Reflections on the Water
SOS. It’s a distress signal in Morse code, used by stranded ships and people as a call for help to anyone who may be listening. It also happens to be an abbreviation of Sea of Solitude, the latest game from indie studio Jo-Mei Games. Now, that could very well be a coincidence, but it’s certainly a fitting one, as Sea of Solitude is a touching, narrative-driven game based on the troubles of relationships and more generally being human, a common theme of which is reaching out to others for help.
The warm and inviting art style […] gives these monsters their own imposing personality which resonates greatly with their role in Kay’s journey.
There isn’t much to say about your character, Kay, as her journey is ultimately the core of the story in the game and as such isn’t explained to the player outright. You explore a familiar town flooded to the brim with water, and confront a handful of inner demons from Kay’s life. These demons are personified as lumbering black monsters, and each one acts as a brilliant plot device for Kay’s development through her journey, from chapter to chapter.
The monsters themselves are well designed, with each having a unique style and feel, as well as an important role in Kay’s story. The warm and inviting art style, which reminds me of Firewatch more than anything, gives these monsters their own imposing personality which resonates greatly with their role in Kay’s journey. Their blackened tone ensures they contrast with the game’s lighter moments and fit in with the dreary and cold tones in Kay’s darker moments. They’re all voiced, and some of the voice acting is less than perfect which could potentially throw you out of the experience, but ultimately it fits the playful tone that the game strives for amongst its more thought-provoking moments.
Another way the game delivers its thought-provoking themes is through messages in bottles, a simple collectable which contains a short note about the journey on which you embark, presumably written by another lost soul searching for answers. It’s a nice touch and just one of the many metaphors in this game. Things like a sunken statue reaching out for help, and a sea monster constantly roaming the depths just waiting for you to slip up so it can take you down. There’s a certain amount of grace and care with which Jo-Mei aimed to handle these real-world topics, and it shows.
…as the game goes on the mechanics evolve and new mechanics are introduced to ensure the gameplay never becomes repetitive…
What’s equally impressive is just how engaging the world is to explore. Traversal is simple; you get a boat to sail through water, but you can also swim, and more often than not you’ll have to depart your boat to traverse over buildings and find ways to unlock the path forward. Sometimes that’s through opening gates from the other side so you can get your boat through, but most often you’ll be tasked with clearing corruption and bringing light back to an area. It’s not an open world game, but exploring still feels rewarding thanks to a decent amount of collectables and a superbly melodic soundtrack.
In the game’s opening chapters, the mechanics are as simple (yet still satisfying) as traversing an area and bringing back the light. But as the game goes on the mechanics evolve and new mechanics are introduced to ensure the gameplay never becomes repetitive, giving each monster you encounter their own unique challenges to overcome. They can be as simple as platforming puzzles that push you back if you’re too slow, or beams of light you have to line up to overcome an obstacle. The mechanics are often simple, but they offer a welcome variety to the game’s otherwise simple gameplay. You’re also given a flare which you can fire at any time and will point you in the direction you need to go, so you’re never going to be stuck in an area for an hour trying to figure out where to go next.
Sea of Solitude is a beautiful journey that presents its themes in thought-provoking ways, through both narrative and gameplay alike. Kay’s journey is a difficult one, but it’s also one that is easy to find empathy with as the player. It tells so many parts of that journey through gorgeous metaphors and personifications, with fantastically designed monsters and breathtaking story beats. The vibrant and often inviting colours make exploring the seas of this game a pure joy, and if you’re someone who relates to any of Kay’s struggles, or even if you aren’t, this is an immensely profound experience that you shouldn’t miss.
Yes, if you:
- Enjoy colourful and imposing visuals
- Like gameplay that doesn’t have a long learning curve
- Are drawn to stories that explore real world topics like loss and heartbreak
No, if you:
- Prefer fast paced action
- Aren’t drawn to games for their storytelling and narrative potential