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Sea of Solitude Review

Video games aren’t always about simply having ‘fun’. Sometimes they’re used to tell a particular story, or convey a particular message. If you’ve played indie games over the last few years, you’ll notice a fair few of them have been used to teach and enlighten gamers about mental illness.

Video games are a powerful medium and can teach us better than what other mediums can. Sea of Solitude attempts to do just that as it tackles multiple issues such as depression, bullying, relationship breakups, and more. That’s quite a lineup of issues, but just how well does Sea of Solitude succeed with conveying its messages, as well as being a great video game at the same time?

Emotional Impact

Sea of Solitude has you playing as Kay, a girl who has taken on the appearance of a more monstrous version of herself. She finds herself in a rather awe-inspiring, but also at times depressing, world. During her journey, she encounters frightening shadow-like beasts that she must avoid as she makes her way through.

While it may seem like a minor spoiler, even though it’s clearly obvious, the game’s setting and characters/beasts are visual representations of Kay’s friends, family, and mental state. You’ll play through various key moments of her life that lead her to feelings of isolation and depression.

There are times where this is really impactful and made me pay attention. In particular the ‘bullying’ and ‘marriage problem’ scenes were done extremely well and it will get the emotions stirring in anyone. You can really tell how these impacted Kay and why she fell into her dark despair. The environments during these moments also greatly helped convey the emotion and impact of the situation. In fact, the scenery and environments throughout the whole game can be pretty spectacular at times.

As impactful as some moments were, it still wasn’t great as it could have been, and this is due to the awful voice acting. I’m not trying to be mean, but the voice acting is some of the worst I’ve ever heard. When you have a game where making the player feel certain emotions, a strong acting performance is essential to help the player really connect with the character(s). But this really took a hit because of the atrocious voice acting for pretty much all the characters, but most importantly, the main character Kay.

Even though the game ended fairly well, it lacked that emotional punch that some earlier scenes had, and a strong ending was really needed for a game like this. It’s fine as it is, but didn’t make that impact I believe was expected. I remember the game Gris and how powerful its ending is, all without proper cutscenes or dialogue. Sea of Solitude had those things, but I didn’t experience those same goosebumps and emotions a game’s ending like this perhaps should have had.

Sea of Solitude Gameplay

Usually with these type of games, the gameplay isn’t always the main focus, but there are rare exceptions. The 2018 masterpiece Celeste also tackled mental health issues, but gave us possibly the best platforming you’ll ever play! Unfortunately the gameplay in Sea of Solitude was a fairly big weakness.

During the game, you’ll be sailing around on your boat, completing some exploration puzzles, do a bit of platforming, and more. I’ll commend the game on its variety, as the game presents quite a few different ideas, and not too many of these ideas are repeated (though some are). The problem is that none of them are particularly exceptional and not too much thought went into them. They’re simply not that fun or enjoyable, and while this game was never meant to be ‘fun’, the gameplay side of things shouldn’t be boring either.

Also when you throw in the fact that the character movements and animations are fairly unpolished, it makes the game feel like it needed a bit more work just to refine those finer details. I know the game’s themes are meant to make you feel awkward and uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean the controls and movements should too.

If you’re still compelled to give this game a go, wait until it’s very cheap because it’s extremely short, as I finished it after two short sessions. There are some collectables to find, but there’s not much motivation to do so apart from trophies/achievements.

Sea of Solitude Review Summary

There is a rise of games tackling mental health and many other heavy issues like Celeste, Gris, and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. These games not only did a great job of helping gamers understand these troubling issues, but had great gameplay to back it up.

Unfortunately Sea of Solitude doesn’t join that list of greats. It still does a great job of taking you on an emotional ride, as there are certainly some moments here I won’t forget, and I really did feel something for these characters. But the poor acting did detract from the experience where it really should have enhanced it.

The gameplay itself presented a few ideas throughout to keep things fresh, but none of them were implemented in any memorable way. It’s like the gameplay was there for the sake of being there. It’s true that it was never meant to be the game’s strong point, but we still have to playthrough it to get to the game’s highlights.

If you’re looking for a game about mental health and/or similar issues, there are plenty of better games out there that do a better job of showcasing it. I would recommend almost all of them over Sea of Solitude, even though you will still find some hard-hitting moments here.

Score: 6


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