Sea of Stars director unpacks Garl, 2023’s most wholesome gaming hero

"It's really just about you feeling good while you play and being happy to be in that world"

Sea of Stars Garl wholesome reunion scene

Over the course of a sprawling 30-hour journey, Sea of Stars takes you across dense forests, underwater caverns, and even space and time itself. On that quest, you meet everything from towering ancient dragons and spooky witches to demonic hellspawns and cyborg ninjas.

But amid all of those high fantasy and sci-fi elements, the star of Quebec City-based Sabotage’s acclaimed new Chrono Trigger-inspired RPG is definitely the ‘Warrior Cook’ Garl. Unlike our two Chosen One leads, Zale and Valere, Garl is a regular ol’ non-magical guy, contributing to the party instead with an infectious cheeriness, a love of sharing food, and an unwavering loyalty to his friends. In fact, his status as an everyman helps ground Zale and Valere and serves as the beating heart of the wider “save the world” story.

Sea of Stars Valere, Garl and Zale

Valere, Garl and Zale.

“He was always there as a key character — the friend who’s reminding you to smell the flowers and the one who takes it [all] in,” Sea of Stars writer-director Thierry Boulanger tells MobileSyrup in a wide-ranging interview.

“For some reason, it just felt right — let’s have someone who’s optimistic. It wasn’t planned for any other reason than I felt that it would feel good to spend time with a character like this. The game being more of a throwback, it doesn’t have to be ‘all is bad that ends bad, but there’s some moral.’ That’s good, but I feel like that ground is covered. We wanted to bring a game that just feels refreshing and light, and it makes you smile, and it’s optimistic, and it’s positive vibes, and it’s about friendship and evil,” heGarl GIF explains.

“These are all clichés, yes, but we’ll try not to hit the nail straight on the head and do it right, and then have a few twists in there to make it its own thing. But overall, it’s really just about you feeling good while you play and being happy to be in that world and have this character who helps you take it in and nudges you in that direction.”

We see that in display in the opening section, where Garl loses an eye protecting Valere after the trio of children wander into a forbidden cavern. Later, as Zale and Valere spend many years holed up in an academy training to become the prophesized Solstice Warriors, prohibited from leaving, Garl risks getting into further trouble with the headmaster by sneaking some treats in for them. Sea of Stars never gets overly deep or complex with its story and characters, but there’s an undeniable charm and warmth to be found in these character interactions.

Note: This is where the conversation shifts to significant spoilers, including the endings of Sea of Stars. Stop reading here if you haven’t gotten past the Dweller of Strife boss fight and your first encounter with the Fleshmancer.

While Sea of Stars is an overall light and quirky game, it definitely has its darker moments. The most emotional, by far, comes about two-thirds in, when the villainous Necromancer Aephorul makes his dreaded arrival. As he attacks Zale and Valere, Garl once more jumps in the way, this time being dealt a fatal blow. While he’s able to temporarily extend what little time he has left to further help the party, he ultimately succumbs to his injuries.

Sea of Stars Garl death

It’s a shocking twist, and one that Sea of Stars really mines to full effect, with many scenes of Zale, Valere, and the other characters grieving their fallen friend. You spend the rest of the game carrying on without him, venturing through the titular Sea of Stars to another world to ultimately put a stop to Aephorul. In the end, you manage to defeat Aephorul’s lieutenant and Zale and Valere’s former mentor, Erlina, but the Fleshmancer himself escapes, so the game ends on a more ambiguous note as the Solstice Warriors set off to prevent further conflicts.

However, in keeping with the Chrono Trigger inspirations, there’s a “true” ending to unlock by completing a pretty sizeable postgame that includes character-specific sidequests, secret bosses, and more. In it, you actually stop the Fleshmancer and, more importantly, revive Garl.

Of course, undoing a character’s death is always a tricky thing, especially when Garl’s had such emotional weight. Boulanger says it was a decision he didn’t make lightly, but it’s one he tried to be careful to make it feel earned both narratively and as a player’s reward for completing side content.

“Resurrecting a character is always like, ‘Well, do you actually have a reason that’s believable for how that works?’ Which, I think in our case, really works,” he says, referring to the death scene in question. In it, party member Resh’an, an alchemist who shares a history with Aephorul but can’t directly interfere with events, briefly manipulates time to converse with his old friend.

“If you watch that cutscene again, while they’re talking, Resh’an actually turns around to make sure the portal opens. He’s checking in on his plan — that it actually works. And so I felt like narratively, that checks out. It’s not like ‘Oh, you just shoehorned that in.’ It’s actually planted. And it’s all subjective, as I’m the writer and I’m obviously biased, but I felt like it was credible enough to make sense.”

Sea of Stars Garl FleshmancerBoulanger also says he feels that the true ending happening many hours down the line gives Garl’s death enough room to breathe.

“And the other thing is [the true ending] happens late enough that you’re kind of done grieving and invested in something else and fully accepted [his death] and then he comes back. It’s not like, ‘Ooh, are they gonna die? See you next time!'” he explains.

“Let’s actually own this and then for those who actually go and complete everything, you get a very, very meaningful reward. But for some people, the game will be, ‘Well, my friend is dead, I got revenge on my mentor, but the actual bad guy was just let off the hook, and so be it.'”

Another benefit, Boulanger says, was to give Garl one more standout scene in which he gets to once more face off against his would-be killer.

“Especially the taunt — he just throws an apple at [Aephorul’s] head,” Boulanger says with a laugh.

“And I just thought this idea — well, it depends if your ace is high enough — of how the lowest card is the only thing that beats the king. And I think for this guy, his pure heart — ‘There’s an injustice here, I’m righting this. I don’t care what it takes. I don’t care who you are. I’ll just do this.’ I genuinely feel like narratively, all of that makes sense, and it pays off.”

Given the touching final shot of the game, in which Zale, Valere and Garl embrace one more time to bring everything full circle, I’d have to agree.

Sea of Stars Garl endingSea of Stars is now available on PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC. It’s also available through Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium.

Image credit: Sabotage