Sea of Stars is a gorgeous retro RPG from the makers of The Messenger

Sabotage Studio and creative director Thierry Boulanger are making the kind of game he dreamed of as a kid: a classic Nintendo-style RPG, but with the crispness, seamlessness, and graphical magic tricks available today. It's called Sea of Stars, and it's still two years away from release, but the core features, art design, and graphics technology look fantastic.

Sea of Stars takes place in the same universe as The Messenger, the studio's Ninja Gaiden-style platformer, but far in its past. It features two main characters—one representative of sun magic and one of moon magic—and players will choose one to lead the party throughout the island adventure.

One of the modern twists is the dynamic lighting system. I've seen pixel art lighting done brilliantly before—Brigador comes to mind—but it still catches me off guard when a retro-style game does something that was impossible for the games that inspired it. In a remote demonstration, I watched Boulanger cycle the time of day at will, the shadows rotating and the sun and moon swapping places in a smooth transition from warm to cool light. It looks fantastic, and isn't just something we'll see in demonstrations of the tech: Manipulating the time of day will be key to solving puzzles.

Even without the fancy lighting, Sea of Stars is a looker (see a bunch of screenshots in the gallery above). Boulanger and team intend to mix dungeons and gruesome monsters—the villain is a nasty necromancer—with pleasantly chill towns and nature scenes. It's going for charm: I watched Boulanger explore a cute water village formed from seashells, and in a dungeon he encountered a bunch of gorilla babies with their butts in their air as they peered through holes in the ground.

Bad news, though: The baby gorillas were watching their mother, who was being held captive by a terrible creature that can only be defeated through powerful eclipse magic. You can imagine how heroes who possess sun and moon magic might come into play.

Combat is turn-based, but includes timing challenges—press a button at the right moment to increase attack damage, or block to decrease damage taken.  Boulanger was inspired by Super Mario RPG in this respect. Rather than wandering away from a tough fight to grind, he wants players to feel they can get through it if they master the enemy's timing.

The basic systems of Sea of Stars are working, and the art style is in place, but it'll need a couple years of production before it's ready to release. Revenue from The Messenger has been reinvested into the company, but funding will also come in part from a Kickstarter campaign. Given the speed at which the pledge total is rising, it looks like Sea of Stars will easily reach its $90,760 USD funding goal, which will cover part of the studio's costs (update: it's funded).

For more on Sea of Stars, check out the official site. It's expected to release in 2022, and Boulanger says the Quebec City-based studio has comfortably transitioned to working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.