Co-founder and lead writer of We Bleed Pixels. Loves fantasy, RPGs and talking about games. Hates horror, multiplayer and not talking about games.
When was the last time you played a game so good you didn’t know what to do after beating it? A journey so incredible, you just sat there staring at your screen, thinking ‘what now?’, even after the credits rolled past? For me, it was July 5th 2019. The day Sea of Solitude released, and the day I beat it as well.
Sea of Solitude was announced at EA Play 2018 by Cornelia Geppert, developer Jo-Mei’s CEO, Creative Director and Writer (to just name a few of her roles). The game was my absolute highlight of the show. Geppert’s passion and excitement got my attention immediately, and within the first ten seconds of the shown trailer I was already certain: I want to play this game. I’ve been closely following Sea of Solitude ever since. Now that I’ve finished it, I can say it was well worth the wait.
You play as Kay, a young woman exploring a submerged city with her boat, although you also spend time on foot, platforming and occasionally puzzling your way through various sections of the game. At times, you’re also required to swim. This is the most dangerous, as a large shadowy monster representing her ingrained loneliness roams the water, waiting for an opportunity to devour Kay. During her journey, Kay also meets other monsters, each representing an important person in her life, and the traumas related to them she has experienced.
Her younger brother, represented by a giant raven with sad eyes, who almost ended his life due to bullying. Her mother as a feathered octopus-like creature, and her father as a chameleon, whose marriage collapsed in a dramatic way at the expense of their children. And a black wolf covered in ice, representing the toxic relationship with her ex-boyfriend. Each monster features a part of Kay as well, reflecting her insecurities and taunting her. Kay blames herself for what she’s experienced, and views the world, envisioned in Sea of Solitude, filtered through the self-hate and loneliness she’s experiencing.
Sea of Symbolism
Throughout the game, there’s various gameplay-related features that support and strengthen its core concept: dealing with negative feelings such as loneliness. Early in the game, I noticed the dark, cold world turn all bright and friendly the moment Kay got into her boat. It’s a safe haven for her in a dark world where she must face the monsters of her past. In addition, she expresses her relief when she gets back to her boat after an extended period of time away from it.
Another example is the bright orange backpack Kay carries. At the start of the game, it’s small and empty. Throughout the game however, you use it to ‘clear corruption’; freeing glowing spheres from dark, shadowy strands representing the harm and hurt related to the trauma you’re playing through. Near the end of the game, the backpack is bulging. Kay has taken away the pain that haunted her, learning how to deal with each trauma in the process.
Honestly, I wish I could name more examples of symbolism in Sea of Solitude. But I’m not going to. Both because I find myself unable to find the words to sufficiently express them, and because I don’t want to spoil any more than I’ve already done. You ought to play this game as blank as possible, and experience is for yourself..
Superb in simplicity
Which leaves the question: should you play Sea of Solitude? You absolutely should. Even if you put all its deeper messages and meanings aside, a gorgeous game remains. The world’s design is beautiful in its simplicity, supported by a superb soundtrack by Guy Jackson. The voice acting is no different. Sea of Solitude’s cast does a stellar job conveying the raw emotions that come with the difficult themes the game broaches.
The gameplay, truth be told, is little to nothing special. It’s mostly platforming with the occasional puzzle to figure out, but that’s okay. You’re not playing this game for the gameplay, you’re playing it for the story and the experience. Serving as a means to guide you through Sea of Solitude, the gameplay is entertaining enough.
But even besides all that, you should play Sea of Solitude because it is such a unique experience. In roughly 3 hours, you join Kay on an intense, emotional journey to face the monsters of her past, in a game that’s not afraid to deal with heavy themes. Sea of Solitude will make you feel uncomfortable, will make you laugh and will make you shed a tear, as you join Kay in her quest to save herself and her loved ones from the hurt they endured.
Sea of Solitude is the type of game that everyone should play from time to time. A game that, amidst all AAA blockbuster titles, dares to truly broach heavy themes, and convey the emotions that come with them. A game that dares to expose you to some of the darker sides of human life. And who knows, it may even hit you on a personal level. It already has for some people.
- Unique, emotional experience
- Beautiful world and music
- Ending slightly underwhelming