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Sea of Stars

YMMV on whether the explanation for the Messenger shenanigans was satisfactory (the creators didn't realize at the time how horrible Jordan Peterson was, and they've been pretty strong trans allies in the time since), but for me it was (people deserve the chance to learn and grow), and this game is incredible. I'm 2/3 of the way through and it's all the best parts of the golden age of RPGs (1991-2001 aka SNES and PS1 era), with a battle system that is tough at first but once you learn it you can break bosses over your knee. The soundtrack is no slouch either. Songshroom Marsh did not have to go this hard.



Internet's foremost Bertolli cosplayer
I too have been enjoying the adventures of best boy Garl and his try-hard friends. I've been loving it from the jump and have only positive things to say. It has been consistently surprisingly and delightful, as it constantly mixes things up to keep them fresh. I have no idea how far through it I am, but I have 56/60 conches so I'm going to assume I'm in the final... quarter(?), even though I still haven't been to a bunch of places. And my SO has been playing it too, since the modular difficulty nature of the relic system has made it accessible for her in a way that it wouldn't otherwise be.

Just to summarize stuff on the game that I've posted elsewhere:
  • I need everyone to know that the second enemy in the game is a delightful bit of French wordplay: Roche = rock, Chèvre = goat, Rochèvre = rock goat.
  • I've really enjoyed the story and found it genuinely surprising, but more than that I find the core combat endlessly satisfying. The MP recharge and live mana systems take the most boring thing you can do in a JRPG, a basic attack, and make it an interesting strategic decision, while the locks system makes every turn in an interesting optimization puzzle, and I love optimization puzzles. It's very satisfying to entirely lock a boss down.
  • Brisk is just an amazingly well-designed area, a really fun toy box. I love it when my RPG towns are Easter egg hunts, and Brisk only gets more impressive as the game goes on, since it remixes itself several times, and each is an iteration on the previous, and by the end it's been rearranged in a sensible way that still allows access to all of the well-hidden chests and rooms so that you're not locked out despite the radical restructuring.
Anyway, 10/10, would get sad about baking bread again.

Rascally Badger

El Capitan de la outro espacio
I am not quite as 100% all in on the game as you fellows seem to be, but I am enjoying it. I just hit the Sea of Stars area.

I think my complaint with the game would be that it is just too dense. I haven't really felt any variation in challenge; the intensity always feels like it is at about an 8. Even the towns feel kind of like puzzles. I don't know, maybe I need more time to really think about this criticism. There is just something that is making the game feel more very good rather than great.


does the Underpants Dance
I played it for around 7 hours and then kind of lost steam and haven't picked it back up. Which is unfortunate, because the place I stopped at seems to be the end of "Act 1" so to speak.

Anyway I felt like it took too long to make progress; it presents itself as a Chrono Trigger homage, but this game is not paced like a SNES RPG by any means. In comparison, 7 hours into Chrono Trigger is like... halfway through the game? I guess what I'm saying is that I just wish there was more major gameplay things to unlock at this point. A new party member, new character skills... something other than combo attacks, which haven't been that exciting to find imo. I've collected like 18 rainbow conches so far and I still haven't discovered where to cash those in! The battle system is excellent, but that alone isn't enough to carry a game that's paced this slowly.


(He, Him)
Same boat as Yanguskhan. Just didn’t grab me and found myself picking up my phone and spamming x in any dialogue heavy scenes which probably isn’t what they were hoping would happen when they wrote the game.

Taking a break to play something else, I’ll likely pick it back up again.
I finished this one off last weekend. Absolutely gorgeous, but rather bland aside from the graphics. It wants to be Chrono Trigger so badly, even going so far as to lift dialog/scenarios from it, but SoS ultimately lacks the snappy pacing and character. The only real personalities among the party members are Garl and Serai and I actively despised Garl. Even worse than the bland characters is the battle system. It has CT-style combos, but you need to build a meter to use them which means they have little function outside of bosses. At the same time they don't want you to just mash attack through standard battles, so these tend to drag, even when you've figured out the trick/strategy to a particular encounter. It is fun late game to just go crazy with moves that delay the enemy's turn. The final boss and true final boss didn't get much of a chance to do anything with all the delaying.

What it does differently from Chrono Trigger is give you a couple tools for environmental puzzles/traversal. I really enjoyed this aspect and found the grapple hook to be especially satisfying.

I've yet to play The Messenger, but apparently there are character/location/music references to it in SoS.
I enjoyed what I played but I got to a part with some pirates and I could only deal with their haha video games jokes for a bit.


