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Sea of Solitude

Sea of Solitude

Written by Kinsey Danzis on 7/23/2019 for XBO  
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I wake up in a boat on the Sea of Solitude.

What sort of boat, as well as how to captain it, seem to be of little consequence; even the tossing, roiling, night-dark sea beneath me is more or less a passing concern, almost as if I’ve been here before but don’t quite remember it.

I look down at myself—at my dark fur, my claws, the faint glow coming from my red eyes. I am a monster, and my name is Kay, though the second realization comes far later than the first.

I also quite enjoy talking to myself, apparently; who else am I meant to talk to out here?

I see a beacon of light on the horizon, splitting the pitchy night sky, and I set course for it. It’s a Girl, it turns out—she never tells me her name, and I don’t see her face—dressed in a bright raincoat and floating in the air above the sea. She instills in me a strange power—or is it strange at all? It feels so familiar, almost exactly like a flare gun—that lights my way through the chaos, and guides me to safety. It all feels so intuitive. The sky lights up. The water lowers. I find myself afloat in a flooded city, equally familiar in and of itself to the familiarity of this whole forsaken situation. But the Girl is there, laughing and twirling just above the water’s surface.

Then the Girl is taken, by Her.

It becomes more and more evident by the second that I have experienced this before, because She knows me. She erupts from the water and blocks my way forward, little distinguishable of Her form save for glowing eyes, a wicked smile, and a mammoth shell within which She has concealed herself. The world turns dark around me. I have no name for Her, but She knows mine, and knows every single thing about me. Her words are knives; She hurls them at me and seems to know exactly where they will hit, and how hard. She does not move unless I approach Her. She simply sits there, insulting me and highlighting the worthlessness of which I already am well aware.

I direct my boat around the corner to escape Her, but find myself at a dead end. It is time to clamber over buildings in the dark, using only the Girl’s strange power to direct me. But there is another Her, this one lurking in the deep. I can see Her glowing eyes, Her gaping maw, and the black hair—exactly like the hair covering me—that covers Her thick serpentine body. She goads me into the water, slithering around back and forth and waiting for me to stumble into the sea so She can snap me up.

She does indeed snap me up once or twice, tossing me into the air before crunching into me with Her wicked teeth. But no more than seconds pass before I find myself standing where my feet had last touched something solid—I, given another chance to find my way safely forward, and She another chance to swallow me whole. Deadly though this sea is, it is quite forgiving. But I cannot fight. There is no combat here. There is only running and dodging.

The two of them follow me through this world, both Shell-Her and Maw-Her (as I come to call them during my journey). The Girl is all I can think about, but there is no sign of her; the strange flare-like power she gave me guides me to strange rifts of corruption scattered about the drowned city, and in moments of excruciating pain I am able to join with them and clear the way, turning night into day and stormy seas into calm waters. In the light of day, Maw-Her vanishes, and I swim as I please—directionless, perhaps a bit unsure of where I’m meant to go and what I’m meant to do, but knowing that the flare will guide me there eventually.

It’s strange; there is somebody curled inside these corrupted patches, and I do fit within them perfectly, and the person does vanish after I join with her, but it can’t be me in there. The girl in there is human, and I’m a monster.

Was I once human?

Light and dark are interchangeable in this drowned city depending on where I stand, I discover. Light drives away the monsters, but I can only bring light forth by joining with and dispelling the corruption. It hurts, but the sense of progress is distinct, and as morose as it sounds I actually enjoy exploring the flooded city in the light, as strangely repetitive as these buildings seem to be (what kind of city is this, with identical buildings every three blocks?). But I am alone. The Girl is nowhere to be found—I have no idea who she was for the brief time I knew her—and in the light, there are no monsters. At least in the dark the monsters will talk to me, though their words cut me. They are familiar. They voice thoughts I have never told anybody, that only I would know. It’s unnerving.

My mission to find the Girl soon becomes secondary. A great Bird soars overhead through the darkness; the sky lightens around it, but something isn’t right about the light. It is gray and dull, almost dead-looking. I first think it wants to kill me—Maw-Her is still swimming around below me, so I feel justified in my worry—but it ignores me, and it feels so familiar at that. So I’m not alone! Perhaps it will lead me to the Girl!

I follow. The sea changes as I near; it is gray and stagnant, almost choked, but no longer does Maw-Her swim around me. I fall into a false sense of security. When I draw too close to the water’s edge, ghostly hands spring from the surface and flail around, hoping to grasp my ankles and drag me down. I hear ghostly voices threatening to find me, beat me, kill me. They sound like children.

Something is strange about this. Shell-Her is eerily familiar, and even Maw-Her seems like I knew her well—they look like me, almost—but I have never seen this before. Everything, from the walls to the water to the sky, is sickly gray.

I come upon a school, the first familiar thing in this landscape. I know this school—Sunny’s school. My little brother’s school. I have a little brother? But I’m a monster.

The monster that led me here, the massive bird, perches and watches me before I enter the school. It looks almost sad. It flinches away from the children’s whispery voices we both hear; what have those voices done to it? Why does it look more sad than scared? And why do I have the overwhelming sense that I know it?

It hits me suddenly. I do know the bird, and it—he—knows me, and I suddenly feel sick at the notion that I have so far been blind and deaf to the horrors my little brother has experienced within the school I am about to enter. It seems I am not the only one of my family that has turned into a monster.

Please, Girl. I don’t know where you went, but I can feel you are still alive, and I need your help. My loved ones have turned into monsters, and I can sense Shell-Her and Maw-Her lurking out beyond the border of the gray waters. I have to help my family. I am so tired, and the corruption around me weighs so heavily on my shoulders, but I still have to help them. No one has asked me to take on this burden, but who else is there? I can help them all...right?

Sea of Solitude is a game not to be taken lightly—the content warning at the beginning attests to that—but well worth the tumultuous ride. Intended as an exploration of a young woman’s real-life struggles and loneliness, it definitely hits the mark; the entire game is an allegory for internal struggle, depression, and loneliness, and a moving exploration of family dynamics. The controls are intuitive and easy, the music is sorrowful and beautiful, the monster designs are unique and clever, and the story behind it all is brutally honest; despite the best intentions, you cannot help everyone, nor should you.

If you aren’t a fan of games like What Remains of Edith Finch and Fe, where combat and thrill takes a backseat to emotion and art, then I’ll be honest—this probably isn’t the game for you, and that’s okay. But for those of you who enjoy games with meaning, games with abstraction, or games with that unique artistic beauty that so often blossoms in indie games, then Kay is waiting for you on the Sea of Solitude.

Rating: 8.8 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I've been involved with games since I was a little kid, when I would watch my father play World of Warcraft for hours—and later, of course, mooch off of his account. I have a cobblestone background of creative writing, newspaper journalism, and multi-platform gaming, and I intend to add more stones to that mix as I get them. Excluding sports, I'm a fairly versatile player and will play whatever I can find, though I have a soft spot for lore-intensive games and fantasy. Personal interests include the interplay between history and video games, especially with games that contain archaeological elements—however fantastical—such as Horizon Zero Dawn and the Tomb Raider franchise.

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