Sea of Solitude Review
Developed by Jo-Mei Games under the EA Originals banner, Sea of Solitude has been a hotly anticipated title since its initial announcement at least years E3. Telling a very personal story of loneliness, depression, and a whole host of our darkest emotions that we generally try to hide from the public eye, Sea of Solitude captivated us as a community for its promise of an honest, uncensored look at a melancholy side of the human psyche. Jo-Mei Games handles the subject matter in a beautiful way, but if you are someone sensitive to the topics of loneliness, depression, and the range of emotions and personal struggles associated, feel free to skip to the end of the review for a simple recap of the game.
Mental illness as a whole is not an easy topic to discuss or portray well in media. Sea of Solitude, however, is a visionary project which – while short in run time – crams every single nook and cranny full of impactful metaphors and somber, poetic imagery. The protagonist, Kay, begins her journey on a small lifeboat out at sea, lost and adrift. In the opening minutes of the game you’ll learn everything you need to know mechanically of how Sea of Solitude works: fire a flare to find your next objective, absorb the darkness that plagues the light, and of course your basic jumping ability. There are two collectible types to gather, with the far more interesting one being messages in a bottle. These messages are left from yourself the previous times you had been “here,” referencing the last time Kay fell into a deep depression lost inside her own mind.
The monsters Kay encounters – while not explicitly named – are manifestations of her own self-loathing and that uncomfortable voice in the back of her mind, taunting her with insults, sneer remarks to end her own life and to give up on ever trying to help anyone. The imagery and dialogue blend together to create an unfortunately beautiful portrait of what it feels like to be locked in depression and entirely alone; the drab darkness, floating endlessly, being alone with only your thoughts, memories, and regrets… The trials Kay goes through on her journey are crushing realizations and suppressed memories as she slowly remembers the truth of what has happened to her loved ones. I admit that after the first few chapters I needed to turn the game off and play something with senseless violence and pounding music because the narrative is crushingly impactful to anyone who has experienced these feelings of depression and self-loathing.
The Beauty in Sorrow
Aesthetically this game hits every mark to keep up with its theme. When in the light, buildings are vibrant, soft colors with a beautiful sea and pleasant music. In times of sorrow it quickly changes to drab darkness and rainfall. The monsters of Kay’s mind appear as massive shapes with almost no definition except for their glowing eyes. Even the fact Kay remains on rooftops and only ever touches the ground to relive memories speaks volumes about her seclusion within her mind. It is both beautiful and heart-wrenching at the same time.
Can a Game be Just a Story?
While I won’t give away the ending to the game because it is key to the journey as a whole, it does bring the narrative to a satisfying close. While this all encompassing narrative is everything we wanted and expected out of Sea of Solitude, I am left wondering if making it into a video game was the best medium of choice. While it helps engage the player to put them in control of Kay, the gameplay component is a little too simply to say the least. With little to no puzzle solving, the game breaks down as a glorified walking-sim. This is definitely not a game for combat, but including complex visual or auditory puzzles could have made the experience that much greater. I do want to reiterate that the narrative, subject matter, and voice acting are all an immaculate experience and well worth your time, but from a gameplay perspective it isn’t quite what it could have been.
Sea of Solitude is a short but impactful, memorable experience that treats the subject matter of depression, loneliness, and mental illness with both respect and honesty. At times the content may hit a little too close to home, but pushing through the pain and reaching the end of the game is a satisfying and worthwhile experience. It is, however, only the games powerhouse storytelling that holds it together as mechanically it’s a lot of walking with some minor platforming. There is a lot of potential for some innovative and memorable puzzles here, but the games heavy focus on its emotional narrative detracts from it being, well, a game.
**PS4 code provided by the publisher**
- Incredible Narrative
- Respectful and Honest Subject Matter
- Aesthetically Brilliant
- Great Payoff
- Basic Gameplay
- Lacks Depth