Yes, that Russian author.
I just want to say that my experience with this game has been nothing but positives so far. All my friends are gushing about it too.


Staff member
I loved it! Is Sea of Stars as good as Chrono Trigger? No obviously not. But... maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe?


An aspect it shares with Chrono Trigger is the narrow range of options in battle. In Trigger your characters only have a handful of moves that are augmented by combination attacks. Compare to Final Fantasies, Dragon Quests and other traditional JRPGs where characters have lists and lists of spells and abilities that offer a wide range of strategic options. In contrast Sea of Stars is extremely narrow, even compared to Chrono Tigger. Party members can attack, use one of three special moves, a Limit Break, a combo with another character's three specials, or one of ten pre-prepared items. That's perhaps the narrowest list of battle options in a traditional JRPG I can think of. It hardly seems capable of carrying a 40 hour game. Sea of Stars solves for this with precisely tuned balance where every turn matters. It's appropriate there's a clockwork theme to the game because the battle system runs like a fine swiss watch.

One element that makes the battle system work is the Free Magic system. I think without it, battles would get routine and tedious. Free Magic, though interictally tied to the clockwork nature of battles, makes for an important element of creative engagement. Choosing when to use it and when to generate it (beyond adding a layer of meaningful strategy) allows for ownership in battle, a freedom of expression that the narrow list of moves doesn't allow for.

Items, likewise, are so smartly implemented. By making them a limited resource you have to craft they become useful and valuable. Additionally, resource gather points go a long way to fill out environments and make for a good low-level reward when exploring.

I absolutely loved the level design. The environments are presented from the traditional 16-bit bird's-eye view but by incorporating isometric elements and perspective tricks they knot up into pretzels of looping ledges and twisty pathways. Helping to craft a sense of verticality is a context-sensitive "Climb-On-Crap" button you press to vault, jump, and clamber all over obstacles. Climb-On-Stuff-PGs is a subgenre that needs to be explored more thoroughly. This design approach makes for levels that are fun just to run around in, let alone with they start getting Zelda puzzly.

The story really surprised me. It starts off in the chosen ones save the world from a big monster tradition but goes on to critique what we might call the "JRPG Power Fantasy." It simultaneously ends in truly epic scope--far outdistancing the boundaries normally found in even grandiose JRPG stories--and as a small, personal story of no consequence. I have tons to say on the specific articulations of the story but those ramblings are better saved for an over-stuffed spoiler post. What I want to point out here is how the game reveals its backstory. Important lore details are casually mentioned in the midst of banter or even sometimes never commented on. Rarely does the game call out the big stuff or spell out the implications of a piece of information. Its unusual approach to see in a RPG and works really well here.

Gosh dang this game's pretty and what a soundtrack! It does the thing more RPGs should do where it plays the environmental music during battles in some areas. This always works and I don't know why we don't see it more often.

I found the callbacks to Chrono Trigger and other SNES RPGs cute and cheeky fun, but can also see how they would come off as cheap and cloying. Interesting how this and Chained Echoes both took the same tact of respectful engagement/desperate nostalgia baiting. Kinda funny how it happened twice here are your two nickels. I guess one thing is for certain, mountains really are nice.
I enjoyed what I played but I got to a part with some pirates and I could only deal with their haha video games jokes for a bit.
I will agree that the devs leaned a little to hard into the Working Designs school of dialogue on occasion, but that's pretty much the only gripe I have about the game so far.


Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
I think it's laughable to consider Boulanger and Sabotage Studio have convincingly absolved themselves of associating with/promoting Peterson's views and work. Whole thing smells like a a clumsily spitballed exercise in PR control, with the seams showing everywhere. The earlier audience inquiry that comes off talking about Peterson positively is reflected in the studio's similarly neutral-to-positive response, aligning themselves with the opinion they see in their audience in that moment. The Messenger has been criticized for half-a-decade for this stuff in countless communities, and there's always been nothing said about it on part of the developers... until in the direct lead-up to the studio's much-promoted follow-up game, where the stance and platform is suddenly taken to allay the audience's concerns that they might not want to support Sea of Stars if the Peterson issue remains up in the air. That's when this sham explanation (with a timeline and rhetoric that's frankly unbelievable) comes out to "denounce" Peterson, and that's when articles like the above are written that exist for no other purpose than the author exorcising their guilt over the possibility of interacting with a video game and compromising their ethics. If Boulanger's "allyship" is guaranteed with some assorted pro-trans retweets, then it's a cheaply bought bit of performance indeed.

