In recent years, games have started to branch off in vastly different directions from what they once were. Developers have started to view games as a unique medium to tell stories that may not be possible on the same caliber as other traditional media. Sea of Solitude, developed by Jo-Mei games (a branch under EA Originals) is one such case. The game deals with the concept of loneliness and how it affects our own personal core. It takes the often misunderstood concept of humans turning into monsters when lonely and externalizes it quite literally.
The game follows the story of Kay and her journey across a vastly submerged world as she encounters her own personal demons. A platformer at its core, the game uses nifty, but simple gameplay mechanics to supplement its story. Make no mistake, that is the main focus here. So let’s get onto it:
Taking place in a seemingly post apocalyptic world, which is mostly submerged under water, we follow Kay as she embarks on an emotional journey while battling monsters who dig up her own dark past. Sound too metaphorical? We’re just getting started. The game takes these deep conflicted emotions and externalizes them in form of traditional gameplay mechanics – boss fights, platforming, collectibles, etc.
But let’s get back to the story. Kay is a troubled individual, who’s gone through a tough emotional journey. As you progress through the game, you get to learn more about her as well her family. As for her abnormal appearance, the game presents her and many others as monsters. In order to turn back into a human, a monster must engage with their inner conflict and upon realization of their mistakes (and resolution of the same) they turn back to a regular human being. Most of the game is presented as if it’s all taking place inside Kay’s mind, and while not confirmed, that may very well be the case.
I won’t spoil any of the interesting story beats, but do prepare for a lot of cutscenes. This isn’t really gameplay focused, at least not as much as you’d think so. However, most of the story beats are passive. They, for the most part, don’t lock you into 3-minute cutscenes. So, if you want to, you can choose to ignore the story and focus on the simple gameplay.
In Sea of Solitude, for the most part, you’ll find yourself traveling across the world in a small boat. This will be broken down into long platforming sequences, which make up the other half of the game. Typically, each chapter of the game will require you to navigate to the selected point, jump off the boat and solve a platforming puzzle, usually culminating in a “boss fight”. I put that in quotes because the game is heavily non-combative. You won’t “fight” the bosses per se, rather you’ll be trying to clear your path which they’ll be blocking with certain gameplay mechanics.
Aside from that, you’ve got your usual tropes like collectibles which actually enhance the story. Throughout the world, you can find collectibles in the form of water bottles which after getting your hands on reveal Kay’s inner thoughts. These start out looking like notes left behind by previous owners in the submerged city but as the game progresses it reveals its true nature. It’s yet another facet of the game which really helps in selling you the characters and their backstories. Another collectible which doesn’t quite live up to itself are these birds who you can set free across the world, following which you get an Assassin’s Creed-like top view of the world. Not anything meaningful, or functionally rewarding, but it’s another activity to engage in for a passing time in this beautiful city.
Visuals & Performance
As you can probably guess from the various screenshots we’ve put up in this review, the game is gorgeous to look at. It has a unique sense of art style which makes way for some beautiful looking vistas, and the in-game world’s design helps a lot too. Characters are uniquely modeled, and voice acting is fine, if not as nuanced, across the board.
As for performance, the game requires very few resources to run. We played the game on a PC with a humble GTX 1050 Ti and a Core i5-7300 and were able to maintain 60fps constantly (not that it didn’t go higher) on high settings. Although it is to be noted that the game doesn’t offer any headroom for graphics settings, so it’s going to look about the same across different systems.
But if I have to talk about the negatives, the biggest detriment to the game is that it’s too short. I was able to beat in just under 3 hours, and for the asking price of $20 it could have been a little longer. I know that Jo-Mei Games is after all a small studio, and for that with what they’ve been able to achieve I commend them. Especially Cornelia Geppert. It is clear that this Sea of Solitude is her passion project, and more than that she’s drawn a lot from her own personal experiences. And EA Originals, believe it or not. Despite their predatory practices, this is something that EA’s done well here. We need more indie developers to get recognition for their talent and hard work and EA Originals is a step in the right direction.
Sea of Solitude is now available to purchase for PS4, Xbox One and PC.