'Sea Of Solitude' Is Like A Lost Team Ico Game
Sea of Solitude opens on a storm over a sunken city. Lightning flashes to reveal the tops of houses, strong winds roll the water into heavy weaves, and in it all a small boat is beaten back and forth. In the boat lies a woman. She looks to be half-bird, her skin is covered in black feathers. Her eyes are blood red. Sea of Solitude wears its metaphors on its sleeve, you begin the game literally cast adrift and alone. But that clarity of vision is what's so appealing about the game.
In Sea of Solitude you play Kay, the woman in the boat, as she explores the strange sunken world, trying to find a way back home. As you explore the waterways between the rooftops of the city you'll encounter creatures - all of whom seem to know her. One of the creatures, a bright, manic pixie creature, brings light to the world, stilling the storm. Others, like a great hair-covered whale, prowl the waters like a shark, looking to drag Kay down into the depths.
As you explore you will need to find ways to bring the light back to this underworld. In my demo, I was shown how an orange buoy we found floating in the centre of a flooded city square had a lit tip wrapped in dark corruption. If we swam out to the buoy without being caught by the whale then we could clear the corruption, revealing the light, and turning the storm into a bright, sunny day.
While it might be possible to play through Sea of Solitude and see it only as an adventure game about searching a surreal city, many players will quickly see the symbolism of the world they explore. Kay is alone in a dark world, one which only grows lighter when she meets the pixie. To light up parts of the world, she must clear the corruption from her surroundings. Though, the corruption doesn't simply disappear, Kay puts it in a pack she carries on her back. Her emotional labour becomes a literal weight for her to carry.
The team at Jo-Mei do not shy away from this reading of Sea of Solitude, but rather encourage it. Creative director Cornelia Geppert told me at a recent event how the idea for Sea of Solitude was born out of a painful, passionate relationship. She met someone, they fell in love and became engaged, all very quickly. Then, her fiancé began to disappear. First for hours at a time, then for days and weeks.
Sea of Solitude is a game about what Geppert went through during that time and afterwards.
"I wanted to start a discussion about loneliness," Geppert tells me. "I'm always open about my feelings, like the singer songwriters that write openly about their heartbreak - they don't feel awkward about it. The opposite. I love telling people about my story."
The game isn't only her story, however. When Geppert first told her team what story who would like to tell, they had an open discussion about different kinds of loneliness. That's what Sea of Solitude has become, an exploration of those feelings and where they come from. "There are many monsters in the game," Geppert explains. "Some of them are actually other humans who suffer from different types of loneliness than Kay. The visual appearance of the monsters represents how they cope with their state."
One monster, for instance, is like a great ebony clam shell, locked shut. It pushes Kay away, telling her she's "shit", she's worthless, that she won't achieve anything. It's speaking the words of imposter syndrome, that voice inside you that tells you not to try because if you do you'll fail. It's the sort of voice that keeps you from leaving the house, from reaching out to friends, or trying at work. It's a voice that keeps you locked in a box.
The Team Ico games - Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Last Guardian - share something with Sea of Solitude. There's a clarity of theme across all those games. It's not simply something you are told, it shines on the surface of all you see and do. In Ico, the importance of connection comes from your constant hand-holding of Yorda. In Shadow of the Colossus, you explore a barren world that mirrors the young prince's grief. In Sea of Solitude your sights and actions are all extensions of the loneliness at the game's heart.
I only saw the opening of Sea of Solitude but it was a fascinating world and an uncomfortable one. If you've struggled with loneliness then it may be a challenging game to play as there will be a lot to recognise of yourself.
Featured Image Credit: EA