Sea of Solitude is a game about monsters. Some try to devour you, some run away from you, and some refuse to acknowledge your existence. They take the form of sea creatures, ravens, wolves, and chameleons, among others, and it’s not always clear which are friends and which are foes, whether they need to be defeated or saved. Protagonist Kay herself bears some striking similarities with the monsters she faces, a shadow of a person with glowing red eyes and a bright orange backpack. Throughout this Director’s Cut of Sea of Solitude, you’ll guide her through her confrontations with these monsters, and try to figure out whether Kay herself should be counted among them. It doesn’t last very long, but it’s memorable, and an experience worth having.
You can find Sea of Solitude: Director’s Cut on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Lost at Sea
Developed by Jo-Mei and published by Quantic Dream, Sea of Solitude is driven by its story, with some light exploration and platforming elements. You might recognize Quantic Dream as the studio associated with other narrative-focused games like Detroit: Become Human, Beyond: Two Souls, and Heavy Rain, and Sea of Solitude fits in quite well with these titles.
The world itself is small, taking place around a sunken city, but it’s used in clever ways to add variety to different chapters of the story. At first, you’ll travel mostly by boat, with the sea levels covering most of the buildings, except for their roofs. You can get off to explore, although there’s typically not a lot of ground to cover. In later chapters, the water levels rise and fall, exposing and hiding different areas that serve as the backdrop for each sequence. Visuals are simple but compelling and make good use of lighting and weather effects to keep the settings looking fresh.
I do wish there was more to explore. While there are some knickknacks to collect – messages in bottles are hidden around each area, and you can “shoo” seagulls away – Sea of Solitude typically has only one way of getting from point A to point B. That’s not really a big deal in a game like this: it is primarily trying to tell a story, and that means that you won’t be able to deviate from the intended path. But while messages in bottles add some nice additional context to the narrative, it feels like there could have been more going on in the sunken city. It would have been nice, for instance, to have had the opportunity to learn more about the monsters themselves.
Here Be Monsters
Let’s talk about the monsters, which you’ll quickly learn are representations of different people and problems in Kay’s life. While the whole “metaphorical inner demon becomes literal outer demon” plot may sound a little cliché, Sea of Solitude does it well, and rarely feels heavy-handed. Each chapter is centered around one or more of these monsters, and ends with a boss fight of sorts, in which Kay will attempt to deal with the monster in one way or another.
These sequences start interesting but can sometimes drag on a little too long. In one sequence you need to climb a tower, but it’s higher than it needed to be; in another, you’ll have to collect some glowing orbs while avoiding foes, but there didn’t need to be so many orbs or so many foes. The sequences are never very difficult, and Sea of Solitude does not punish you too much for failing, but there were certainly times where a drawn-out monster encounter caused me to lose interest by the time it was over.
Fortunately, the strong storytelling was more than enough to motivate me to see Kay’s story through. I haven’t played the original version of Sea of Solitude that came out in 2019, but the Director’s Cut promises “a rewritten script” and “a new cast of voice actors”. If these were weaknesses of the original version then they are not here. Voice acting is excellent throughout and manages to convey emotionally significant moments without being melodramatic. It’s complemented by an equally strong score: unique tracks for each chapter know when to be subtle, and when to add to the emotional weight of a scene. It’s a pleasure to just take a moment and look and listen to what’s going on.
Stop and Smell the Seaweed
Sea of Solitude strongly encourages you to take these moments. The Director’s Cut adds features especially for the Switch, specifically designed for the purpose of taking it all in, with a new customizable photo mode and “gyroscopic integration” to make taking the perfect screenshot that much easier. These additions, however, feel entirely superfluous and often do more to pull you out of the moment rather than appreciate it. For instance, the aforementioned seagull-shooing component seems to be there just to encourage you to take pictures: once fully shooed, the camera will follow the seagull for a while, and remind you of the controls for photo mode. Given that you can take a picture at any time, though, it’s completely unnecessary, and why anyone would use the gyroscopic features of Switch’s Joy-Cons is beyond me. It’s hard to imagine that anyone was clamoring for this feature to be included in the Director’s Cut.
There are certainly a few nits that one could pick with Sea of Solitude. Navigating your boat can sometimes be clunky, and can get caught up on terrain. Dark sections can sometimes be a little too dark, especially in handheld mode, which can make figuring out where to go next a bit of a pain. At the same time, the ability to fire a flare to figure out where to go next can limit the desire to explore and can make it feel as though not heading in that particular direction means that you’re going the wrong way. These little annoyances, however, don’t detract from the overall experience of Sea of Solitude.
Sea of Solitude: Director’s Cut offers a mostly great experience that’s while worth your time. Its relatable, deep story about the concept of inner demons strikes hard in anyone’s heart and is only reinforced by its top-notch voice-acting. While it’s great though, its mostly linear exploration leaves a lot to be desired. Despite that, if you’re in the mood for a deep, meaningful story, Sea of Solitude may be just the way to scratch that itch. If you’re in the mood for some other narrative-focused games, check out our coverage of some other games from Quantic Dream, or some of our favorite walking simulators.
- Beautiful visuals and soundtrack
- Writing tends to be excellent
- Voice-acting is top-notch throughout
- Linear story without much opportunity for exploration
- Gameworld can feel empty at times
- Constant reminder to take pictures is mostly annoying