EA is well-known for releasing big blockbuster titles such as Anthem and Battlefront, which are AAA despite the ‘issues’ they have, but they’ve also begun to dabble with smaller indie titles too. To help manage these titles, EA set up the ‘EA Originals‘ division, a program where EA helps with the creation and QA of smaller titles, yet all profits go back into the hands of the creators and not EA themselves. Over the years we’ve seen Unravel, A Way Out, and Fe released under the program, with the latest title, Sea of Solitude, released last week.
Created by small Indie Developer Jo-Mei Games, Sea of Solitude utilises a lot of symbolism within its storytelling as it depicts a young girl who has been transformed into a hideous creature as a result of her feelings and personality. It’s a beautiful, yet simplistic world which evolves as the story progresses and new revelations are discovered.
I had the privilege of playing through the game in its entirety, here are my thoughts…
The story of Sea of Solitude is plagued with symbolism and metaphors, showing us how our protagonist, Kay, is feeling and how the emotions and her personality have affected not only the people she loves but the world as she sees it. As such, I see this game as a dream-like sequence, a place in which nothing is real other than the feelings and emotions portrayed within the narrative and beautiful imagery – I don’t believe we are playing a literal real-life story. However, this isn’t answered or addressed throughout the game, so maybe we are, maybe this is a magical world in which these events truly exist? However, from here, I’m going to believe it’s a construct created from the emotions deep within our protagonist, rather than a tangible world.
The story within the game is one of loneliness, depression, sadness and coming to terms with the issues at hand and trying to resolve them before it’s too late. The last remaining humans, those close to our protagonist, have all changed into terrifying monsters. However, unlike Kay, who is a human-sized furry beast, the others have become ginormous creatures who reside under the sea and atop vast structures which are rising from the ocean. Some of these are ‘friendly’ and will listen to you as you talk, others will try and devour you as soon as you get close.
You must embark on a journey to seek out and ‘save’ these creatures from their depression and humility by talking to them and helping them resolve their issues. This is achieved by having them come to terms with who they are and resolving the events which lead up to their transformation into monsters. This won’t be an easy task, in the grand scheme of things, as you’re only one person who is also a monster – perhaps it’s time you came to terms with your issues as well?
As the story unfolds we’ll gain insight into our protagonist, the creatures, the world around you, and uncover backstory through the form of collectables – don’t ever give up hope as, despite her small size, Kay is much stronger than you think. She’s determined to help everyone around her no matter what…
Sea of Solitude is a Narrative-lead Platformer with a few Puzzles and various ‘Combat’ segments thrown in during the ‘boss battles’. Throughout the world you’ll find two types of collectables, scaring off seagulls for no reason other than to get a trophy, and collecting messages in a bottle which gives you more insight behind the writer of them. In terms of actual gameplay, there are technically two alternating segments within Sea of Solitude, on Sea and on Land…
Playing similar to games such as The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker, and the more recent The Sinking City, you’ll be floating around the open sea and smaller closed off flooded streets in your small boat. The boat is your safe place, it has a light that is bright enough to illuminate the darkness and keep the evil creatures at bay. However, if you travel too far away from the safety of the light, either on land or by swimming, the atmosphere changes as the world becomes dark and depressing, complete with a sea creature out to devour you and unthinkable and disturbing creatures hidden in the darkness.
As you solve puzzles, meet up with a new companion, enter new areas, or fend off enemies, the water levels will rise and fall, granting you access to new locations and unlocking memories of places you’ve been when you were younger, places which were previously flooded by the ocean and hidden away. Similarly, places that were previously unreachable, such as rooftops and high up locations, become accessible once the world is flooded and you’re back aboard your boat.
I personally loved the sailing aspect of the game and would have liked to see more locations and side activities that involved the use of the boat. As you progress throughout the game, there’s a push toward exploration as various structures pop up out of the sea for you to check out. I found myself running atop the various buildings in search of anything the devs may have hidden away, but I wasn’t successful in collecting everything on my first go.
A large portion of the game is spent on land, either via the various structures which are poking out of the sea, or when the water levels part (like Moses) and reveal a hidden area for you to explore. These areas are where your platforming skills will come in handy as you try and traverse without falling into the water and either becoming fish food or face being pulled underwater by some rather freakish water arms. I will admit, I did get lost a few times during these parts of the game, thanks to there being very little on-screen in terms of where to go and what to do, but you can summon a flare-like orb which you throw into the air and watch as it guides you in the general direction you must head.
The ‘bosses’ are also fought during the land-based segments as you help fight off the demons which are clouding the minds and emotions of the monster you’re trying to save. This is literally in the form of fighting off the demons physically by avoiding their attacks and collecting shards of emotions (that’s what I’m calling them). Once you have enough, you can remove some of the negative obstructive emotions and store them in your backpack, then rinse and repeat until all the negatives are removed and the monster has the ability to free itself and move on.
It’s rather simplistic, and the mechanic does repeat itself a few times throughout the game, but each encounter plays out slightly differently as they bring in new dynamically shifting platforms and outside interference which transforms helpful NPCs into enemies. There are other encounters with disturbing beings, such as the old school building, but I’ll let you experience them for yourself. My recommendation, wear headphones as it amplifies the effect and creepiness when you hear little kids whisper than they’re going to find you and then kill you…
I think the stand out feature for me, with Sea of Solitude, is just how polished and gorgeous the game is for an indie title from so few people. From the very first time you load up the game, and see Kay as she stares at you on the main menu, ala Detroit: Become Human style, to seeing yourself on the boat within the first scene – the game is freaking beautiful. When the light is shining brightly and everything is clear, the game truly shines with it’s simplistic, yet colourful and vivid design. Once the game becomes depressing and dull, it still delivers the same level of charm and stunning aesthetics, only in a much more sinister and emotion-symbolising way.
