Every so often, a game comes along that dares to do something different in terms of narrative design and the themes that get explored. The EA Originals lineup of games over the past year has been a blessing in disguise for the company, with the likes of Fe and A Way Out doing quite well both critically and with fan reception. Sea of Solitude is the latest entry into that lineup of games, and the message has been clearly communicated from the very beginning. This is a game about mental health issues and the ups and downs of everyday life as we struggle to get through this together.
Title: Sea of Solitude
Developer: Jo-Mei Games
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PC
Release Date: July 5, 2019
Game Purchased for the Purpose of This Review
Immediately upon entering the title screen, players are greeted with a giant face staring back at them that already sets the tone as being very unnerving. The prologue is dark and gritty, preparing you for what lies in store. Not long after you begin navigating through the waters on your boat, the world shifts into a peaceful and serene sense of calming when the dark aesthetic disappears for a more natural lighting style. It’s here where Sea of Solitude plants its flag and attempts to make a statement.
Almost everything you do throughout the story, all of the narrative plot points, the monsters you come across, and even the collectibles all have a metaphorical meaning behind them. This is what makes Sea of Solitude so interesting for someone like myself, who suffers through many mental health issues on a day to day basis. If you’re currently going through some stuff and can feel the weight of the world just weighing you down, or you suffer from crippling anxiety for a number of different reasons.. there’s something that will speak to you in this game written and designed by Cornelia Geppert.
Gameplay wise, there isn’t much going on, and at times it’s rather boring as the extent of what you’ll be doing is walking and listening to the story being told to you. I have zero issues with the genre many have dubbed “walking simulators”, and while this is far from a traditional walking simulator, you will be doing a lot of walking in between searching for collectibles and navigating the waters on your boat.
These moments are broken up by sequences that occur which have Kay, the main female protagonist, clearing corruption and subsequently adding more “weight” to her burden which is represented by the backpack she carries around. At times, these events can be the most fun you’ll have in Sea of Solitude, as it requires you to avoid other monsters and obstacles. Kay cannot physically attack any of the creatures that populate the world, and instead must utilize her surroundings and the abilities within her mind to progress through the story.
Other than that, light platforming elements and the search for hidden collectibles are the main driving forces behind Sea of Solitude. Seagulls and Messages in Bottles are your collectibles, and while a good majority of them are easy enough to find, a few took me well off the beaten path into areas of the world I may have otherwise missed. So there is a slight challenge for players who want to find them all, and it added roughly a few extra hours onto an otherwise extremely short experience. My final playtime clocked in around 5.5 hours, but the game can easily be finished in 3 if you just stick to the main story path and do very little exploring.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a variation in landscape and design throughout the campaign. After watching a few trailers and getting a feel for the game before it released, I was mostly expecting this to take place in a boat and on the water as you navigate around the world. While this does exist, it’s actually only just a minor portion, as more often than not, the sea will part (I guess not only Moses can do that) and Kay is able to explore the flooded city on foot, seeing memories of her past along the way. Storytelling is obviously where the game shines brightest, and being able to find out exactly what is going on and why to all of these characters you’ll come across is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes happy, especially when conclusions are reached and their more human side appears rather than just the monster side.
There were a few minor annoyances with the actual narrative and dialogue that I noticed, as it became extremely predictable where certain elements were going to go and end up. The voice acting too just isn’t consistent, and oftentimes feels forced and silly. Kay is fine, which is good since she’s the one you’re going to hear most as the protagonist, but everyone else just felt weirdly off.
Graphically, the game looks and runs well enough. Jo-Mei Games chose an aesthetic and palette that easily portrays the sense of dread that they wanted, and I felt it fit perfectly with all the dark themes and issues that were going down. The soundtrack, on the other hand, nails the mood and is an excellent companion to an otherwise already emotional journey. The way Guy Jackson composed certain elements of the music to be in tune and time with moments on the screen, especially with tracks that utilize chanting and humming.. let’s just say there were a few moments that left me with goosebumps running up and down my arm. And if you know me, have listened to our podcasts in the past, or just have read my other writings here on Level Down Games, you’ll know this is one of my favorite feelings in the world.
The controls are my only other complaint, as there were times when it just felt clunky and unresponsive. I played through EA Origin Access Premiere on PC using an Xbox One controller, and while this didn’t persist throughout the entire game, there were several annoyances like the boat feeling like old-school tank movement at times and getting stuck on terrain that it didn’t seem like it should.
For Sea of Solitude, it isn’t about the length of the experience or really even the gameplay. It’s all about the narrative and exploration of themes that do not have enough light shined on them in modern society, especially in the gaming medium. Be warned that there are some unsettling moments and truly dark undertones, especially when diving into the realm of suicide and depression. If you struggle with any negative thoughts or emotions, please don’t keep it bottled up inside. Reach out to someone and talk to them. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know, call 1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). They’re always available, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
7.0 / 10