Even just looking at Sea of Stars makes one thing clear: it wants to join the ever-growing “I love SNES RPGs” fanclub. We’ve seen a bunch of those in recent years; games that lovingly recreate the irresistible sprites and 16-bit vistas, while slapping on some upbeat chiptunes to feed you turn-based battles for hours. Sea of Stars does that too, sure, but it’s also so much more than that. Perhaps the best compliment I can give to Sea of Stars is that it rewound time and turned me back into a little kid, reminding me of playing those old-school classics nose-to-screen on a CRT, or curled up under the covers with my muted DS well past bedtime.
The thing that sets this love letter apart, for me, is just how well-read (well-played?) it is. Sea of Stars rips inspiration from all directions – not just from the obvious Chrono Trigger – tosses those inspirations into a blender, and the resulting cocktail is smart, charming, and constantly surprising. More importantly, the game also never feels derivative, balancing old and new on a knife’s edge.
Let’s take a step back for a second, though. Sea of Stars follows two fated warriors – Zale and Valere – who were born on the summer and winter solstices, and thus, are destined to spend their lives fighting beasts left over from a generations-old conflict. These types of RPGs are often about lost innocence and painful experience, and Sea of Stars follows suit with a cute introduction that has you battling cave critters and skeletons and a weird mole child. The stakes soon get significantly grimmer – no spoilers here – but Sea of Stars only stumbles at those more dramatic turns.