Sea of Stars accessibility
Sea of Stars combines audio and visual feedback well, and relics can improve the accessibility. A lack of mouse support lets it down a bit.
- Extensive tutorial section with subcategories
- Relics can reduce combat difficulty and enhance visual fidelity
- Remappable keyboard controls
- Sound is not required to experience the story
- Accessible Windowed Mode
- No mouse support on PC
- Traversal items require multiple button commands
Sea of Stars is a turn-based RPG, inspired by classic fantasy games of the early nineties. Indie developer Sabotage Studio published the game and released it for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch. Timed attacks and blocks can be used to gain status advantages in combat, while Relics are collectible items in the game that offer players reduced difficulty overall. Sea of Stars promises a wholesome fantasy adventure, a pixel art-style, and a uniquely modern twist on accessibility.
Players can choose to control one of two playable heroes named Zale and Valere. They use the power of the moon and sun to fight an evil alchemist called the Fleshmancer and the otherworldly creatures that he summons. Along the way, they’ll be accompanied by a warrior-cook and their childhood friend, named Garl. There’s turn-based combat with enemy weaknesses, and occasional timed hits for blocking and critical strikes. On top of fighting monsters, the game has environmental puzzles, as well as optional minigames like cooking, tabletop games, and fishing.
Starting the Journey
Sea of Stars wasted no time getting to the title screen after a few publisher credits. From there, I could start a new game and access the options menu. The options menu had separate tabs for the controls, audio, visuals, and general game settings. Sea of Stars doesn’t have a separate accessibility menu.
At the beginning of the game, Sea of Stars has a hefty tutorial section which goes over the basics of combat. Every action and game mechanic then has a descriptive tutorial cataloged under the “How to Play” tab, in the pause menu. This tutorial section had helpful guides, conveniently categorized under the subcategories: Traversal, Combat, and Survival. This came in handy, as it can be accessed anytime after starting the game.
No Mouse Controls
I’m reviewing the PC version of Sea of Stars and the controls are somewhat limited. Keyboard key bindings are remappable, but there is no mouse support whatsoever. This wasn’t a big issue during combat, because turns don’t time-out and fighting mainly consists of moving through menus. Things got tricky once it became important that I explore more of the world map. Dungeons are vast and sometimes they require jumping while using another item at the same time.
Choosing to not incorporate the mouse at all, when it comes to the combat or movement, was a baffling decision for the developers to make. Even just having the option to move a character on the map by clicking, would have helped the accessibility of navigating Sea of Stars. I managed, but I suspect other disabled players with fine-motor skill impairments will have issues exploring the dungeons like I did. To be clear, there is controller support and I’ve heard on console that movement is much more fluid.
Sea of Stars tries a different take on the RPG genre, by including no random encounters and seamless traversal of the map. Enemies are always visible on the battlefield, making it easier to prepare for a fight. Movement is not bound to a grid, so jumping, climbing, and swimming through dungeons was more like a platformer experience. Still, it was simple and I was never required to move diagonally until traversal items were introduced.
When I wasn’t fighting monsters I was searching for hidden treasure and completing puzzles in dungeons. Puzzles often require exploring, backtracking, and occasionally using key items. Some of these items I’ve dubbed, Traversal Items, because they open up new areas or physically move the player character to higher elevations. One example is, the Mistral Bracelet, which pushes objects out of the way using a gust of wind.
Sometimes traversal items have more than one purpose or require more advanced button commands. About a third-of-the-way through the game, A grappling hook-like item is unlocked called, The Graplou. It latches on to spikes in the ground by throwing the item and holding down three different buttons, depending on the direction. The Graplou is essential in reaching hidden areas and exploring later dungeons. This was rather difficult for me because moving diagonally with the on-screen keyboard is a challenge.
