I think nearly everyone on earth has felt lonely before. It’s not exactly a difficult emotion to experience. It can be from just staying at home by yourself for a day too long, or maybe all your friends at school were homesick and you didn’t know who to sit with during lunch. Yet despite how easy it can be to feel lonely, I don’t think many people have been lonely. Look, it’s a silly semantic difference, I get that. But let’s expand on those terms. I’ll be brief, I promise. When something is “felt”, it’s often fleeting; one feels warm, sad, hungry. There’s an aspect of time to things that are felt. But “being”? That’s a state of existence. There’s a difference between “feeling” depressed and “being” depressed. One comes and goes while the other… it’s more permanent. A way of being that one gets used to, even when they don’t want to. I suppose it’s difficult to describe if you’ve never actually experienced the difference first hand, which is why I’m so pleased Sea of Solitude exists because it is perhaps one of the most expressive, vulnerable interpretations of depression, loneliness and anxiety I’ve ever come across.
Sea of Solitude is a game built on selling a metaphor. About taking the emotions and experiences of the game’s writer and distilling it down to mechanical interaction. You’ll play as Kay, a twenty-something young woman who’s trapped in some form of insidious sea. All she has is a backpack and a boat to make her way around a flooded city while constantly being pursued by gigantic demons always belittling and demeaning her. There’s platforming and some very light puzzle solving in the mix, but they feel largely inconsequential to the game. You’re not gonna sit down with Sea of Solitude expecting open-ended and expansive mechanical design, and if you do intend to play it for that reason I think you’d be missing the point. Sea of Solitude is a game that should be labelled as an experiential metaphor. A game that doesn’t use it’s visuals, sounds and mechanics as a means to turn your brain off for hours on end but to rather present a handful of controls and let those do the talking whilst drawing you into the world it’s creating.
You’ll be sailing a dinghy, avoiding enemies and making timed jumps over treacherous ocean gaps to avoid the sea monster begging you to slip in. It’s simple stuff, but it all adds up to an experience that is not only unique but incredible powerful at the same time. I’m not going into spoilers because you really should go into this game blind, but Sea of Solitude isn’t just the story of loneliness the developers wanted you to believe it was. It’s a tale of change, loss, guilt and above all, recovery. I don’t give this warning lightly but when playing Sea of Solitude you need to be in a good headspace because this game is frighteningly dark. Despite the abstract and bizarre setting, the characters explored are just…so painfully human. With the different chapters exploring some of Kay’s close relationships, there’s something that will strike a chord with everyone.
And what I admired about that part of the game is that it wasn’t doing it cheaply. I find that games that want to present you with a story that tackles dark and human themes often come across as ham-fisted and blind to the realities they’re trying to portray. They seem cynical, tapping into those traumatic and miserable parts of our lives to make players shed a tear rather than say anything meaningful. I don’t want to sound overly harsh here, video games are obviously the artistic medium I take most pride in, but so many people are so strung up on trying to “prove games are art” rather than just treating them like they are that they churn out the equivalent of Oscar-bait.
Sea of Solitude proved the opposite for me. It’s clear from my time with the game the story was a deeply personal thing to craft. It’s introspective, dark and above all honest. It doesn’t pull its punches in telling you what is no doubt a very real experience with the heavy emotions I’ve mentioned above and for that those reasons it really does shine. The artistic design, the levels taking on different images and locations to drive home the scenarios and emotions all just blend so perfectly into a truly special experience. Sea of Solitude isn’t a story that could be told through the pages of a book or the flickering of a projector. It demands to be played, to place yourself in the position of Kay and drive her past her demons; There’s no better way to have realised this narrative.
Honestly, I don’t know what there’s even left to say. The game is consistently gorgeous with its soft palleted colours in more tranquil scenes being set against harsh, dark colours in more tense situations and the soundtrack is truly magnificent, never failing to perfectly capture the mood and tone of the game. I could have spent more time doing a “typical review” but that would have been a disservice to Sea of Solitude. It’s the sort of game we’ll be analysing years down the line, still teasing out new nuggets of depth and detail while consistently be astounded with just how much courage it took to make this game in the first place. After playing Sea of Solitude you’ll feel drained, emotional and sad.
But you’ll be so incredibly thankful for the experience.
Last Updated: July 8, 2019