The vast majority of games these days tend to focus on big action or open-worlds and on the odd occasion, a gripping storyline. It’s not very often that these stories decide to touch on sensitive, and real topics such as loss, depression and other REAL issues. Each and every one of us struggles with on a daily basis. Maybe not one of the aforementioned issues as such but internal and VERY personal issues. Mental health is a very real issue in all walks of life. Many people battle this disease on a daily basis without letting anyone know. Fighting their monsters alone.
Sea of Solitude is a game that makes that phrase, literal. Sea of Solitude is from a German studio called Jo-Mei Games. With the help of EA Originals, Sea of Solitude is a haunting, yet brief, adventure through Kay’s mind. A place that shifts and changes from a spectacularly colourful seaside town to a dark and gloomy, monster invested nightmare. These monstrosities and challenges are challenges that the creator herself faced in her own life. What makes Sea of Solitude so hard-hitting is not the challenges themselves but watching them unfold. The writer Anna Borges wrote about chronic and passive suicidal tendencies. She said that it’s like living in an ocean, but not like fish and sea creatures do, but alone with an expanse of water all around. She went on to write that it feels like swimming through a storm. Other times the water is clear and calm, but you are always in the ocean. People in these situations have things that keep them going. Treatment or support, something that keeps them afloat when they tire.
To Kay, her lifeboat is that…
When you find Kay, she is in near-complete darkness. The first words she utters: I haven’t seen the sun in… I don’t remember! This sentence sets the mood for Sea of Solitude. Not too long and you find your first spot of light. When you reach it the world changes from the gloomy darkness to a bright, vibrant and happy place. This is what Sea of Solitude is, as in life, finding a speck of happiness between the doom and gloom. Not only does the light change the way the level looks, but it also changes it completely. It will lower or raise the water level giving you access to other parts of the level allowing you to progress. shoo-ing a few seagulls here, finding notes in bottles there. Reading these notes shed some more light on the story of Kay, as well as the girl who came before…
Sea of Solitude plays a lot like most third-person adventure games. Blending platforming, stealth and puzzle-solving by means of environmental obstacles. Kay is able to jump and run, she has a small wooden boat that she uses to manoeuvre through the flooded streets. This boat is also her only safe place when she is in the dark world. Another ability she possesses is her flare. When Kay is lost she can shoot her flare, and it will guide her in the direction of her objective.
Sea of Solitude is not extremely challenging, but that is not what it’s supposed to be. The game is very well designed and streamlined. The story of Kay is told through a variety of flashbacks. You might hear Kay and her mother at an ice cream shop discussing what her soon-to-be baby brother will be called. Hear an exert from her parents fighting, or her brother struggling to find some attention he so craves. All of these interactions in the form of a monologue helps to drive the story and keep the player pulling back the layers of Kays’ story.
It is always said that your actions and experiences shape the world around you, in Sea of Solitude, this is completely true. As you progress and learn more about Kays’ story, the world changes. The experiences and traumas that she endures don’t always manifest themselves subtly, the way they do is what makes it so impactful. Many people in Kays’ life are manifested in different ways. Later on, Kay comes across a horrifying fish monster, or ghostly children or even a big buzzard flying overhead. These are all manifestations of people and things that Kay has had to endure. She also faces a monstrous version of herself, this being the way she sees herself. Weak, bad and worthless. But finding that glitter of light will make all the bad thoughts disappear.
Mental health has been touched on in games before. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was lauded for taking such a big step in making it known with its dark and gritty tale. Stories like these are normally personal and not easily obtainable or even effectively told. Sea of Solitude is tremendously approachable. The bright and approachable environment makes it easy to get into, and once you are in, the story will do the rest.
What really makes this game great is, if you are willing to do some introspection, you might see even the slightest of a speck of yourself. If that is the case, Sea of Solitude will multiply into something that when you reach the end, can look back and use as your own wooden boat when YOU feel like you might be treading water in an endless ocean.
Special thanks to Prima Interactive for supplying the review copy