Sea of Solitude Review
When I started this game, I had no idea what it would be about, and I especially did not expect the effect it would have on me. This game starts tragic but ends ultimately beautiful in its journey that reflects what it means to be human.
Sea of Solitude is classified as an adventure game, though I would add “horror” to the mix, but not the conventional kind of horror which I will explain later, and was developed by Jo-Mei Games, an independent development studio, published by Electronic Arts as part of their EA Originals program. The studio got their funding package from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg for Sea of Solitude in July 2014, and then started their collaberation with EA in 2016 after they announced the game in February 2015. The game has been released worldwide as of the 5th of July 2019, and has been highlighted by the New York Times as part of the growing trend of games that have been focusing and dealing with topics related to mental health issues and its effects on your everyday, personal life. Our experience with this game confirms how well it handles these issues.
Alone In The Sea
From the moment you start the game, you are given the warning that this game deals with sensitive topics that many may find distressing. Though the game is an allegory about life’s ups and downs, the game is based mostly off of the creative head of Jo-Mei Games – Cornelia Geppert’s – personal experiences, and the trauma she’s undergone that many of us can identify with. It’s also worth mentioning that the game is not meant to be used as guidance or a source of advice, but merely a means to help people find solace in the knowledge that they’re not alone, even if they feel they are. This is what I meant earlier, when I said to add “horror” into the mix, because the thought of being alone, or misunderstood, or making mistakes despite the purest of intentions, etc. is a different type of horror. This horror cripples your daily functioning, and clings like a stubborn tick, leeching the “life” out of you. It darkens your horizon, blocks out the sun, pelts you with rain, drowns your city, and little by little, you start viewing yourself as the cause; the monster in the story.
The story follows a young woman named Kay, who wakes up in a dark, rainy, underwater version of a city based off of Berlin, on a little boat. Her form is distorted by blackness and feathers, making her resemble a humanoid monster, and she doesn’t recognise her surroundings, but she tries to drive her boat. There is no clear direction until a dim light appears on the horizon, and Kay goes towards it. The source of the light turns out to be a girl with the ability to fly, and who resembles Kay if she wasn’t covered in black and feathers. The girl brightens the surrounding and calms the rain as she talks to Kay and tells her how she has missed her, though Kay replies that she doesn’t recognise her. This part of the game serves as a brief tutorial, as the girl “plays” with Kay and gives her the ability to shoot a beacon of light from her hands that shows her the direction in which she needs to go. It’s not long after this when things go south again as a monster bellows nearby.
The girl goes to take care of it, but screams as something awful happens to her. Kay manages to get past some obstacles while looking for the girl, only to come face to face with this monster who admits that she ate the girl and does everything in its power to belittle and humiliate Kay. It is from here where the growth with Kay happens. She recognises the monster for what it is and finds a way to get past it in order to find this bright girl who Kay is so drawn to. During her journey she has to face many other monsters, and they all represent something in our lives. Some monsters threaten to consume her, despite the deceptively enticing promises, while others shove her around, or drag her underwater, or even keep her from moving forwards altogether. But then there are other positive symbols as well, such as the girl, your boat, a glowing orb that helps show Kay the way, and many more!
There is so much beauty admist the tragedy that this game reflects. During the first moment of respite that Kay gets – when the darkness of the world is chased away for the first time – the peace and the life that returns is so shocking and relieving at the same time that even I was overwhelmed and just sat and stared at the environment, listening to the music as Kay sat, singing, swinging her legs in the water. Despite the fact that this world contains submerged buildings, the ability to explore is not boring at all. You spend a lot of time traversing rooftops, swimming or riding your boat, finding hidden messages in bottles (which I think is Kay’s inner thoughts to herself, as we all tend to talk to ourselves within our thoughts), or even shooing Seagulls.
The mechanics of the game is pretty straight-forward. You are problem solving at every corner, not only the puzzles that you find in the game, but also the issues that Kay is dealing with. Her goals, after finding out about other problems that her family had been facing, is to help others in their mission to deal with issues as well, but the game also has a brilliant surprise waiting for us that we can identify with as well. All I will say for now is; don’t try to shoulder everybody else’s problems on your own without looking out for yourself too. It might just explode and cause more damage than expected. Something that struck me only after I finished Sea of Solitude was that the abbreviated name is “SOS”. There are so many metaphors and symbols that only serve to emphasise how brilliantly this game is made.
It isn’t a very long experience, despite the fact that the game is split into 12 chapters. Each chapter contains various amounts of levels, and shows us in a metaphorical sense how Kay is dealing with her trauma. She finds out harsh truths, realising how blissfully ignorant she had chosen to be in some situations, but she chooses to continue forward in her search for “this girl” that Kay feels so drawn to. Some people may be inclined to complain about the shortness of the game – as it can take between 4 and 6 hours to complete – but I have a response to that; Do not forget that this is an Independent Studio that created this work of art. They don’t have as big a team as Naughty Dog or From Software, which also means that their budget is likely not as big as these bigger teams, but they put their heart into this game, and that is something that is worth more in a game than a forced extended period of gameplay time. Maybe the shortness of the story could also be a metaphor in itself, which you can interpret as you see fit.
Sea of Solitude is a beautifully crafted allegory about the horrors of emotional trauma and its after effects, specifically loneliness and its many companions, packed into an adventure game that relays what the journey to recovery can look like. I had feelings well up on many occasions during the course of this adventure as the main character rights some of her wrongs and makes peace with herself in the end. The ending had my heart feeling so full that I had to take a moment to allow the experience to simmer away. And of course, as someone who adores story in games, I felt it fair to get the Platinum Trophy as my final farewell. The experience that Sea of Solitude offers is shorter than most games, but has a crazy impact and is so worth it in my opinion. Jo-Mei has already gotten the fundage for their next title, and I will be keeping my eyes peeled for this next title. Once you’ve had your turn at Sea of Solitude, for R349.95 on Origin for PC, R349.00 on Microsoft for Xbox One, and R319.00 on PSN for PS4, go and give Jo-Mei Games’s website some love and get to learn about the faces behind this incredible game.