Sea of Solitude is an exploration game from the creative studio Jo-Mei Games and published by EA as part of its EA Originals program. It’s a complicated game to explain in a certain way. Its duration is not so long, and I think that every detail depicted in the game during the approximately three to four hours of gameplay, really weighs a lot in the story and what the game wants to transmit. However, I can tell you that Sea of Solitude seeks to be more than a game, by giving us an introspective look at the many emotional weights with which burden our day to day, and their effect on our mental health. Let’s try to give a little more sense to this, and give a verdict whether or not it is worth to go through this emotional journey.
A sea of emotions
It’s literally the best way to describe Sea of Solitude. Almost all the visual elements of the gameplay play a metaphorical role. Most of what you see is the physical representation of some feeling, frustration, or insecurity. From the very beginning, you’re in a boat in the middle of nowhere. You’re a monster, whose name is Kay. You will control her during the entirety of the game. It’s hard to say that Kay is the protagonist as such. In Sea of Solitude, more than a protagonist, we have a story that serves as the protagonist. A story where everyone plays an essential part. You could say that Kay’s experiences and feelings, as well as the feelings of the other characters you encounter during the game, are the central themes.
The whole game takes place in a city submerged in water, where you continuously see giant monsters. To explore this city, you’ll have a small boat. This boat, with a small flashlight on its front, acts as a safe haven of all the darkness around you. As you progress with the story you face these giant monsters, these clashes are more dialogue and solving personal afflictions than anything else. Being the main objective of the game to dispel the darkness of the city as you reconstruct piece by piece which led to Kay becoming a monster.
The burdens of life
In Sea of Solitude, you carry an orange backpack. The dark cores that you must dispel to return an area to its normal status cannot be destroyed. These cores are present in various parts of the city and play the role of painful memories or harmful and toxic comments. Unable to destroy them, Kay must contain them in her little orange backpack and carry them.
All this symbolism and conversations between Kay and the monsters she encounters along the way are truly effective. The storytelling of their mishaps and the themes covered throughout the journey are truly unique and meaningful to the player. This statement is especially true if you’ve been through a rough time in life, which most of us have. Sea of Solitude talks about depression, insecurities, verbal, and psychological violence. The game covers many very complex topics, and it does an outstanding job in translating these complex emotions into visual representations, easy to identify and understand.
An introspective journey
Sea of Solitude’s weakness is in its gameplay. Unfortunately, the intuitiveness of its metaphors doesn’t translate in the same way for its gameplay. Many times you don’t understand what you have to do, how to face a particular enemy or even what you can do to move on with the plot. All you have is a flare of light that Kay can throw out of her hand, but this serves more to orient you in open areas indicating where the next checkpoint is located. I understand that this may be an attempt by Jo-Mei to make you feel that desperation of not knowing how to act or to deal with overwhelming life situations. However, this results in both monotonous and unintuitive gameplay and, on specific segments of the game, in a little bit of frustration.
There were areas of the game where I felt real frustration because there was no way that I could prevent a particular enemy from blocking my passage. All I could do is get close, get the enemy to chase me, run around said enemy, and then run to the door in question. This and similar mechanics become somewhat tedious, and most of the game is more of the same. Kay is helpless in this world where the key to survival is understanding. This fact is understandable. However, the repetitive mechanics and the unintuitiveness of these, dim the brilliance of how cool the narrative experience is.
A journey with burdens, but one worth taking
Sea of Solitude is not perfect. It’s part of its essence to give this message. It’s sometimes a tedious and somewhat repetitive journey. But, if you are paying attention, you will discover a very personal journey within the human psyche and how everyday life experiences and misunderstandings lead to painful situations. Kay’s adventure and character progression are one of the most humane I’ve ever seen in a video game. Even though Sea of Solitude has moments when its gameplay and mechanics are far from stellar, it’s a worthwhile experience.
Yes, there are low points in the game, but all this rewards you with three final chapters that, although mechanically not perfect, make you reflect very thoroughly on everything you have observed in the last three hours. Maybe it even makes you think more deeply and discover one internal wound that still needs healing. Sea of Solitude reminds us that video games are more than just entertainment and that they can often be tools of self-discovery and personal improvement.
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