From the moment that it was revealed at EA Play back in 2018, I knew I had to play Sea of Solitude. Between the stunning aesthetic, the mysterious vibe of the story, and the sinister creatures that haunted the game world, it seemed to offer everything that I wanted from a deep narrative experience. After playing it though, I’ve found that it’s actually so much more than I anticipated…
This isn’t just another pretty ‘walking sim’, but rather an enticing tale that is full of heart and that clearly conveys the negative emotions that people feel as they grow up. It is made clear at the start that Sea of Solitude is inspired by a lot of the negative experiences from game creator Cornelia Geppert’s life, and it is that deeply personal touch that helps make the whole thing feel more relatable and in turn more mesmerising.
Sea of Solitude puts you in the shoes of Kay, a young lady who takes on a dark and shadowy form. After awakening at sea, she’s guided by a vibrant girl as the landscape around her becomes more beautiful. That girl soon disappears though and the world changes to a more desolate look, with a huge monster looming over Kay and antagonising her with her own negative thoughts. It’s up to Kay to battle through this and try to bring the light back to her life, all whilst confronting her demons head on and avoiding the grasp of the monsters that are out to get her.
Those monsters are a reflection of the people Kay knew, with each one suffering in their own little way that wasn’t always perfectly clear to her. It’s clever in design and seeing it dawn on Kay that a lot of their suffering went unnoticed was certainly eye-opening – some of the themes in the game are things that plenty of gamers could actually relate to, so experiencing it in an interactive medium could actually hit home quite a bit. Sea of Solitude certainly isn’t subtle in its approach and doesn’t hold back as far as tackling each situation is concerned, though it’s something you’ll come to appreciate by the time you reach the end of the game. It’s just a deep and meaningful experience.
A lot of your time in Sea of Solitude will be spent exploring the sea on your boat, with the player able to weave around the areas of the city which are above sea-level and even get out to scour across them on-foot. Admittedly, there’s not always a whole lot to see, but some collectible bottles that offer extra bits of story and a selection of seagulls to shoo away will probably prove appealing to completionists.
The sea itself is fairly open in design, but you do have access to a flare that when fired points you in the direction you need to go, so you shouldn’t ever really find yourself getting lost. It’s quite tranquil in a way, with the moments on the boat proving to be quite peaceful and offering moments of solace away from the monsters that seemingly haunt Kay. That being said, when you’re on-foot the tension can ramp up a bit thanks to the additional puzzle and explorative mechanics that are introduced, so having those balanced out by these more easy-going moments can be quite appreciated.
Of course, you’ve also got to be wary of the monsters that are lingering across Sea of Solitude’s world. Some will leave you alone, but others are out to get you. There’s one in particular that slithers through the water and tries to lure you in, so when you do have to swim to reach certain areas it can get pretty intense. Fortunately, a quick press of the X button will highlight the monster’s position to you, but that doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking when you see her hone in on Kay.
There are other creatures out to get you too, such as the human-like shadows that lurk throughout the school setting. With these, you’ve simply got to run away or use your flare to blast them away. Whilst these moments were full of suspense as you try to get away from your pursuers, they could be a little bit frustrating too – sometimes your path away from them isn’t always clear, whilst on one occasion it was so dark that I just couldn’t work out how to get away from them. These are minor issues in the grand scheme of things though, and most encounters with monsters in the game are well-designed and clearly thought out.
One thing that everyone will notice about Sea of Solitude is that it’s an absolutely beautiful game, with the aesthetic lending itself well to the themes of the game thanks to its blend of vibrant lights and unsettling sights. The city itself is impressive too, which is something that’s emphasised when the water-level around you shifts and you start to see the abundance of attractive architecture that previously lay underneath you – there was one moment in particular when the sea parted that really blew me away, especially since it gave you a chance to take a closer look at the previously submerged streets. It’s just stunning to look at, whilst the soundtrack that plays throughout the world manages to capture each moment of turmoil and bliss perfectly.
Sea of Solitude’s adventure is an emotional and thoughtful one, with Kay’s struggles against the demons that haunt her not only hitting home but making for plenty of suspenseful moments in-game. The way that the gameplay ties into the experience makes it all the more enjoyable too, with its blend of peaceful moments of tranquillity and desperate pursuits from monsters giving the player more than enough to do.
It has a few frustrating moments though and it could be guilty of being a bit too easy-going on occasions, but anyone who appreciates a deep and meaningful narrative that tackles real-life struggles won’t want to miss out on Sea of Solitude.
Developer: Jo-Mei Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC