Game Ramblings #176 – Sea of Stars

More Info from Sabotage Studio

  • Genre: JRPG
  • Platform: PS5
  • Also Available On: Windows, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series

This is an interesting game, not the least of which is because it’s distinctly a JRPG not developed in Japan. It very clearly takes inspiration from games like Chrono Trigger, with which it shares a composer. It also clearly leans into games like Suikoden, FF6, and Lufia. However, the one it really brings to mind to me more than any of those is Super Mario RPG.

It was pretty early on when my brain went straight to “this is SMRPG” and the video above is indicative of that. Sure, it’s not exactly the same attack but the cadence of the deflection there is the same kind of cadence in executing a super jump and getting the full combo. Those little details are all over in combat. Timing your own attack bonuses is different with each person’s basic and special attacks, giving a bit of skill in making sure you stay fresh in using everyone. Learning the attack timing of enemies is even more crucial in order to reduce incoming damage. All of that is straight SMRPG in my brain. Sure it isn’t the only game to ever do things with attack timing in a JRPG, but it is the one that stuck for me.

Sea of Stars does it all wonderfully well. The animation tells on both sides of the equation are at a level of fidelity that I could only have dreamed of 25+ years ago and really enforce learning the timing of everything well. The precision of all of it feels just right – with it rewarding the timing but not making it too loose. The rewards for successful execution beyond just normal attack+ and defense+ on an attack are also nice, with it opening up combos and ultimates quicker if you’re good at executing the timing. That set of things in particular is where SoS starts to feel like a modern take on the genre. The way combat is setup feels distinctly more active than a lot of the “classics” of the genre.

MP is regenerative via attacks, which goes a long way to enforcing actual use of skills. Since you aren’t trying to horde items, you’re instead doing what you can to mitigate attacks entirely. That ties into the little icon panel above the targeted creature in the screenshot above, where successfully executing those types of attacks before the creature’s turn effectively wipes out their turn. That then ties into the successful execution timing, where a successful hit generally instead does multiple hits instead of just being a number++. That then also ties back into the use of combo attacks, which take multiple characters and multiple types of attacks and unify them into one turn.

I suppose what I’m ultimately getting at is that each part of combat feels like it’s supportive of the rest. Unlike a lot of classics of the genre, which often leaned more into numbers games, Sea of Stars legitimately feels like you can skill your way to victory. Smart attack timing allows you to be more aggressive, because building up the combo meter quicker means that you’ll have rapid access to a large party heal. Concentrating on cancelling enemy attacks means that you’ll reduce incoming damage just by not being attacked, again encouraging aggressive play styles. Being able to swap your party on the fly like more modern games have done means that you’re always encouraged to use very specifically the exact person that is useful right now instead of trying to make best guesses as to what party setup will be most useful over time within a dungeon. I’ve mentioned it as recently as One Piece Odyssey, but hot swapping is one of my favorite things that is becoming more common, as it means that you use your entire party all the time instead of being stuck on just a subset that is convenient.

That said, there were definitely some things that didn’t hit for me as well as combat. A decent portion of the game is spent without the ability to reasonably fast travel, which is a bit of a bummer. Rather than feeling natural within the game, it ended up just kind of reducing me wanting to explore areas that I’d been to to find new things. Very late in the game you gain the ability to go anywhere you want, but it felt a bit too little too late. The game also kind of dragged by that point anyway. You open up your full arsenal in combat by probably about the midway point in the game. Up until then you’re slowly being given new capabilities that allowed me to be spending time in new dungeons experimenting with interesting combat flows. However, once I was at full capability combat kind of started to drag. Other than bosses, a lot of the trash enemies are pretty samey, which is fine when you’re trying new things but is kind of slow otherwise.

There’s also something to be said about the fact that the story is often very convenient. It’s not that I found it bad or anything, but a lot of the plot points kind of resolve themselves quickly and with little effort on the main party’s part. For example, at one point an entire city basically gets leveled by the main antagonist, but within an hour or less it’s basically rebuilt, everything is back to normal, and you move on with your life. One of the main character’s story beats revolves around him not being able to fight in some specific battles, but he’s perfectly able to tell you exactly what you should be doing. Things like that kind of keep happening throughout the game. Obviously the things need to happen, but the way in which they occur just always feels like the shortest way out, rather than the way that makes sense for the world.

I suppose where that ultimately ends up is that the sum of the game’s parts were more than good enough for me to want to get to the credits, but not good enough for me to really want to push for full completion. There is a true ending that I knew about having backed this on Kickstarter, but I didn’t want to go throught the tedious process to finish the checklist of things to do. Combat wasn’t going to grow and the story wasn’t going to change that much, so I confirmed that via watching it on Youtube. From a plot perspective it kind of made me wish that they had skipped the alternate ending and just made it the core plot.

