Sailing Era is an exploration, commerce, and battle simulation game set in the age of sail from GY Games. Do you long to sail the open seas, find hidden treasures, make fantastic discoveries, and sell the locals some damaged wheat? If so, I am slightly worried. But I might just have a game for you.
I’m a teenager.
Well, I was a teenager. A long time ago, I mean. So long ago, I rode my bike to Dave’s Movies and More each Friday night to discover new video games. It wasn’t a short trip, either. I always got there way too late. By then, other video gamists with cars or parents willing to drive them had thinned the selection. Sometimes…well, most of the time, I ended up with something terrible like Awesome Possum. But other times, I’d find a flawed gem or undiscovered treasure. So it was I stumbled upon Uncharted Waters: New Horizons for the Sega Genesis. The back of the box made it look like Final Fantasy II with pirates, and I was sold. I kept it for a week, then two. I wracked up fees at Dave’s so high I didn’t go back for years.
It played quite a bit like Final Fantasy at a superficial level. You are a cute little sprite that bounces as you walk, and you can talk to other cute little sprites of townsfolk, romance waitresses in cafes, and even get missions from kings. Once you take sail, you’re still a bouncing sprite. But now, how fast you move depends on the skill of your sailors and the wind. I played as a young man fresh from Portugal, exploring the world. A Turkish merchant, out to buy the world. A Spanish privateer out to stab the world (and steal its booty). Those were only half of the options. They each had a unique career path and difficulty level. The game was a giant sandbox with so much to do that it was overwhelming.
I remember thinking then, “If games are this amazing now, just think about what they will be able to do when I’m an elderly man in his early forties!”.
But, In Reality…
…while games are prettier now, they’ve mostly gotten less complex. There are always bright spots; roguelike card games are a relatively new genre that I absolutely love. But most games today are sports, action RPGs, or first-person shooters. So it is in search of evolutions to the games of my youth that periodically I like to search Steam for what I call “likes.” Isometric CRPGs like Fallout, for example. Or strategy games like Civilization. Genre is a big part of that, sure, but this is more specific. I’m looking for spiritual successors. Games that take a formula I love and expand on it. And that’s how I found Sailing Era, by looking for games like Uncharted Waters.
It’s A Comparison The Game Wears On Its Sleeve.
You choose from diverse characters, including a young Portuguese man exploring the world, a pirate out for revenge, and a trader trying to…well, trade.
You sail around an open-world sandbox, trading, discovering, and fighting. Each of the characters has a storyline for you to explore. Nobles give you missions to discover new animals, plants, and locations. Your sailing speed is determined by the skill of your sailers and the wind. You can even still find waitresses in bars worldwide that you can “romance .” They love to compliment your drinking, which, to be fair, I am excellent at.
But, In Some Ways, Sailing Era Suffers By The Comparison.
The graphics are improved, of course. But Sailing Era isn’t exactly cutting edge. The characters are anime-inspired static pictures with a few different expressions. While at sea, it looks basically like an updated version of Sid Meier’s Pirates! from 2004. The controls are strange. It’s built for a controller, but you can also use a mouse and keyboard. Either way, the ship piloting is awkward. I also have yet to find a way to use the controller to contact other ships while sailing.
There are also some issues with the quests. The sparse information in your journal of objectives leaves you with no idea what to do next if you reload later or just miss some dialogue. Sailing Era is also considerably easier. I spent most of my time with the game as Andrew, the Portuguese captain. Virtually before the opening cut scenes end, he’s provided a ship, funding, and two crew members. Governors pay handsomely for discoveries, and supplies are cheap. So it takes little effort to keep sailing.
In Uncharted Waters, the battle system was turn-based. Boarding used a dueling system based on a simple rock-papers-scissors card game. In Sailing Era, battles are in real-time. This may be more to your tastes for some, but this was a severe downgrade for me. Taste aside, the real issue is it only works well when the battle is small. A couple of ships at most. Any more than that, and it got too chaotic to have any idea what was happening. I found I would still usually win, but I sometimes had little idea why.
Besides the battle, the biggest disappointment for me is the removal of factions. In Uncharted Waters, there were multiple different factions. How they felt about you determined if you could trade with them or if they would attack you. There are ways to curry favor with specific ports in Sailing Era through bounty hunter missions and a Commerce guild that gives you trading quests. But they only unlock certain boons for that single port. There are no overarching factions to contend with here.
Still, There Are Some Things That Sailing Era Adds To The Formula.
You can start a guild and can sail trade missions around the globe. Investment in the port through the guild can also unlock other benefits. It provides a valuable money sink in a game where money is over plentiful. There are different cabins you can add to your ship that provide bonuses as well: A mapping room that lets you auto-sail with the help of a navigator. A gun room that upgrades your cannons. An Officer’s room to let you negotiate with other ships at sea.
You can find clues to treasure in libraries if you can read the language and have the skills. Some of the requirements are pretty hefty, which can be frustrating. But it also gives you something to work towards. Some effects can damage your goods. For example, your porcelain could get waterlogged or damaged by cannon fire. I understand not wanting to buy chipped dishes, but who cares if they get wet? Thankfully, your crew can protect them or even upgrade them en route!
Lastly, there’s the audio. The music and the voice acting (what little there is) are far beyond anything the original game was capable of. But that’s not saying much. The score is fine. If sweeping orchestral is your thing, great news! It works well for the setting, but I found it a bit dry. The voice acting, on the other hand, is quite good but far too sparse. The main characters are not voiced, nor is any of the text you’ll read ever spoken aloud. Instead, there are occasional snippets of characters speaking in their native tongues. Voice work is expensive, so I don’t begrudge them this choice at all, but it is worth mentioning.
So Where Do I land on Sailing Era?
(No, you made a terrible pun and tried to hide it in the sum-up section of the review)
It’s a game that takes inspiration from one of my favorites of all time, so no matter what tiny issues I have with it, I can’t stay mad. It doesn’t always succeed in living up to Uncharted Waters, but the additions that it does make are solid. The best summary I can give is this: I’ve played a hundred hours of this game and am still excited to return for more. If you’re new to the sail anywhere genre, this could be a revelation. There isn’t much else out there that does what this game does. On the other hand, if you have played Uncharted Waters before, this may just be the return to form you are looking for. But be wary of the differences. They weren’t enough to ruin it for me, but I would understand if they did.
A Quick Postscript:
…a word of caution. As seen above, the people in Sailing Era are represented by what seems to me to be anime-inspired drawings. They are high quality, but many of the people you meet are people of color, and the stylization of the depictions can be…suspect. I am not a person of color, so it’s not my place to say if these are offensive. They certainly don’t seem to be done with a mean spirit. I just thought it was worth mentioning. So be forewarned. If that could be an issue for you, check screenshots before you pick the game up.
So that’s my review of Sailing Era by GY Games. If you like old-school gaming, check out this preview from PAX of Alterium Shift. Or if you would like a glimpse into the world of comics you can check out my piece on Morbius!
Thanks for reading! If you’ve played the game, let me know what you think in the comments below!