Sea of Solitude Review – Dark but Easy (PS4)

Sea of Solitude was revealed during EA PLAY 2018, perhaps as a reminder of EA’s small but seemingly persistent devotion to publisher smaller, indie titles. Developer Jo-Mei has finally released their stylized adventure game which deals with depression, family issues, and other weighty topics. Does it deliver like other EA Originals titles before it?

A Wonderfully-Realized World

Fans of cel-shaded style graphics will find plenty to like in Sea of Solitude, as the game does look gorgeous. Environments vary from the vast, open sea to tighter, enclosed areas such as classrooms and offices. There is an equally varied soundtrack, which features calming music in the lighter-colored sections to more tense music and audio effects as things get tense in the darker portions of the world. That world is surreal as the only “real” person in the game is protagonist Kay, who is a young adult in her early twenties, and she is represented as a black silhouette, red-eyed and extra hairy for some reason. The physics of water get messed with every so often, which results in some interesting level design, even if the water itself is never incorporated into any of the game’s simple puzzles.

Sea of Solitude review

That simplicity is one of Sea of Solitude’s less appealing aspects. Kay is given the power to generate a flare at any time by pressing and holding L2. These flares automatically seek out wherever Kay is supposed to go to next. It is also occasionally used to turn on an overhead light, which can dispatch enemies. Besides jumping and maneuvering a boat, Kay’s only other action is to suck up corruption by holding R2, and occasionally merging with these spirit-looking versions of herself to align some sort of energy beam while screaming as though being cut open while still conscious. There’s some symbolism going on here about depression, and how it feels to overcome internal conflict, but it only ever remains an abstract representation, and so it may just fly by many gamers unnoticed.

Sea of Solitude may invoke some comparison to games such as Papo & Yo, owing to both games’ surreal worlds. But whereas Papo & Yo featured innovative puzzles involving moving whole buildings and playing with platforming, Sea of Solitude mostly sees the player avoiding monsters as they move in predictable patterns, and destroying evil child entities using flares. There’s no real puzzles to speak of, nor much in the way of challenge. It’s a shame, because the potential for some intriguing puzzles involving water was there, but never used.

Not Much of a Fight

See, there aren’t traditional enemies in Sea of Solitude. Oh sure, there are monsters which represent Kay’s depression and other issues, but those are either meant to be avoided or only able to be attacked in very specific ways at certain points in the story, and never directly. Black silhouettes of children are one of two regular enemies, which can either be destroyed or converted into friendly white silhouette versions of themselves using light. These interactions seem to largely serve as a way to pad the game out a bit, as opposed to using any sort of new mechanic.

Sea of Solitude uses the Unity Engine, which hums along just fine with the few action sequences that can be found during the adventure. Even as levels become progressively larger, or monsters reveal their full, gigantic size, there are generally no performance issues. There is even an option for PS4 Pro users, to maintain the standard graphics experience, or to use a performance mode, which appears to aim to run Sea of Solitude at 60 frames per second. The graphics do not appear to suffer much, if at all, in this mode, either, but the system does need to turn its fans up every now and then when running at this faster frame rate. Many people will prefer the smoothness afforded by this mode, and won’t mind the occasional whir-up of the PS4 Pro’s fans.

Sea of Solitude is an interactive story that has bits of a game peppered into it. Like gamey meat, it’s not for everyone. Some players may want more to do than run around looking for seagulls and messages in bottles in between story moments and the occasional “fight” sequence. The story (which we have not spoiled here) is likely to resonate with many people, but for some it won’t be enough to overcome a lack of fun gameplay to take players in between exposition. It is a worthy attempt, but just falls a bit short.

Sea of Solitude review code provided by publisher. Version 1.02 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please see our Review Policy.
  • Great art style
  • Good soundtrack
  • Relatable story
  • No real challenges
  • Random gamification