Turn-Based Combat and Timed Hits
When getting an enemy’s attention, the game transitions to a linear battlefield and turn-based combat commences. I could perform multiple actions each turn and switch out characters when needed. Single attacks can be charged up with magical energy. Enemies are weak against certain magic and weapon types including moon magic, sun magic, strike damage, and blunt damage.
Two or more characters can perform group attacks, called Combos, for added damage and a status bar slowly filling up as enemies weaknesses are hit. Players can find six party members in the game, but main characters Zale and Valere are already equipped to do sun and moon magic.
Timing hits while fighting in Sea of Stars was the most fun I’ve had with turn-based combat in a very long time! This system successfully makes the combat feel more fast-paced and bombastic. When attacking or blocking at just the right moment, the game utilizes sound effects and visual flare. Timing isn’t necessarily required to win a battle, but it can increase attack damage or half damage received.
Occasionally, enemies will group up and surround the party. There were particularly nasty ant monsters with a habit of summoning at least 3 or 4 of their friends right before they died. It’s a good thing that some attacks can take out more than one monster in one turn. For example, my favorite move was Valere’s “Moonerang”, because it was a multi-chain attack that hit multiple enemies while it sped up the music in a way that I enjoyed.
Attacks or combos sometimes involve speed, but mostly it’s about figuring out the right pattern. Thankfully, Sea of Stars describes how to perform special moves and combos just in case players forget. There are brief tutorials that appear when performing these moves and it happens every time. There are also collectibles that help lower the difficulty for timing hits. I will go into more detail about them in the section below.
Sea of Stars doesn’t have traditional difficulty settings or an obvious accessibility section. Instead, the game opted to put all of its accessibility options into collectible items, called Relics. Each of the Relics has a perk or disadvantage, that ultimately allows players to customize their experience. Sea of Stars encourages players to search for them in dungeons or buy them at shops.
Relics can greatly increase or decrease the difficulty of the combat, but many of them are missable items. One relic might make someone stronger, while another may cause a character’s health to be reduced. My favorite relic is Sixth Sense. This relic gave a higher chance of automatically blocking attacks, while still letting me manually block if I wanted. When collected, they can be toggled on and off at any time.
Thankfully, many of the Relics that have big advantages are available near the start of the game. Some of these include, the Sequent Flare Relic and the Amulet of Storytelling. The Amulet of Storytelling is a Relic that doubles the party’s HP and fully heals everyone after every battle. I recommend players with fine-motor skill impairments turn on this Relic, because it greatly reduces the stress of preparing for each enemy encounter.
The Sequent Flare Relic gives extra visual flare to timed hits to make it easier to know when they were successful. This is recommended for players wanting stronger visual feedback while mastering certain skills. Whether it be blocking or attacking, this relic makes a star shoot into the sky to give players a clear confirmation of a successful hit.
My favorite thing about them is that each Relic has a detailed description. This makes it very transparent what bonus or penalty the Relic activates. I’ve never seen items used like this before and I think they worked really well. Many relics have great audio and visual feedback that could help a lot of players. Even though they’re optional, they made the game a lot easier for me. I felt a big accomplishment every time I found one.
Sights and Sounds of Adventure
There’s no need for subtitles in Sea of Stars, because there’s no audible dialog in the game. It does have customizable sound levels for the UI, sound effects, music, and master volume. Legendary composer, Yasunori Mitsuda, did the soundtrack for the game and though it adds a nice retro feel, sounds are not necessary to complete the game.
Enemies have icons above their heads, letting players know their weaknesses and how many turns are left until they attack. There’s a brightness slider available in the options menu, and the game also has a nice working Windowed mode. This allowed me to use the on-screen keyboard with no issues.
Sea of Stars is a hidden gem that made me remember why I loved RPGs. Combat combines audio and visual feedback with a result that is truly a treat for the senses. There isn’t any mouse support on PC, but controls are remappable. Sea of Stars’ Relics allow for disabled players to customize their experience, reducing difficulty of combat and offer visual accessibility for timed attacks.