In a way, the likeness to The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker doesn’t stop with the boat travelling aspect, the visuals themselves are almost cartoony and fantastical enough that they wouldn’t look amiss within the same universe as that game, other than the non-cell shaded protagonist. The creatures who lurk beneath the ocean, within their own shells, high in the sky, and in the icy tundra, all look incredible and they’re all very intimidating to our small protagonist.
A world is nothing without life though, the characters within Sea of Solitude are brought to life by the emotional dialogue read out by the various voice actors. At first, I wasn’t too keen on the voices being used as it’s rare to hear voice-overs in English from people with thick foreign accents. However, as the game went on I got accustomed to the accents and began to enjoy the way they sounded as it further enhanced the fact that this is an indie game, an indie game that has been created with a lot of love and devotion from a small team and not a major AAA studio. I will say that some of the vocals delivered much more emotion and a better experience than the others, but everyone did a great job when you look at it overall.
On a side note, the music is rather subtle yet fits the situation perfectly, ramping up when things get intense and taking a back seat when the ambient noises are the focal point – along with the voices. A lot of companies could learn something from hearing how the music adapts within Sea of Solitude, it never overpowered the voices or sounded ‘wrong’ based on what we experiencing at the time.
First of all, the good things. I was playing Sea of Solitude on the PS4 Pro and there’s an option in the menu for Performance or ‘Standard‘ – I’m not sure if it’s there on the base system or other platforms – as well as a TAA Sharpness slider! From what I gather, ‘Standard’ is 30fps at a higher resolution (probably non-dynamic or simply a higher pixel count) and ‘Performance’ is an up-to 60fps option (probably a resolution with dynamic scaling or a fixed 1080p). As I only play on a 1080p TV, I didn’t notice any obvious shifts in resolution but the performance did dip a little on both settings. Don’t get me wrong – the majority of the game is 30/60fps, but I did feel a few dips in certain places in the 60fps mode.
Also, let’s shout out the TAA Sharpness slider – console games don’t usually have graphical settings, so seeing anything which lets you alter something other than the gamma is quite refreshing. This slider lets you pick how soft or sharp you want the image to appear.
Now the neutral things. There’s no actual lip-syncing within the game. Sure, there is a lot of spoken dialogue throughout the game, but none of the creatures mouths moves in accordance with what you’re hearing. It’s as if they are communicating via their minds with one another, further enhancing my opinion that this is a showcase of built-up emotions with a dream-like world, rather than real life. This isn’t a deal-breaker and didn’t impact the game in any form, but it’s something I felt I had to mention as some people may not be okay with this – I remember the backlash Final Fantasy 15 got when the lip-syncing was a bit iffy in that game.
Finally, the unusual and technically ‘wrong’ things. First of all, I noticed a strange thing in the late-game sequences. Throughout the game, you’re barefooted and leave nice footprints in the sand, snow and dirt as you walk around. However, you’ll eventually get some footwear yet your footprints are still bare feet. Again, it could be because the entire world is a dream so clothing and accessories don’t actually exist, or it could be an oversight by the developers. Clearly not game-breaking though. However…
I had one technical issue which was an accidental alteration of, I believe, some secret settings? During the end credits, I posted an image via the PS4’s Twitter posting mechanic, then went back to the credits screen. At this point, I couldn’t skip them but I heard the cursor moving up and down on the screen in the background, hidden from sight. I basically was sat there shoving it in every direction and tapping Cross on numerous occasions, just to see what it was doing. Upon the credits ending, the colours were now all screwed up, the sea was black, I could only see Kay’s eyes and increasing the gamma didn’t fix it. I’m not quite sure what I did, but it was very strange!
However, a simple delete of the ‘settings’ file set all the visuals back to normal and didn’t affect my save file.
Sea of Solitude is an emotional journey in which we help giant creatures come to terms with their issues and resolve them. Whereas the game feels like it’s taken great inspiration from silent indie titles, such as RiME, this game provides a spoken narrative in order to tell its story, a story which a lot of us can relate to. For a game encased within symbolism, metaphors, hidden meanings, and the personification of emotions, the whole aesthetic and art style of the game are beyond stunning – thanks to the simplistic nature of the visuals combined with the complexity of the design. Taking around four to five hours to complete, even longer if you wish to find all of the collectables, I feel this is the perfect length as it tells its story with great pacing.
If you’re looking for an emotional journey that is combined with some platforming and simplistic puzzles, along with some rather creepy experiences and gorgeous character designs, you need to check out Sea of Solitude.
If you’ve already played it, and love it as much as I did, then you’ll be pleased to hear that the developers have already announced they have received funding for their next title, Sands of Sorrow, which I imagine will follow a similar format as Sea of Solitude due to them both mentioning states/emotions and being an acronym of S.O.S…
Sea of Solitude£15.99
- - Beautiful aesthetics which adapt to the emotions being portrayed on the screen
- - Great soundtrack which perfectly auto-adjusts it's volume and intensity based on what's happening
- - An interesting choice for the voice actors, yet I really enjoyed them once I got used to the accents
- - An emotional tale delivered through metaphors, symbolism and the well written narrative
- - A nice mixture of sea travel, platforming and puzzle combat
- - A few inconsistencies with the effects and the strange visual glitch I had (very rare)
- - Some sections were a little frustrating, such as the school segment, where I had to increase the gamma to see as it was too dark
- - I would have liked a bit more backstory and depth to some of the characters so I could truly understand the events in more detail