An affecting and visually stunning self-reflection that explores connections between familial responsibility and loneliness, shame and regret, Sea of Solitude has some issues as a video game but the bravery and execution of the themes makes it well worth seeing through.
Kay has been transformed into a dark monster by her loneliness, and sets out to retake human form by addressing the underlying causes. At first you navigate a dark and deadly sea as Kay in her little boat, but as you solve challenges a gorgeous submerged town is revealed, filled with memories of Kay’s past.
There are some breathtaking moments, and a few heartbreaking ones too, as the game moves from exploration against orchestral music and pretty vocals to happy or horrible snippets of Kay’s relationships with her family, represented variously as lonely monsters of their own. The English narration is delivered with a heavy European accent that I suspect robs some moments of their full impact versus the developer’s native German, but it gets the point across.
While Sea of Solitude’s mental health allegories are engrossing and many of its set pieces as brilliant to look at as they are cathartic to complete, the game’s biggest issues are with its mechanics. The controls are very simple — Kay can run, jump and shoot a flare that shows her where to go or light up dark areas — which is fine for getting around but is a very limited toolset for combat or puzzle-solving, which the game employs as challenges to back up its metaphors. The challenges themselves are often clever and drive home the gut-punch of each level’s tragedy, but they tend to linger too long.