In 2020, Quebec City-based indie developer Sabotage Studio launched a crowdfunding campaign for its second game, Sea of Stars. Unlike its acclaimed first title, The Messenger, this sophomore effort would be a turn-based RPG featuring 2D pixel art in the vein of Chrono Trigger. This loving throwback resonated with fans, allowing Sea of Stars to become the biggest Canadian game on Kickstarter to date.
Adding to that authenticity is the fact that Sabotage was actually able to enlist Chrono Trigger‘s celebrated composer, Yasunori Mitsuda, to contribute to Sea of Stars‘ score. In the past, the studio has noted that it was actually a pretty simple situation of reaching out to Mitsuda, who quickly agreed having played and enjoyed The Messenger. Now that Sea of Stars has finally been released, though, we asked Thierry Boulanger, the game’s writer-director, more about that collaboration.
On the whole, the score was composed by Eric W. Brown, who previously composed for The Messenger under the alias “rainbowdragoneyes.” His music for Sabotage’s first game was rightly celebrated, and his similarly nostalgic work on Sea of Stars — some 150 tracks — is arguably even better.
But Sabotage also wanted to sweeten the deal with Mitsuda’s involvement, and once they’d landed that, Boulanger says he was surprised at just how eager the legendary RPG composer was from the start.
“Our thing was, ‘You could make between one and 10 [songs] — we’re happy to only have one, like a statement or whatever.’ Then he looked at everything and said, ‘I’d actually love to do the entire scope that you’re offering.’ It’s not like we had more and he stopped at 10 — 10 was the ceiling we had,” explains Boulanger with a laugh. “And so from there, Eric and I had this ‘wet dream’ moment of, ‘we get 10?!'”
From there, that meant figuring out “what are the 10 things we need” from Mitsuda.
“We for sure need a boss battle track. We for sure need something spooky. Because this man just flicks his wrist and you’re falling in love in black and white while waving someone goodbye during the fall. He just has a way — he can just do that,” says Boulanger with a glow in his eyes. “So we needed a melancholic one — we needed something reminiscent of childhood. Sailing is his, as well — something world map that kind of feels like “Dream of the Shore” from Chrono Cross.”
On the subject of the Chrono Trigger sequel, Boulanger says one of Sea of Stars‘ earliest levels, the large waterfall-filled beachy mountain area known as the Coral Cascades, was designed specifically as an homage to Lizard Rock in the Square RPG, which was also composed by Mitsuda.
“That level was designed as a celebration of his joining,” notes Boulanger. “Let’s make the perfect setting that even visually calls back to his work, and then he gets to make a track to put a bow on it. It has a very special place in my heart even though it’s very early in the game.”
Meanwhile, Mitsuda had a request of his own: to compose the theme for the enigmatic assassin party member, Serai.
“He was like, ‘I felt something special with her.’ So I’m like, ‘Okay, you get her theme as well. You’re inspired — that brief writes itself.'”
While Mitsuda’s talent speaks for itself, Boulanger says he was also taken with just how receptive Mitsuda ended up being. By his own admission, Boulanger only learned how to become a game director while at Sabotage, as his previous experience in the Quebec industry was in programming.
For that reason, he’s always open to getting feedback about how he can better explain the outlines he gives for ideas related to the likes of story, characters, and art design. “Sometimes I do a terrible sketch — I still draw like I’m four.” Therefore, he was fully prepared to provide Mitsuda with even more direction, but that wasn’t ever needed.
“I was waiting for feedback on how I could do this better, but he just rolled with it,” says Boulanger. “He completely aced the assignment.”
On the one hand, he notes that he wasn’t surprised. “You know you’re playing with power when you’ve got this guy on the other end listening to you.” But it’s Mitsuda’s grasp on the finer details that proved especially impressive.
“Imagine you’re working with an actor who’s so good that you can go like, ‘Can I see the face of, ‘No, I love lasagna, but it’s not what I ordered.’ It’s this very subtle like disappointment, but it’s okay. And I found that he was really good at the granular about the emotions that a moment should convey.”
A prime example of this can be found in the town of Mirth.
“It’s a retreat in a pine lodge where you can wear a t-shirt and there’s snow but you still feel good in a t-shirt and the air is clean and fresh. And he just picked up on those subtleties and the feeling in the moment, and he was really able to capture all of them.” Contrasting that completely is Mitsuda’s eerie theme for the Dweller of Woe, which includes cursed chanting.
“He was able to play on so many tones,” says Boulanger. “It was really special.”
Sea of Stars is now available on PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC on August 29th. The game is also offered through Game Pass and PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium.
Boulanger says the soundtrack for Sea of Stars will be released “soon” on music streaming services.
Image credit: Sabotage Studio