I taught my daughter to love RPGs by playing Sea of Stars

And it warms this gamer’s heart.

Sabotage Studio

I've always dreamed of revisiting classic RPGs with my kids — I wanted them to jump across time with me in Chrono Trigger, or pretend to be sky pirates in Skies of Arcadia. It's not that tough to transform a well-told RPG into an interactive storybook for children (though I may have to shield their eyes from the more gruesome bits of Final Fantasy VII). I've been planning my "intro to RPGs" playlist for years, waiting for the moment my daughter Sophia began to look beyond the storytelling stylings of Peppa Pig.

But one night she saw me playing Sea of Stars, the recent Chrono-inspired retro RPG from Sabotage Studio, and she was hooked. I didn't need to entice her like I originally thought. The game's gorgeous 2D pixel art, catchy music (including some tunes from Chrono Trigger composer Yasunori Mitsuda) and epic story were more than enough to captivate her. While I held the Switch, she kept an eye out for enemies and treasure chests, and she stayed engaged with the story as I broke it down for her. She also clapped whenever I hit the action button at just the right time to deliver an extra hit, or to block an enemy's blow (a nifty feature taken from Super Mario RPG).

Three character's hugging in Sea of Stars.
Sabotage Studio

Sophia loved the two leads — Valere and Zale, who she calls Moon Girl and Sun Boy — and their colorful companions. She teared up when a major character sacrificed themself to defeat the Big Bad (that was a long conversation). And she held tight as we took on the final boss, setting the two leads up for a larger adventure once we defeated them. Now, we're mopping up additional side quests and working towards the "true" ending. Sophia doesn't want to stop until we've seen everything the game has to offer, a sign that she's going to be quite the completionist when she's ready to play on her own.

Don't judge me, but games have become an integral part of my daughter's wind-down time at night. They help her to calm down and relax before bathtime, a sort of pre-storytime before we read some actual books before bed. We're not playing anything fast-paced or loud, and the games offer plenty of teachable moments when it comes to spelling words, counting and complex moral choices. From what I can gather, watching a screen at night (which I keep distant from her and a bit dim) hasn't affected her ability to fall asleep on schedule either. (Yes, I know it's not recommended. I also waited until Sophia was over four years old before we started nightly gaming — I'm sure it would have been more troublesome if I started earlier.)

Before Sea of Stars, we also played around 20 hours of Dave the Diver, another recent release with a glorious pixel art aesthetic. Recently, we've also spent some time with the delightful Super Mario Bros. Wonder. But after playing a few levels of that, Sophia almost always wants to play Sea of Stars instead. Now she can tell the difference between a platformer like Mario, a game with a variety of experiences like Dave the Diver and an RPG (she calls them "adventure games," officially settling that debate). I'm sure she'll appreciate the mechanics of other genres more once she learns how to both run and jump at the same time in Mario. For now, she leans towards story.

Fighting a large boss in Sea of Stars
Sabotage Studio

Once it was clear that Sophia was truly into RPGs as a concept, I introduced her to Chrono Trigger. For whatever reason, Square Enix hasn't re-released it yet on the Switch, and I wanted to play it on a more portable system than the Steam Deck. That left me with the iPhone port of the game, which looks pretty great on my iPhone 15 Pro Max. While there's no option to use the game's original graphics — a perk of the Steam release — the iOS version of Chrono Trigger still has all of the charm and whimsy that made me fall in love with the SNES version. (And as a nice bonus, there's an auto button to speed through minor fights!)

Sophia immediately noticed the many (many!) similarities between Sea of Stars and Chrono Trigger. The overworld map is framed similarly, they both feature some of the best pixel art of their time and they both ultimately weave an epic story. Playing both games back-to-back reveals some of Sea of Star's weaker elements — it takes a while to truly get going and the writing is a bit more simplistic. But it also makes me really want to play a proper Chrono sequel with Sea of Stars' battle system.

Within 15 minutes of starting Chrono Trigger, Sophia and I were thrown back 400 years into the past. We were looking for Marle, the princess-in-hiding, who vanished soon after we found her. Then I had to explain the potential consequences of timeline interference to a 5 year old. And Sophia immediately understood what was happening: We had to save Marle's ancestor before Marle ceased to exist! Just try competing with that, Peppa!

Traveling on a ship in Sea of Stars
Sabotage Studio

To be clear, this isn't really Sophia's first rodeo with complex storytelling. She's devoured almost all of Miyazaki's films (we're holding off on Princess Mononoke because it may be too scary, and she's probably not ready for the mature exploration of death and art in The Wind Rises), and I've guided her through Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. So I shouldn't be surprised that she's fully embracing the power of RPGs. After envisioning this moment for years, I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.

It won’t be too long before she’ll be regaling me with stories of her own RPG adventures. And when she’s ready, I’m going to blow her mind with a one-two punch of Xenogears and Neon Genesis Evangelion. She’ll thank me later.