Sea of Solitude originally debuted in 2019, going on to earn a nomination for The Game Awards’ “Games for Impact” and winning the “Most Significant Impact” at the Games for Change Awards 2020, among other awards recognition. The stylish and sincere adventure game hails from Jo-Mei Games and writer/director/creator Cornelia Geppert in what she called “the most personal game I’ve ever made so far.” The 2019 version was published by EA, but a new director’s cut published by Quantic Dream, exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, freshens up the title and brings it to a whole new audience.
Sea of Solitude: The Director’s Cut features “new enhancements and extras, such as fresh voice acting, a brand new script, a photo mode, and other novel ways to experience Kay’s emotional journey.” As the official synopsis puts it, Sea of Solitude: The Director’s Cut “follows the journey of Kay, a woman turned into a monster by her own loneliness and despair, traveling a beautiful flooded world on a quest for inner serenity and peace. On this journey, she will confront metaphorical beings evoked by her own personal emotions, which she will have to overcome in order to learn more about herself and the world around her.” And you’ll not only accompany Kay on that journey but guide her through it and perhaps experience a very personal journey yourself. I certainly did.
Before I dive into my review, take a look at the latest trailer for Sea of Solitude: The Director’s Cut to get a sense of the game:
Additionally, to encourage interaction with your Twitch chat, Quantic Dreams has included the Twitch extension “Bottle of Hope” for folks playing this game on Switch. It wasn’t operational at the time I was playing it, but you can see how it works in this teaser:
Much like the new release Maquette, which I also played and reviewed this week, Sea of Solitude: The Director’s Cut is more of an experience than a traditional game. Yes, they both possess puzzle aspects that you must solve to move foward. But they also have a signature style that’s impossible to separate from the story itself. And they’re both loaded with heavy narrative and thematic material that might strike you at your very core, or at least at the most vulnerable parts of your psyche. (While I recommend playing both games, maybe give each of them their own time to breathe lest playing them in succession reduce you to a crying, quivering mess.) The main takeaway of the experience of playing through Sea of Solitude: The Director’s Cut is that, while this may be a very personal and cathartic story for Geppert, the universality of its content and its message makes it relatable to just about anyone who picks it up.
And now that it’s on the Switch, it’s literally easier to pick up than ever. Not much has changed when it comes to gameplay or visuals here; the Switch has added a photo mode and an ability to track flares (which protagonist Kay fires off as a sort of compass, guide, or defense mechanism), and the refreshed voice cast and cut scenes help to solidify that emotional connection between the player, Kay, and her supporting characters. (I and my Twitch chat particularly loved the friendly seagull that followed us across the titular sea.) While I played it in docked mode to enjoy the wonderful and at times nightmarish visuals on my TV, the simple and basic controls make it perfectly suited for the portable version.
The story, on the other hand, is not nearly as light and breezy as the playstyle may be. You’re introduced to Kay, red-eyed and covered head to toe in what appears to be thick black feathers, on a tiny boat in the middle of the stormy title sea. An unusual choice for a video game protagonist, one who’s all too often bright, shining, strong, and capable of going up against all sorts of odds. Kay is … not that. It’s clear that Kay is in a tough spot and needs help from both the player and from characters you meet along the way. But the real questions here are, can you trust them? Can you even trust yourself?
Sea of Solitude: The Director’s Cut puts a very fine point on that question as Kay explores her relationships with her family members, her friends and romantic relationships, and the various aspects of her own personality. It’s not very subtle about any of this. You can see the connections coming a mile away thanks to the similarity between Kay’s appearance and that of the various monsters that lurk in the flooded world. They come to symbolize not just the people in her life but also her fears, her guilt, her regret, loneliness, anger, etc., much the way that Pixar’s Inside Out anthropomorphizes these intractable emotions. It’s just that SoS:TDC does it with more of a razor-sharp edge and a fearless approach to plumbing the depths of human despair.
To be perfectly honest, I expected Sea of Solitude to go much darker with its ultimate conclusion than it did. I’m glad it didn’t, and that’s not to demean or belittle the seriousness of mental illness, the feeling of isolation even in a crowded room, struggles with bullying, suffering through parents’ divorce with only feelings of helplessness, and the ever-present fear that you will never, ever be good enough. That’s all very, very real and very, very dark (and it hits very, very close to home.) Sea of Solitude could have pushed into and beyond those dark depths purely for shock value, but thankfully, it does not. There’s a light at the end of Kay’s journey, much as there is a light throughout every step of it, and there’s hope, redemption, and restitution to be found, too.
Though Sea of Solitude: The Director’s Cut is a relatively short and swift playthrough at about 4 hours (unless you find all 39 collectible bottles and knock out the other achievements in the game), it’s also a steal for $20. It’s a rare experience that allows players — strangers, really — around the world to step into a very intimate story, into the profound, in such a stylish and emotionally resonant way. So while it’s pretty simple when it comes to puzzles and could have stepped up the difficulty of the challenges along the way, Sea of Solitude is more about the narrative journey than the mastery of mechanics. I, for one, consider myself all the better for having taken it. (And I wouldn’t mind taking a new journey in the Sea of Solitude should that post-credits scene be a sign of things to come…) Check out the director’s cut now if you missed this one-of-a-kind gem the first time around.
Sea of Solitude: Director’s Cut is available for Nintendo Switch for $19.99/€19,99 digitally via the Nintendo eShop. A free demo is also available for download, immersing the player in the first chapter of the game. A limited and exclusive physical edition of the game is available on the Quantic Dream official eshop for $29.99/€29,99, which contains the game cartridge and an exclusive sticker.
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