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- Sea of Stars
The world is ablaze with an ongoing pandemic, but video games have been a godsend as most of the world is stuck inside. Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing: New Horizons are just hours away from release and offer some immediate respite for $60, which is worth it even as the panic has tightened wallets around the globe. The newly announced Sea of Stars, given its Kickstarter campaign, is offering something else: money now during hard times for a game that isn’t scheduled to release until 2022. The thought of a Kickstarter campaign going on now is hard to conceive and it wouldn’t be outlandish to delay it to later this year. But Sabotage Studio CEO and Creative Director Thierry Boulanger can’t be dissuaded during these dark times.
“We deserve to be able to get our minds off things and relieve stress,” said Boulanger. “Entertainment isn’t vital, but it is a relief. The Kickstarter is a huge risk. Although it gives us purpose, too.”
There was some uncertainty surrounding the fate of its Kickstarter campaign, but pushing through is a sign of hope that players can still get escapist entertainment and developers can still seek acceptance. As is the deal with many Kickstarters, the goal isn’t going to fully fund the game, but measure interest and give the team a “sanity check.” The team would need a sanity check even if the world wasn’t crumbling, but given how the timing has ratcheted up tensions both in and out of their careers, validation would be even more beneficial to Sabotage’s stress levels. It would be a signal that, even during grim times, people still want to play video games, which is uplifting to those who make them.
But, regardless of the timing, a crowdfunding campaign for a developer with a successful Devolver Digital-published game under its belt seems like a more strenuous road to take. Even though they’ve reinvested The Messenger‘s earnings into this game, Boulanger explained why they chose Kickstarter this time as opposed to repeating the same setup as last time.
“We still want to be hungry,” admitted Boulanger. “The Messenger was successful, but not successful enough to be able to afford to fail a project. And we have twice the team size now [16 people] and twice the timeline. And while we can take it home, there is nothing once its done.”
The genre that fits the story
Sea of Stars is a turn-based RPG and required a more sizable team, according to Boulanger. The Messenger was a platformer and such games don’t usually have the scope of a role-playing game. And while it seems like the team may be throwing out some of its expertise going from a tight platformer to an RPG, that’s not the case for a few reasons.
For one, the idea for the narrative was a better fit an RPG. Sea of Stars stars Valere and Zale, Solstice Warriors children born on one of the equinoxes that are destined to stop evil. It’s naturally a more involving tale with more characters and that scope isn’t the best fit for a platformer. The Messenger‘s story worked for what it was but going bigger deserves something, well, bigger.
Sea of Stars is even expanding upon what The Messenger did. They’re in the same universe, after all, which The Messenger hinted at in its Howling Grotto that contained Sea of Stars‘ moon and sun iconography. Sabotage is going to make all of its games somehow fit together; it’s just a matter of finding what story they want to tell and then deciding what type of game best suits it. It doesn’t mean The Messenger 2 isn’t somewhere in the cards, as Boulanger pointed out, but rather that the Canadian developer is going to go where its hearts leads it.
He also said the team didn’t set out to be a platformer studio from the get-go. They just want to, as their website puts it, “create [their] own definitive editions of the game genres [they] enjoyed as kids.” That mission statement doesn’t mean their games have to be platformers. Ninja Gaiden was just one game they enjoyed as kids, but Sea of Stars‘ isn’t as singular with its inspirations.
An all-star lineup of inspirations
However, there is one inspiration that rises above the rest: Chrono Trigger. Boulanger was even a little hesitant to lay out the game’s biggest influence because of the sheer weight that comes with it. Weighty or not, it’s a worthy title to ape from, given how it has withstood the test of time. From its visual style, camera angle, and atmosphere, Chrono Trigger‘s DNA is very apparent from the first moment you see it.
Sea of Stars has DNA from more than one game though. Boulanger cited other RPGs from the era, like Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, Breath of Fire, and Final Fantasy, as influences, with the former two playing a substantial part in its battle system. Battles seamlessly take place right in the world and are turn-based, but with an active element. Players have to pay attention and hit the correct button to block an incoming attack or amp up their own, which will be vital for success, given the lack of grinding. It’s more intriguing than passively watching, say, pocket monsters throw the same three or four moves at each other until one dies.
This approach also stems from Sabotage’s work on The Messenger. Being a tight platformer, The Messenger was fantastic at engaging the player at every moment since it felt so good to control. RPGs don’t quite need the same level of precision, but the platformer mindset of being constantly engrossing stuck.
The environment is full of puzzles that utilize your lunar or solar powers, characters that speak to you and give missions, and light traversal elements in addition to the combat mechanics that require your constant input. Boulanger called these regular interaction points “micro gameplay loops” and Sea of Stars, thanks to Sabotage’s mindset and prior work, is promising to have many of them. RPGs should, as he put it, be “fun to hang out in,” especially outside of the turn-based fights. That’s something RPGs don’t often nail as these types of games from the late ’80s and early ’90s can feel a bit rigid when not engaged in combat.
While this game wears its inspirations on its sleeve, it does have one thing those other games don’t have: monkey asses. In addition displaying the game’s humor, those monkey asses aren’t just primate butts; they’re symbolic of Sabotage’s goal of giving player the unexpected since that’s the last thing you’ll anticipate seeing in a dark cave. It’s similar to the creative twist in The Messenger that seemingly came out of nowhere. This method is all part of Sabotage’s approach of serving players something familiar before spinning it into something new, which worked the first time around. And in 2022, Sabotage will have to prove that it can meet expectations by making a great game in a new genre, which, in typical Sabotage style, is all about subverting expectations.