Sea of Solitude Review

Sea of Solitude was a game that intrigued me right away when I saw it at EA Play 2018. Even before that game was presented, Game director and Writer Cornelia Geppert took the audience’s heart in a storm for being both nervous, excited and honest. With that direct connection that we can all relate to, being on such a huge stage, must be stressful and as we have gotten our fair share of developers being nervous on stage we feel with them.

It is every time a sympathetic, connection building thing that just happens to bond at least myself a little bit to the game that’s being presented. If then I can also see myself playing the game based on setting, type of genre and other minor factors, I definitely already made up my buying decision. So far, this has worked well with Unravel and now I can also talk about Sea of Solitude in the same way.

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“When humans get lonely, they turn into monsters”

Cornelia Geppert on stage at EA Play 2018

What Sea of Solitude is about

Sea of Solitude gives the scene away into a vast open sea of nothing but darkness. There’s you, Kay, the girl who’s inner fear, the feeling of being worthless and the doubt in her mind has turned her outside into a monster. With dark black fur, red eyes and loneliness, Kay swims around on her boat and tries to find her way through the endless sea. The game fully begins when she meets another girl that glows bright and is clothed in a colourful raincoat. That girl then plays hide and seek with you until a big monster shows up and the girl disappears. With that, the adventure begins.

The whole idea of Sea of Solitude is to work up your demons on your own. Though you are never truly alone and never act alone. The social system that makes up what and who you are is also enhanced by your family and friends. So, while you are seemingly the only person, there are many monsters that slowly start to tell their own story and you get to learn that these are actually members of your family and other people that you relate to. How they impacted your life and how they are partially the reason that Kay, became a monster, is both part of the game’s story and part of the conclusion to each section of the game, that spans over several chapters.

Kay resting on a buoy in sea of solitude
Kay resting on a buoy

Should you play Sea of Solitude

When I think about Sea of Solitude, it is only about the game’s story, the music, the scenery and the things I saw and met while playing. The length of the game for its cost of €19,99 is fair. I played the game through in 3 hours without rushing, but there is space to explore more and collectables to go after. The thing about the length of the game is that it doesn’t convey the quality of the experience.

Just with the release trailer of Sea of Solitude, there’s also loads of people in the comments that actually praise the game’s story and also explaining it more as an experience than just a game. It is truly what describes Sea of Solitude the best: an incredibly deep, emotional partially traumatising and yet also cathartic, working up through emotional stress-experience.

Without going too much into details, the topics of Sea of Solitude are about the deepest issues we can have as a society when trying to live together. From being bullied, having missed caring for a loved person that was being bullied over to divorce, the struggle between partners and the people relating in the family in the divorce. Even troubles between partners in a relationship are one of the topics being dealt with. These topics are all fairly heavy and as a player you may find yourself working through these given situations on a more personal level than maybe other players.

sea of solitude raven and kay on the sea
monsters play a big role in sea of solitude, you won’t fight them though

An emotional impacting game

The absurdity of seeing giant monsters argue over divorce or being distressed by being bullied from tiny demons (yes, I’m talking about school kids) while being emotionally impacted over the topic at hand, had hit me hard enough to shed a tear or two. This game is definitely ideal for people that are very empathetic because then you really start to identify yourself with Kay, go with her through her pain and also work through the troubles that she experiences with other people around her and with herself. In the end, the game resolves each conflict in a surprisingly positive way that made me as the player greatly enjoy the drama at hand. Yes, I felt bad, but in the end, not really a spoiler, it all went into a positive direction. Clear resolution and release from the emotional distress is what I may describe it as. With the music constantly delivering a perfect match to the scenery, being both excited, calm and supporting of the emotions that the game wants to evoke.

kay walking between two walls of water in a flooded city street
walking and exploring is part of the game with partially open maps for bigger areas

A final note on gameplay

I saw some reviews of the game describing the gameplay of Sea of Solitude as lacking. I can not fully understand their comment. The game has one partially clumsy “fight” but mostly the whole gameplay experience was a fluid, well crafted and a specifically designed system for its purpose. You either move your boat around to new destinations or walk as Kay around the place. Sometimes climbing ladders, swimming between flooded houses trying to evade monsters and even some platforming are part of the gameplay.

Kay having also special abilities and powers that both help to work through negative energy. These abilities require you at times to outsmart enemies and also make use of interestingly placed events in the world. The negative energy which you clean up gets stored in her backpack, letting her basically carry everyone’s burden she meets.

kay on a boat riding along a river between two houses
half of the time Kay will be on her little boat, the other half she’ll explore the sunken city

There is one thing that annoyed me a bit, and that had to do with the way the game didn’t let me scroll fast enough around when I had to redirect a beam of light to a target. But, in the game’s defence, that was intentionally done, as I understand it, to have the player feels the struggle that Kay feels when she uses that rarely occurring power.

I think you have to experience it yourself and then you’ll understand dear reader. To me at least, the gameplay was never lacking, just some ideas were unusual, but on hindsight actually understood as clearly intentionally designed struggles. Instead of needing quick time events it was just taking longer to finish a gameplay action. Neat, clever, not annoying but still effective in transporting the struggle of Kay over to me as the player.

Kay standing in front of a larger obstruction with enemy shadows in the distance
rarely you’ll meet other entities that actively try to stop you on your way. outsmart them!

Conclusion

With all that being said, Sea of Solitude is indeed a game experience, unlike most others. It has become my most liked game of 2019 instantly after seeing the credits come up on the screen and I will definitely praise the game for its clever design, choice of topics and how to deal with it and more things for many years to come. So should you play it? Absolutely!

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