Beyond those aspects, a writing-dependent game by the makers of The Messenger has been enough to dissuade away from Sea of Stars.


Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
Yeah, it's like I'm not gonna come down on anyone who wants to play the game, and I'm not gonna write off the possibility that some people are a lot better (or at least less terrible) than they were back when The Messenger happened...but, like, the fact that this excuse just materialized right before the launch of their new game just doesn't sit well with me.

They had years over which they could've said "Hey, we fucked up, we'll do better" and they didn't do it until the game was almost out. And it was just the person who said a few pro-trans things who said this as far as I know.
Not that I think this is necessarily going to happen, but just in case, if I see anyone trying to argue the point with Peklo, MetManMas or anyone else who doesn't feel comfortable about this game or its devs who speaks their mind in this thread, I will bring it to the attention of the mods.
(with a timeline and rhetoric that's frankly unbelievable)

Yeah it doesn't really line up.

I think the most charitable possible reading is that Boulanger is just kind of a dumbass who now sincerely feels bad about this and would prefer everyone pretend it didn't happen. Maybe over the years this explanation has even become something like his own "emotional truth" of how he justifies his previous affection for a celebrity bigot, and he really does believe it. If so, I'm glad he's moved on, even if the story he now tells strains credibility. A lot of people tell stories that strain credibility when they're describing past behavior they're embarrassed by. (I would guess that most of us in the general age cohort of this board probably know a number of people in their real lives who have conveniently retconned their previous beliefs about gay marriage, as opposed to just admitting they changed their minds.) And in this type of case I would definitely rather people recognize their previous beliefs as embarrassing instead of sticking to them, even if their explanation amounts to 10 Hours of Jingling Keys.

To be clear, I don't think anyone needs to absolve themselves for liking Boulanger's games. Even limiting it to contemporary figures, I've definitely enjoyed playing, reading, listening to, and watching things by people who I probably would have even more serious disagreements with than The Messenger era Boulanger. I just think these recent statements leaves me with more questions than answers, as someone following this whole weird story since The Messenger had "how dare you assume my gender" jokes that were later patched out. Boulanger is just really bad at producing any consistent and believable explanation, although given the writing in his games that could just be due to a more general lack of ability to convey his thoughts.


Internet's foremost Bertolli cosplayer
I polished this one off today and I still think it's an absolute banger from end to end. A real GOAT. I loved my time with it, and so has my SO, who doesn't play RPGs (and doesn't even know what the term means). The "post-game" for me was pretty short, since I'd already polished off everything that's possible to do before heading to the end anyway, so it was just a matter of cleaning up the last thing that it gates behind finishing the game once. That said, the post/end-game content felt very much in keeping with the games that it's paying homage to, and I thought it was all very fun, with some really cool boss designs and a ridiculous number of cute bespoke sprites as cap off/reward for doing everything.

I basically don't understand any of the complaints I've seen about the content of the game itself, because I think it's engaging, well-written, and touching. (Yes, Yolande and her genre-savvy fourth wall breaking can be a little grating, but she is a very minor character who never speaks as much again as she does in her introductory cutscene, and the other pirates are all great. There's a little octopus man who plays an instrument, and later he gets a little tux!) Neither of us were able to put it down since we started playing it. I suspect Garl will endure as one of my favourite RPG characters ever, and I have played *quite a lot of them*. And the combat system remained excellent throughout, and I loved how it slowly doled out its very small set of abilities at a pace just fast enough to keep things from getting stale.

I will say that I don't think its lore ties to The Messenger ultimately serve it well (at least one of which felt a bit forced), since they result in a few major dangling plot threads that are never resolved within the game itself, which I found pretty disappointing. However, even there this also has some positives, since, by the same token, it also contributes to the feeling of a much larger game world with more stories to tell in it, in the past, the present, and the future, which is one of my favourite aspects of the Suikoden series. (The short stories that Teaks reads around the campfire also contribute to this feeling. Each one of them feels like events that game could have zoomed in on and showed instead of sketching out at a remove.) It feels like this game could easily have been double the length, and the world they've built supports it. What are you hiding, Keenathan!? Instead, I finished it in a nice lean 55 hours, which probably mean fewer than 40 hours for most people. It's rare for me to not find that a game overstays its welcome these days, but Sea of Stars wastes no time in coming to an end.

