2018’s The Messenger was a stellar throwback to the action-genre from the era dominated by the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Developed by Sabotage Studios, it took great inspiration from games like Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden, while at the same time possessing an incredibly self-aware and humorous story with the protagonist traveling between the 8- and 16-bit realms. Following the success of The Messenger, the developers have their eyes set on bringing their talent for stylized sprite work and action gameplay to the realm of the JRPG.
With their follow-up, Sea of Stars, the developers have launched a Kickstarter–with a goal set at $90,760 USD–to gain more funding for their next game inspired by 16-bit era JRPGs like Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger. In this new RPG coming to PC and consoles, you play as Valerie and Zale, two heroes fated to become Solstice Warriors–individuals who can use powers that channel energy from the sun and moon. By working together, they’ll be able to combine their strengths and utilize a new type of power known as Eclipse Magic, allowing them to face dangerous foes and powerful threats. Just like their previous game, this homage also plays with tropes and other elements familiar from retro games. But in a surprising twist, Sea of Stars is actually set in the same universe as The Messenger, serving as a prequel to Sabotage’s previous game. The two protagonists in the RPG even made an appearance in The Messenger during the Sunken Shrine dungeon, which the developers described as a nod to what lied ahead for Sabotage Studios.
Just before its debut on Kickstarter, we had the chance to see a quick demo and speak with Sabotage Studios co-founder and creative director Thierry Boulanger about the making of Sea of Stars. In development since the launch of The Messenger in 2018, Sea of Stars was the game the developers have been wanting to make for some time.
“Sea of Stars was actually the game everyone at the studio was excited about, but it wasn’t something we could do as a first project with only a handful of people,” said Boulanger. “It was obviously much more ambitious in scope, and it would have been harder to bootstrap along with the company with just like three people as we were slowly ramping up. So now, it’s all really coming together. The Messenger was the first step for us, and it was a big success as it gave us our freedom and the means to work on the thing we wanted to make. […] It’s kind of the mission of Sabotage Studios to examine games from the past and do our own versions of them, to modernize them and to rethink them in ways would hold more today.”
On the surface, Sea of Stars channels many familiar elements from classic Square games like Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, and Secret of Mana. Combat, traversal, and the flow of narrative in Sabotage’s sendup to the JRPG takes influence from the classics. However, Sea of Stars puts a more active element in the hands of players. Along with using both of the protagonists’ unique powers to manipulate and solve puzzles, the turn-based combat also has a more dynamic pace to it, encouraging players to time button inputs in tune with attacks and blocks to keep up with their enemies. According to the developers, this is to ensure that players can still overcome fierce battles, without feeling like they have to grind experience points to boost up their characters.
Thinking back to my own experiences getting stuck in Super Mario RPG against bosses like Booster–which prompted me to grind out some levels–this more active element seems appreciated, and I’m interested in seeing how far Sabotage takes it. With the Kickstarter campaign, the developers are offering an early look at their next game, with plans for it to evolve throughout its development–which they state could be over the next two years. Depending on the success of the campaign, Sea of Stars could expand further, allowing Sabotage to take their homage to the classic JRPGs even further.
I have a particular fondness for Square games from the 16-bit era, and I’m really digging what I’ve seen from Sea of Stars thus far. What’s interesting is that Sabotage Studios is establishing a broader lore with its games, and Sea of Stars looks to expand on the road set by The Messenger. Hopefully, we’ll get to see Sea of Stars prosper. But for now, it might be worth diving back into The Messenger to uncover more clues for what could be in store for Sabotage’s next game.