Designer: Cornelia Geppert
Developer: Jo-Mei Games

This is one of those games that wears the definition of ‘game’ loosely.

It is easier to understand Sea of Solitude if one frames it in the mindset of an inter-active art project that deals with some heavy themes of depression, relationships, and self-doubt.

The opening screen displays a sort of explanation/disclaimer that sets the tone.

“This game contains sensitive topics that some players may find distressing, related to mental and emotional wellness.

It is not intended to serve as professional advice or guidance.

Sea of Solitude is a personal project about loneliness inspired by my own experiences and other real life stories. Kay’s journey is about what it means to be human and to live with all of life’s ups and downs.

Cornelia Geppert”

So yeah, this is not a light-hearted indie romp, although the bold, minimalist art style might suggest otherwise. From the outside, this looks like a story driven puzzler type game, which is accurate. But the ‘gaming’ aspect is pretty easy going, with simple basic logic puzzles that serve more to push a narrative than to throw any gaming challenges at the player.

The charm of the game is how the developers worked in the (often intentionally heavy handed) visual and control metaphors to reflect the struggles of depression and mental illness. Lots of use of ‘dark’ and ‘light’ both in the few powers the player is given and the transition of levels within the environments.

Parting the waters of depression…

The way water is used to ‘drown’ the world, only to be sucked back and revealed with the revelations and growth the character works through as the game progresses is a not-so-subtle metaphor intending to reflect the ebb and flow of mental health.

A couple of mandatory ‘collect these’ activities are sparingly sprinkled throughout the game. Bottle collecting reveals little notes left by someone (the characters sub-conscious?) with casual remarks about the world. And seagulls, which you find and ‘shoo’ away. There are 32 of them. I found like… 24. Not sure what they signify in a game dripping with symbology, other than the devs don’t like seagulls.

Also of note, this game has the coolest idea to display the core of the development team credits at the end of the game.

This is a relatively short experience. I beat Sea of Solitude in a little over four hours.

Verdict: Should you play this? This ‘game’ is not for everyone. Those looking for a traditional challenge to their reflexes or puzzle solving skills are not going to find much in Sea of Solitude. If you can appreciate the ‘art’ of video-games and be open to something that strives to be something other than a game, within the constraints of a game, then Sea of Solitude has something rewarding to offer. Maximum enjoyment of this title will solely depend on what you are expecting from the game. Recognize what it is and enjoy the presentation, and one can’t help to catch one right in the feels with this game. Especially if you or anyone close to you have ever struggled with depression and a messed up family life.