And that ending! Holy shit, I was not prepared for what was waiting for me just before the credits rolled. That and a really visually spectacular mid-game sequence had me saying "wow" out loud at my TV with a delighted grin on my face. Such moment are a rare treat for me at my age, but Sea of Stars really did manage to delight and surprise me more than once.

I've seen sentiment floating around online that there's some big twist or shoe drop that folks should wait for, and that you should just stick it out until then, but frankly I don't agree at all. There certainly are surprises in store, but if you're not feeling it early, then I don't think the rest of the game will do anything to change your mind, and your time is better spent elsewhere. I was immediately bought in, though, and the game just got better and better as it went on. This Sea was made for me, and I absolutely adored every moment of sailing it. There's a really rich world here, and I hope it gets revisited. If so, I'll be there, HP-restoring sandwiches packed and ready.


Same as I ever was
I liked it a lot, though I found the hunt for rainbow conches to be a bit of a pain in the endgame. Lots of typos and grammar issues in the text too, it could have done with another editing pass by someone who hadn't read through it before. Gameplay-wise it's a really sharp distillation and combination of elements from many RPGs, far more than its surface presentation.

Whatever Boulanger and co. actually think of Peterson and what was in The Messenger, there's nothing of that sort in this one. Nothing hidden that I can tell, and I went through it all, talked to everyone, got everything except a handful of treasure chests. The first big statue I found in the Kickstarter backer tribute zone was a "trans rights are human rights" one, which is luck of the draw on backer messages, but they're clearly not censoring those.


And my SO has been playing it too, since the modular difficulty nature of the relic system has made it accessible for her in a way that it wouldn't otherwise be.
I'm struggling with timing so I'm hoping the relics help with that too. I'm still on what feels like the opening quest where I'm heading up to meet the Elder mist and I've had two game overs. I equipped the starting relic that gives more feedback for hitting the timing correctly but really want something that actually extends the window.
I need everyone to know that the second enemy in the game is a delightful bit of French wordplay: Roche = rock, Chèvre = goat, Rochèvre = rock goat.
Yeah, this was cute!
I've yet to play The Messenger, but apparently there are character/location/music references to it in SoS.
I believe when this game was first announced they said it was set in the sunken Moon and Sun city you explore near the end of The Messenger, so I'm curious to see how things are connected.
The timing is a bit tough at first, but you can do it VV! There is one character whose regular attack is tougher to do the timed hits on than everybody else, but you're more likely to be using her delay magic anyways.
As for my playthrough, I've gotten back to homeworld and am hunting Conches and it's amazing how many I've missed. Every one feels fairly hidden though.


Same as I ever was
I'm struggling with timing so I'm hoping the relics help with that too. I'm still on what feels like the opening quest where I'm heading up to meet the Elder mist and I've had two game overs. I equipped the starting relic that gives more feedback for hitting the timing correctly but really want something that actually extends the window.
I don't think there's anything that specifically does that, but there is something that hits the triggers for you but for less of an attack/defense bonus.


hardcore retro gamin'
I want to play this, but I'm still waiting for the announced but not yet ready physical release. But I'm heartened to hear all the positive vibes about it - too many indie RPGs that have seemed promising come up well short, so one that actually hits the mark sounds great.


Aging Hipster Dragon Dad
I'm about done with this game. It's a perfectly fine game, but I guess the game just hits too close to home to arguably my favorite game of all time and the differences stand out more as a result.

I think my biggest complaint is how mp costs worked. I know in theory they were trying to keep fights more dynamic and not just attrition of my MP gauge before I reach the next save point, but in practice I just walk back to the previous rest point for a full recovery whenever possible, and I feel like that is adding several hours to my playtime cumulatively.

Also thought the game leaned on the lock mechanic a little too much. Sure there were several bosses with unique mechanics, but also just as many used locks and called it a day, and regular fights rarely if ever throw a curveball your way.

Plus I don't know how much is this me not playing The Messenger vs just their writing style but the story felt a little disjointed, and that with me not even noticing any typos. It all minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, but they quoting dialogue and chapter titles from Chrono Trigger. Shoot at the King you best not miss and all that.

So I guess in summary I liked Chained Echoes better for my early 2020s throwback to 90s JRPGs fix. Sea of Stars is still better than Cosmic Star Heroine, though.
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I don't think there's anything that specifically does that, but there is something that hits the triggers for you but for less of an attack/defense bonus.
Interesting! I'll keep an eye out.

