Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG are major influences
Sabotage Studio’s second game shares roots with the developer’s debut, but they could not be more different. The Messenger was undeniably excellent, a faithful homage to the retro action-platformer genre. But if The Messenger was a love letter to the likes of Ninja Gaiden, Sabotage’s followup, titled Sea of Stars, is an adoring nod to the likes of Chrono Trigger.
It’s a change of direction drastic enough to give you whiplash. Sabotage co-founder and creative director Thierry Boulanger tells Destructoid that an old-school SNES-era RPG was always what the studio wanted to do first, but it was too tough of a sell from an unproven team. Boulanger mocks a theoretical pitch meeting for a narrative-driven RPG, saying “Hey, look at us! We can tell a story and we have zero proof of that, but please invest in this game.” Turns out The Messenger was a lot easier for people to put their faith (and money) into. “You jump over the pitfall, you do front flips, you kill demons, here’s a ninja, there you go.”
Now that Sabotage has some credibility to its name, it’s time for that ambitious retro RPG. Sea of Stars is a turn-based role-playing game about Zale and Valere (colloquially called SunBoy and MoonGirl) who are the Children of the Solstice. Zale was born in the summer and harnesses the power of the sun; Valere was born in the winter and has the power of the moon. Combined, they have eclipse magic. (And, in case the timing is lost on you, the game’s announcement coincides with the vernal equinox.) It’s also a prequel to The Messenger, as the events of Sea of Stars evidently segue into the state of the world in The Messenger.
Sea of Stars is very much about the duality between these two characters as they fight an evil alchemist known as The Fleshmancer who threatens the entire world. Boulanger tells us that “They complete each other. One is a bit more bold and upfront, one is more laid back and curious — but they’re very much in this together.” It’s a great-power-and-great-responsibility kind of tale. Boulanger says “They were basically told ‘Sorry, but your life is not your own. You need to protect the world because you happened to be born on a specific date,” adding that “Just because something isn’t your fault doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility.”
Boulanger explains that Sabotage’s mindset is to properly cater to all the genres its team members grew up loving, ultimately delivering a “definitive edition” of sorts. “We’re not just banking on them because retro can sell,” he says. “We’re putting in the work to rethink the systems, to modernize, while also letting shine what aged well.” In the case of an old-school RPG, that means a mashup of a bunch of unique and beloved mechanics.
Anyone who plays Sea of Stars will recognize the seamless transition into combat that mimics Chrono Trigger. Well-timed attacks deal extra damage a la Super Mario RPG. The movement isn’t restricted to a grid, but fluid like Illusion of Gaia. As Boulanger tells us, this remix of sorts “has been a dream for me since I was 11 or something.”
But it’s not all about Sabotage wearing those influences on its sleeve (although it’s probably a lot about that, to be honest), Boulanger emphasizes that he wants Sea of Stars to “remove all the tedium” that bogs down classic RPGs. Sabotage wants Sea of Stars to be about the story and the progression of the characters, not about grinding levels until you’re capable enough to take on a boss. “There won’t be grinding,” Boulanger confirms. “These are all things that we don’t have time for. We just want the good parts of those [influential] games.”
It’s early days for Sea of Stars. Sabotage just finished pre-production and figures it’ll probably take two more years to make the game. It’s tentatively scheduled for a 2022 release on PC and consoles — although specific console platforms aren’t mentioned.
Sabotage is also mostly funding Sea of Stars on its own. The Messenger‘s success has the studio in a position to tackle something longer and more ambitious without a publisher signing on. However, Sabotage is turning to Kickstarter to help, ahem, kickstart things. “We’re not financially dependent on the Kickstarter because you can’t realistically ask for even five percent of what it actually costs to make a game with 16 people over three years,” Boulanger explains. “But, we still need to check in with the fan base to sort of get that validation that people will be there to play it in the end if we commit to it.”
Talking to Boulanger, you kind of get the sense that Sea of Stars is getting made regardless of how the Kickstarter ends up. The evidence supports it: This is the game Sabotage wanted to make first, the team shares a deep appreciation for old-school RPGs, and The Messenger left the studio with enough cash to pursue Sea of Stars. That being said, if you want to chip in ahead of time, you can probably do so with the trust that the people making Sea of Stars love those classic RPGs just as much as you do — and it’s their goal to do right by the genre.