Sea of Solitude deftly explores how loneliness turns humans into monsters

Sea of Solitude

Games tackling mental health issues have become more common in recent years. From Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice to Night in the Woods to Celeste, independent developers have gone where AAA studios haven’t. That changes with Sea of Solitude. Developed by Jo-Mei Games, a small independent studio based in Berlin, Germany, Sea of Solitude will be published by Electronic Arts as part of the EA Originals program. I sat in on a private preview at EA Play led by Jo-Mei Games CEO and creative director Cornelia Geppert. Bold and beautiful, Sea of Solitude artfully explores the concept of loneliness.

“I made Sea of Solitude at a point in my life when I felt the loneliest, in private and in work life,” Geppert said. “It’s based on a true story, what happened to me. But it’s not completely my story.”

Geppert is a firm believer in democratic design. So even though the idea grew from her own plight, she wanted to tell a universal story about loneliness. “When I presented the concept to my co-workers, they all got highly inspired. They told me their forms of loneliness, problems with family, problems their friends had.” Geppert told Digital Trends that anyone working on the game — Jo-Mei has 12 developers — could present an idea for consideration. “If it’s really good, I put it in.” 

In Sea of Solitude, you play as a young woman named Kay in a sunken city based on Berlin. The captivating art style creates a stirring atmosphere and instantly grabs your attention. Nothing looks quite like it. It’s a sort of high brow cartoon aesthetic that admirably showcases multiple emotional ranges. When the urban landscape is flush with sunlight, the world is beautiful and full of hope. When darkness blankets the sky and storms brew, Sea of Solitude evokes a haunting uneasiness.

Sea of Solitude

Kay suffers from “such strong loneliness that her inner feeling of darkness, of anger, the feeling of hopelessness and worthlessness turns to the outside and she becomes a monster,” Geppert said. Sea of Solitude employs loneliness as a vessel to touch on what happens when we become lonely. Depression, anxiety, anger — Kay’s journey comments on all of these related afflictions and more.

Pay close attention

In the stormy opening section, Kay travels by boat through the urban streets. A large monster emerges from the water and slings a flurry of insults her way before pushing her back. It’s your job to figure out how all of the shadowy monsters you meet connect to Kay. Everything they say connects to her story, offering clues to help you piece the story together.

“I want you to slowly figure out step by step what is going on,” Geppert said. It’s not just the monsters that inform you of Kay’s story. Everything from the water level to the weather to the boat to the environment around you works together. Jo-Mei has been straightforward about the pitch, but Sea of Solitude speaks in metaphors. Everything has meaning; everything connects to Kay in ways that may not immediately be clear.

Early on, Kay receives a flare from a girl who figures to play a big role in the story. The flare acts as a guide. Shoot a flare and you’ll receive a hint of where you need to go, but it won’t necessarily tell you what you need to do.

Later in the first section, her path is blocked by a monster, requiring her to leave her boat. Here, Kay stumbles upon “Corruption,” which must be excised from the world in order to move forward. Sometimes you can remove the Corruption and move on without hurting the monster; other times you kill the monster when clearing the darkness from the world. Clearing Corruption reveals something new about the world and Kay’s story.

Sea of Solitude

An adventure game at its core, Sea of Solitude has light platforming and puzzle mechanics. In the section I played, I guided Kay on foot into a building occupied by small, human-like monsters. They looked like children. Unsettling whispers permeated throughout the structure. As I approached them, they pushed me back. The mechanic at play here was evasion. I had to get close enough to make them chase me then slink through the doorway they were protecting.

Though minimalistic, Sea of Solitude is more about narrative than gameplay. At the same time, the ten-minute sequence I played was still fun. Geppert said that there are many different mechanics at play, each of which is tailored to the monsters you encounter and the overarching themes. Weather also affects gameplay. When it’s sunny, Kay can swim. But during storms the water is too dangerous to enter.

It’ll be interesting to see how Kay’s interactions with the monsters she meets evolve throughout her journey. Remember, Kay is also a monster when the adventure begins.

As Geppert poignantly remarked: “When humans get lonely, they turn into monsters.” Sea of Solitude examines this transformation from Kay’s perspective in hopes that others suffering can look in the mirror and see their true selves: The human behind the monster.

Sea of Solitude sails onto PS4, Xbox One, and PC July 5.

Movies & TV

Comic-Con 2019 preview: The biggest movie and TV panels you won’t want to miss

Even with more competition than ever, Comic-Con International is still one of the biggest pop culture events of the year. For the latest news about your favorite shows and movies, these are the biggest panels to follow.

Everything we know about Monster Hunter World: Iceborne

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne adds the largest region in the game to date alongside new monsters, mechanics, and much more. The expansion launches on PS4 and Xbox One on September 6.
Movies & TV

The best movies streaming on Hulu right now (July 2019)

From dramas to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Movies & TV

Who needs sunshine? Stay inside and watch the best movies on Netflix instead

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.

Walmart extends Prime Day sale into Sunday: 4K TV, Apple, and Smart Watch deals

Prime Day 2019 has come to an end for Amazon, but that doesn't mean the deals are over. Walmart's Prime Day sale has been extended into the weekend. With 4K TVs, Apple Watches, and Nintendo Switch deals, there are great savings.

Google says Stadia is not Netflix for games, more like Xbox Live Gold or PS Plus

The Director of Product for Google Stadia took to Reddit for an AMA. Across his many responses, he explained plans for future mobile device support, free monthly games, why developers should create for Stadia over home consoles.

25 awesome indie games you should definitely be playing right now

These days, some of the best video games are made by independent studios. Here are 25 of the best indie games, whether you prefer grueling dungeon crawlers or otherworldly, meditative adventures.

Shoot, dance, box, and escape reality with the very best Oculus Quest games

The Oculus Quest offers a fantastic virtual reality experience without the need for a PC or console tethered to your headset. These are the best Oculus Quest games available right now.

Here’s our guide to the leaked Fortnite season 9 overtime challenges and rewards

Fortnite season 9 isn't quite over yet. Fortnite overtime challenges are coming and players can complete them to get some extra experience and skin styles. Here's a guide on how to complete them all.

Southwest Airlines gave every passenger on this flight a free Nintendo Switch

Southwest Airlines and Nintendo have partnered for a new sweepstakes, and they kicked off the promotion by giving every passenger on a lucky flight to San Diego a free Nintendo Switch.

Everything we know about Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

After a ten-year hiatus, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is back with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order on Switch. The co-op-focused action RPG tasks you and your buddies with stopping Thanos from securing the Infinity Stones.

Marvel’s Avengers single-player campaign, customization make splash at Comic-Con

Marvel Entertainment is the belle of the ball at San Diego Comic-Con, as the company hosted a panel dedicated to the efforts being made to bring its properties to life through video games.

Walmart’s Prime Day Nintendo Switch bundle deal is still going on

The best bet for anyone looking to get their hands on Nintendo's latest console is to grab one of the bundle deals that pop up from time to time, and Walmart is still offering its Nintendo Switch offer that it ran during Prime Day.