That said, I think this game is absolutely one worth playing if you’re a JRPG fan. The combat mechanics alone are good enough for fans of the genre to enjoy without needing to worry about anything else, and the game surrounding it is at least good enough for a core playthrough. It took me about 25 hours or so to get through, so it’s not even a particularly long entry to the genre. It may not quite live up to the bar set by its higher budget inspirations, but it leaves me in a place where I continue to be excited about where this studio is going after its shipped this and The Messenger.

There’s also something to be said about another game giving me fishing!

Game Ramblings #172 – One Piece Odyssey

More Info from Bandai Namco

  • Genre: JRPG
  • Platform: PS5
  • Also Available On: PS4, PC, Xbox Series

I kind of played this one on a whim. I’ve watched some of One Piece here and there so I was familiar with the series, but I wouldn’t call myself exactly a fan of it. However, I am a sucker for JRPGs and it fit well within that. What it ended up being was a game that I enjoyed far more than I expected because of decisions they made around their core combat that really worked out to the game’s benefit.

This being a JRPG, the combat had to be good to make it worth playing. The series that immediately came to mind here was Shin Megami Tensei/Persona. It didn’t have that complexity, but the core feeling is there. The entire combat loop is around exploiting weaknesses to maximize effects. There’s the core unit type, which is a rock paper scissors mechanic that applies to most attacks. Most of the units then have some elemental attacks (ex: Nami has lightning, Sanji has fire, etc) that can be an additional layer of weakness against some units.

While this doesn’t have the same turn skipping functionality of the SMT series, the end result is similar due to the balance of the attacks. Simply put, you want to take advantage of these weaknesses because it’s effectively double damage. In SMT you’d add turns by attacking weaknesses, thereby getting you through more enemies safely. Here you’re just nuking enemies, again getting you through more enemies safely.

The other place this comes into play is with the regeneration of TP – this game’s mana stat. Most of the high end special attacks take up a significant amount of the player’s TP to the point where 3 or 4 attacks with them will often drain the entire TP pool. In a typical JRPG, I’d probably just hold onto those special attacks until a boss fight rather than spamming items to get the resource back. However, in this game TP regenerates on basic attacks. Because of this, you’ll often want to nuke as much stuff using AOE on turn 1, then finish off fights to regen TP as you mop up the rest of the enemies. Against bosses, you’ll do a bit of a back and forth where you go back and forth between heavy damage and regen phases, or in the case of the healer you spend time trying to determine when it’s the best chance to heal vs. regenerating TP to avoid running out. It’s another good way to really tie combat together.

The second piece of combat that I found smart was their use of a bonus XP mechanic. The short version of this is that a lot of fights ended up introducing some small mechanic to throw off the balance of combat – could be something like kill strengthened enemies before someone in your party dies, kill an enemy before it uses a strong attack, use a specific person to finish a boss, etc – that grants bonus XP if successful. The thing that threw me off initially is that this gave a ridiculous amount of XP, often being 400-500% of the XP of a fight. It seemed exploitative. However, over time it became clear to me that the balance of the leveling curve was actually built around achieving these to avoid grinding.

What these things do in practice is really just throw off your patterns and make combat more engaging. Yes, the enemies end up being the same as in many fights, but having to switch gears to figure out how to get people into the right position to clear out groups of specific enemies fast is fun. Having to figure out how to get just the right damage to make sure the very specific person kills a boss on next attack is fun. Having to suddenly have your party focus on something they may be weak to to get bonus XP is fun. It’s small constant tweaks to the core combat that make things just different enough to reduce repetition in a genre that is typically bound to repetition.

The final piece that just worked nicely was party hot swapping. During combat you can swap party members at any time as long as they have not yet attacked in the current turn. This could include just switching where party members are on the field, but it also includes swapping party members in from the reserves. It extends to hot swapping out party members that get knocked out, which comes in particularly handy against bosses. In practice what this does is always allow you to focus on having the right people in the right spots at all times. You don’t have to worry about figuring out what the best min/max party for an area is, but instead can just focus on having the right people for the situation. It reduces a lot of what is typical party stress in the genre and actually allows and encourages you as a player to try a bunch of different combinations. It results in the entire cast being familiar to you by the end of the game, because you’ll have been using everyone often throughout the game. It’s a smart way to integrate everyone into the experience while still only capping combat to 4 members and really goes against what is typical in a lot of JRPGs.

However, where the game nearly lost me was in the stuff that is tied to the narrative. It’s not that the narrative was bad, and honestly I enjoyed it a lot, but it was often forced in a way that didn’t feel right for the genre. There were long segments of 3-4 hours where I couldn’t explore. I couldn’t fast travel. I couldn’t go back to places that I had side quests in. I couldn’t really do anything but stick to the core narrative. In a lot of these places, there was also very little combat as it would often be sections of the game where you’re interacting with people in cities and dealing with One Piece-universe story segments that simply didn’t belong in the overworld.

