but it is very much not like the 2018 platformer. This is a turn-based RPG built with the Unity engine. What The Messenger was to old-school platformers like Ninja Gaiden, Sea of Stars is to classic role-playing games in the vein of Super Mario RPG. In fact, the resemblance to the beloved 1996 Square Enix/Nintendo collaboration is evident throughout Sea of Stars. Shacknews recently had an opportunity to check out an early build of Sabotage's next project.
Whereas The Messenger took place on a lone island, Sea of Stars goes back to a time when there were many islands. The Fleshmancer is an evil alchemist, using his power to unleash towering monsters into the world. The only ones who can stand against the evil Fleshmancer are the Children of the Solstice. They are special warriors, born on the solstices with the power of the sun or the moon. Valere is the moon girl, who can wield lunar magic. Zale is the sun boy, capable of fighting with solar magic. Together, they combine their power to create eclipse magic to fight the Fleshmancer's forces.
Players can pick between Valere or Zale as their primary character, but both Children of the Solstice will be part of the primary party. Dialogue might be tweaked depending on who takes the lead, but the fight against the Fleshmancer will nonetheless see the two fight together. They'll meet up with other characters along the way, with four more playable characters joining the party by the end of the story (Three will battle at a time, though other party members can tag in and out). For the purposes of this demo, the party only consisted of Valere and Zale.
There are no Final Fantasy-style random battles in Sea of Stars, so if you see an enemy and wish to avoid a battle, you can walk around it. Those who do want to fight won't have to worry about transitioning to a dedicated battle screen or loading into a battle phase. Battles begin immediately, right then and there, offering a more streamlined experience. Inspired by the aforementioned Super Mario RPG, Sea of Stars operates on a "Timed Hits" system. Whenever a character attacks, they can hit a button at a certain time to inflict more damage or strike more than once. If a character is being attacked, hitting a button at the right time can reduce or even nullify damage.
Sabotage does offer a few of its own wrinkles into the RPG battle system. Some more powerful enemies, such as "elite" minions that act as something between normal enemies and bosses, are capable of casting powerful spells. Whenever they attempt to cast a spell, a series of icons will appear over their heads. This offers an indicator of how long the party has to prepare for this attack, but if they attack with the magic-type that matches those icons, they can reduce the spell's damage or even interrupt it. For example, one elite enemy had two moon icons over their head, but Valere was able to hit one of her special lunar attacks multiple times and diminished the spell's power greatly. Some enemies will be weak to one type of magic and immune to the other, at which point the weaker party member can focus on boosting their partner's magic in order to capitalize on the enemy's weakness.
Boss battles will unfold similarly to normal battles, but Sabotage wants to put together something a little more special. Bosses will battle in multiple phases, with CEO/Creative Director Thierry Boulanger and Executive Producer Philip Barclay noting that they can evolve as the battle goes on. So don't expect the start of a boss battle to look the same by the time it ends.
The most important item to note about Sea of Stars' battle system is that there is no character leveling. Sabotage is aiming to eliminate the idea of grinding to take on powerful enemies, noting that players are capable of taking down any foe, as long as they have the right game plan. Dying against an elite or a boss means going back and assessing what went wrong, rather than going back into the field and grinding more levels.
RPG battles are only one piece of the formula in Sea of Stars. Exploration will be heavily encouraged, as Valere and Zale explored a big chunk of Watcher Island and uncovered a number of secret areas and hidden items. The world will also be filled with puzzles that either hide the way forward or open the door to different paths entirely. In keeping with the game's overarching theme, a day/night cycle will be in place, with certain events only available during the day or night. Eventually, players will reach a point where the day/night cycle can be controlled manually, which will help with certain puzzles that require both solar and lunar magic to solve.
While the entirety of the demo took place on Watcher Island, players will have much more to explore. That's why Sea of Stars will feature a sailing mechanic. This was not available during our demo, but Sabotage is looking to craft engaging sailing mechanics to make going from place-to-place more fun. "Nothing should ever be a task," Boulanger said during our demo. Look for more details on sailing in the future.
In fact, there's a lot about Sea of Stars that's subject to change in the future. The game is very early in development, with Boulanger and Barclay noting that a release is years away. In that time, expect to learn more about sailing, companions, magic and abilities, and the rest of the game's story. Given what Sabotage has been able to pull off with The Messenger, RPG fans should be excited about the studio giving that genre the same treatment. Sea of Stars is estimated to release in 2022 with a Kickstarter going up today. For more, check out the Sea of Stars website.