Anyway, I turned on both starting relics which bums me out a little but oh well. At least I can keep going now. Honestly I think the animations just have too much going on for me to clearly track the movements, both the players characters and the enemies seem to have a lot of extra frames that trip me up.

Also I went to use Moonarang and Valere hopped behind a wall or some sort of archway and wasn't visible anymore. That didn't help!

Overall this is just soooooo slow. I knew it was going to be very different from The Messenger but that just felt so much better designed, this is really dragging. Seen a couple odd typos and odd phrasing that isn't necessarily bad but just makes it all feel like it needed a bit more polish. Going to put a little more time in as I just got to the mole village and am curious if things change up a bit.
I'm a sucker for a beautiful game, and Sea of Stars certainly is that. Some of the best modern pixel art graphics I've seen, and good music, too. I actually liked the story itself for the most part; the lore with the Solstice Warriors and Dwellers was cool, and it sold me well enough on the rivalry between Resh'an and Aephorul.

The game was also very fun to play, with the running and the climbing and the Graplou, the item that's as fun to use as it is to say: Graplou! The battle system is kind of... lean, I guess? But it gets a lot of mileage out of its small toolset. Like, a small number of skills for each character that all do something different would be good design even if they didn't also interact with locks in interesting ways, which they often do. My only real criticism is that it should probably just refill your HP and MP after every battle, because resource management over the span of a dungeon isn't really a thing in this game (and to be fair, it also isn't a thing in most JRPGs made after 1990 or so), and the most dangerous battles are with large groups of normal enemies, which are dangerous whether you start with resources or not. Actually, I guess that's a second criticism: those large groups are tougher than the bosses, even though the bosses are often hyped up by the story as super powerful existential threats to the world.

The moment-to-moment writing is kind of weak, though. There are a lot of run-on sentences and missing commas, along with some typos, which were noticeable and off-putting, but not, like, game-ruining. The frequent references to Chrono Trigger are likewise tacky, and don't really serve any purpose but to remind me I could be playing Chrono Trigger, but they also don't ruin the game... with one exception. Valere and Zale have such similar personalities that you could swap their dialogue and no-one would notice. Either of them would make a fine JRPG protagonist, but having two characters like that is weird. There's a bit late in the game where Resh'an learns about one of Aephorul's atrocities that he wasn't previously aware of, and says something like, "I guess it doesn't matter," and then, a sentence or two later, "This changes everything," and then he leaves the party for plot purposes but is still with you in battle. It's like they just couldn't come up with anything else for him to do and needed a way to write him out, but also realized, to their credit I suppose, that he was too important mechanically to actually remove. The pirates were probably my favorite characters, but to someone for whom their type of humor doesn't land, I'm sure they'd be incredibly annoying.

And then there is that exception I mentioned, the one Chrono Trigger reference that really did mess up the story:
After beating the game, you can bring Garl back to life in the same way you did Crono. It really cheapens Garl's character arc in the main game, which from the beginning could only have ended the way it did, and it's followed by an extended sequence where every other important character, even some who've never met him before, talk about what a great guy he is. And I did like Garl before this. I thought he was a bit of a Mary Sue, but he was very charming and had a well-defined personality for the main characters to play off of, which was important because they couldn't really do that with each other. The contrivance of this scene really sapped my goodwill toward him, though. It seemed at this point like everybody loves Garl just because they're written to, not because of his good qualities. The worst part was, I genuinely had a lump in my throat during his tearful reunion with all his friends. Like I fully knew my emotions were being manipulated, but it was still working, which isn't an experience I've ever had before, or one I'm eager to repeat. Oh yeah, and it relied on time travel in a game that otherwise never had time travel.

So... yeah, that bit, being by its nature one of the last things I did in the game, left me with a fairly sour final impression when I was done. I did like it a lot all the way through the first ending, though. I'm glad I played it and I think it's worth playing. I just wish it had the confidence to stand on its own merits, because I think it absolutely could if it weren't leaning so much on a classic of the genre.
Zale and Valere are both stoic in their own way but I do find Zale to be more optimistic while Valere is more serious minded.


(He, Him)
Refilling the MP between battles is a good idea. That would go a long way towards removing some of the tedium and save the challenge for the bosses. I didn’t mind the mooks when I had a full tank and could wipe them out in a round or two, did not like immediately having to fight the same group again and spending a few rounds refilling. I suppose they decided it made the free magic system less useful if you aren’t doing a lot of standard attacking to keep your MP up.