As a pacing thing, this just felt off. It led to a bit of a weird situation where any time I was given the opportunity to freely run around, I felt like I had to do everything that was optional at one time. I couldn’t just go “ya I’m going to take 15 minutes to screw around” because I would often be stuck. The result of this was that a couple of the longer narrative-forced sections nearly had me shelving the game, simply because I wanted to be given a break to just do anything that wasn’t a fetch quest. This was another thing that felt a bit atypical of JRPGs, but in this case it felt like a negative to the experience.

Overall thought I was pleasantly surprised by this game. I figured it’d fill the gap between XB3’s DLC and Final Fantasy 16, but I ended up enjoying it enough to delay starting FF16 instead. It does a solid job of blending the One Piece IP with a really solid representation of the JRPG genre by borrowing combat reminiscent of Persona while doing a couple things here and there that broke some genre conventions, and it ended up being a better game for it. If you’re looking for something new to check out in this genre, I’d feel pretty good throwing this one out for a recommendation.

Game Ramblings #160.1 – Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed

More Info from Nintendo

  • Genre: JRPG
  • Platform: Switch

Original Ramblings

This expansion is by all definitions for the fans. It’s got returning important story characters from past entries in Rex and Shulk. It’s got import returning locations like Colony 9 from the original Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s got the ancestors of some of Chronicles 3’s cast. Basically, it’s there to be a trip specifically for fans of the series, but in that way it feels like the perfect way to cap the series.

This is every bit an extension of the gameplay from XC3, with a few things that feel really tailored towards an expansion experience. The obvious thing is that you power level like crazy to the point that I finished the game around level 60 and maybe had about 20 hours of gameplay. This is all taking place within a single connected world with a single map that you can get through pretty quickly. There’s some environmental things that allow you to basically zipline through the regions, and by the end of the game you’ll have unlocked so many of them that you can get end to end through the entire world in a matter of a couple of minutes without fast travel. I’d actually like to see this explored more in a future Xeno title, as being able to get around between regions quickly without a map feels way more engaging and connected to the world than a typical fast travel system.

Besides that stuff, the big thing added was an affinity system where you earn points for doing normal things (exploring, collecting, etc) to get points to purchase upgrades. There’s been variations on this in the past, but it all feels very directly do thing -> get cool stuff that powers you up. XC3 was already a game that was light on gearing as a power curve, and this feels like it leans further into simplifying away from XC2’s mess of stats as it combines stats, ability purchasing, and ability upgrading into a single source of selection. It obviously benefits the speed of power curve for an expansion experience, but it also feels like it would benefit a larger game as a whole.

However, there’s also a bit of an ending thing that gets into the potential future of the series, and that’s where I’m going to hide behind spoiler tags.


The core plot of XC3 within the overarching series was that Earth had previously been split in two, becoming the worlds of XC1 and XC2. By the time of XC3, the worlds had drifted back towards each other in an attempt to recombine. The plot of XC3 then ends with the worlds re-separating. The end boss sequence and post credits scene shows this process, but it adds a few additional things that seem to imply the Chronicles series is more tied to the rest of the Xeno games than we’ve been led to believe.

One of the first things that catches your attention is a series of radio broadcasts while the cast is being led through a virtual Earth. The radio broadcasts mention a few things of note. One is humans being sent to Sagittarius, where Xenogears ends up taking place. One is Project Exodus – the process of sending humans away to other planets. This is directly the same name as a project from Xenoblade Chronicles X, as well as a similar project from Xenosaga. During these broadcasts Dmitri Yuriev is also name dropped, and he is directly one of the antagonists in the Xenosaga series.

The final set of things comes during the post credits scene. During this scene, you see the two earths recombining. However, they also are seen coming out of some sort of cloaking. I assume this was hinting at the plot of Xenosaga, where Earth is lost due to cloaking. This is then followed up by a blue object of some sort crashing towards Earth, which again to me seems to imply it’s KOS-MOS from the end of Xenosaga III falling to Earth.

All that is to say that this expansion really is for the fans. It adds more context to the Xenoblade series, but also seems to imply ties to the rest of the overarching Xeno series, even if Nintendo doesn’t own those IPs. It also puts us in a place where they’ve given a number of jumping off points for whatever comes next, whether that’s an XC4 or an entirely new branch of the Xeno games.


If you at all enjoyed Xenoblade Chronicles 3, this expansion probably isn’t going to change that opinion. It’s still the same great core gameplay. As something that is simply more of a good thing, it’s enough to be worthwhile. As something for fans of the series, it’s even better. It clearly is there to both be a thanks to fans, as well as a nod towards what might come next and really puts an end cap on what I assume is the end of this set of Xeno titles.