Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

Sea of Stars uses RPG simplicity as a secret weapon

The Messenger, an intricately designed 2D platformer inspired by the likes of the Ninja Gaiden sreies, is one of the best indie games of the last decade. That’s why it was surprising when developer Sabotage revealed that its next project was Sea of Stars, a radically different turn-based RPG inspired by games like Chrono Trigger.

While it might seem like a wildly different direction for Sabotage to go in, it’s actually part of a broader world that Thierry Boulanger, studio president and creative director has crafted since he was in elementary school. I got an early, hands-off look at Sea of Stars, and it’s clear that Boulanger is expanding the world he has inside his head with a game that takes all of the correct lessons from classic RPGs.

The Solstice Warriors walk on the Sea of Stars world map.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A sabotaged connection

Typically, when a development studio launches a new game in a new genre, they like to declare it a new IP completely separate from past works. Just look at what Shovel Knight developer Yacht Club Games is doing with Mina the Hollower.

Sabotage is going in the opposite direction, as Boulanger is not ready to let go of the world he became a game designer to create. Instead, Boulanger embraces the fantasy world he started crafting as a child.

“I have this fantasy world that I’ve been building since I was in elementary school, so we’re basically telling story arcs from that world,” Boulanger tells Digital Trends. “All these things, in some form, were already in my head when I was like eight or something. Now it’s coming together in a more concrete format, but it’s all connected.”

While Sabotage doesn’t plan to give this world an official name, Boulanger says its fans call it the “Saboverse.” Sea of Stars is set long before the events of The Messenger in the Saboverse, back when there was an archipelago and not just one island. It follows two Solstice Warriors who can control the time of day and use special Eclipse magic to defeat the Dweller, giant monsters summoned by the evil Fleshmancer.

Even though it looks, plays, and tells its story in a distinct enough way to stand on its own as a new IP, it’s actually a prequel to The Messenger. Boulanger credits the gameplay genre shift to Sabotage wanting to find the style of game that tells the story the best.

“We’re telling this arc, and this is the genre of gameplay that tells that story,” he said. “Sea of Stars is about a group dealing with higher stakes and traveling, whereas The Messenger made sense as a single-player game because it was about one character. If you play our games, you’ll get the additional ‘Oh, I get that reference’ or ‘Oh, I understand that thing I was curious about better now.’”

Keenathan promises to open up the ruins in Sea of Stars.

In turn, the formula established by games like Chrono Trigger was what Sabotage turned to as it continues to build a connected universe, something not very common in the game industry.

“It’s very interesting for me and the rest of the team to build this overarching thing that is consistent, even though we explore different genres with every production,” he concludes.


Sea of Stars’ inspirations are very clear as soon as one lays eyes on the game. It features gorgeous pixel art reminiscent of classic SNES and Game Boy Advance RPG titles, but with modern flair thanks to the lighting and colors used. There are no random encounters, with players instead running into enemies they see to initiate a battle.

These battles are turn-based affairs where players use various attacks and spells against their opponents. More powerful attacks from enemies can pose a significant threat, but players can depower or outright cancel these strong attacks by using a string of ability types.

The demo I saw followed the Solstice Warriors as they explored an abandoned wizard lab to find a ring for a pirate captain. There’s an overworld, as well as towns and dungeons, for players to explore. Players can interact with these environments in various ways, whether it be through fishing to find ingredients to cook at a campfire or placing crystals to open portals that allow them to explore the lab.

Sea of Stars might not shock players with innovative gameplay, but it’s intentionally simple. Boulanger believes that simplicity is what makes the RPGs that inspired this game so great.

“Full disclosure, Chrono Trigger is why I do this for a living,” he explained. “Chrono Trigger had no grinding — you just stick to the story, and the next beat is always around the corner. The dungeons are always short, and you do not feel like there are these filler in-between areas. The total playtime comes from how many times you’ll replay because it’s so tight. It’s light, but it never feels like a chore.”

The Solstice Warriors fight some bombs in Sea of Stars.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Another game he compliments is Super Mario RPG, which Sea of Stars borrows its timed action command system from. “Super Mario RPG dared to be super-short, but it’s so dense that you can just replay it endlessly,” he says.

These same tenets serve as the backbone of Sea of Stars, which is why the game looks so approachable and enjoyable. Sea of Stars might not be the most revolutionary game, but like The Messenger, it seems like it will be a pure refinement of a classic formula that so many players enjoy. And the fact that Sea of Stars is part of an expanded universe that Boulanger has crafted since he was a child demonstrates just how much care is going into this game.

Sea of Stars is supposed to release for PC and Switch sometime this winter, though Boulanger jokingly said “that’s why we don’t have a release date yet” when showing some little details like how fish react to the player swimming in water.

Editors' Recommendations

Tomas Franzese
Gaming Staff Writer
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
No Man’s Sky 4.0’s difficulty options make the space game feel new again
No Man's Sky warp drive

You’d think space was the final frontier, but 2016’s spacefaring exploration sim No Man’s Sky seems to keep finding new ways to expand and improve its eye-watering collection of features. What began as a quiet trek through a galaxy comprised of over 18 quintillion lonely planets is now a far more comprehensive game with a more sophisticated suite of gameplay options, including frontier towns to run, outlaw space systems to smuggle goods through, multiplayer missions to complete alongside your friends, and a fully-fledged story campaign to follow at your own leisurely pace.

It’s also recently been updated to its fourth major iteration as of October 7. That’s when developer Hello Games unleashed the 4.0 update, also known as the Waypoint update, coinciding with the long-awaited Nintendo Switch release. As a result of the 4.0 update, long-term No Man’s Sky fans were once again treated to an impressive array of improvements, including boosts to visual fidelity, better legibility within menus, and a noteworthy overhaul to inventory management that also left some players momentarily disheartened.

Read more
This excellent sci-fi RPG shows how kids absorb the politics around them
Promo art for I Was a Teenage Exocolonist shows the game's cast.

When I was a kid, I wasn’t exactly tuned into politics. I wrote it all off as boring adult stuff, focusing my attention on important things like games and edgy humor. What I didn’t realize at the time is how much the tense political climate happening in the late 1990s and 2000s was quietly shaping me. I may have been too young to full understand the War on Terror when it began, but many of my views would end up shaping around it. I formed an anti-war stance and a distrust of authority thanks to then president George W. Bush. Had I simply spent my teen years buying into American nationalism, there’s a chance my views could have looked very different today.

I Was a Teenage Exocolonist - Launch Trailer | PS5 & PS4 Games

Read more
Knockout City Season 7: Mutant Mutiny stars Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The teenage mutant ninja turtles in knockout city holding dodgeballs.

Season 7 of the free-to-play dodgeball game Knockout City is mutant-themed, and it will cross over with some of the most famous mutants around: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In addition to earnable in-game cosmetics, players can buy the TMNT Bundle for $20 to get outfits and posses based on Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello.

Season 7 of Knockout City introduces four new characters called the "Mutant Crew," including the four mutates Neon, Susan, Ratfink, and Goober. These series originals are joined by Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo of TMNT fame. The new season of the game also comes packed with a Knockout City x TMNT crossover event, a new Premium Brawl Pass featuring TMNT unlockables, more Hideout customization, a new map, and more to be shared on the Season 7 road map.

Read more