Title: Sea of Solitude: The Director's Cut
Developer: Jo-Mei Games
Release Date: March 4, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Quantic Dream
Platformers can be a broad genre where inventive developers can tailor the basic principles to their whims. Sea of Solitude: The Director’s Cut is one such title that attempts to break the mold and stand out by telling a deeply personal and moving narrative within its brief and linear playtime. However, the adventure leaves much to be desired due to its mediocre execution, leaving the lessons it attempts to impart as hollow at best.
In Sea of Solitude: The Director’s Cut, players take control of Kay, a girl turned monster facing various negative emotions, each impacting her severely. She faces beasts and troubles forged from the depths of her own mind as she attempts to overcome them with her own strength. This game’s premise is quite enticing as dealing with personal bouts of depression, and loneliness are battles everyone can relate to, to varying extents.
Kay has her own trauma clearly depicted throughout the events, and while they are conceptually moving, they, unfortunately, failed to move me in any significant manner. The reason being had to do with various factors, such as the lukewarm gameplay, but it was mostly due to the superficial and non-subtle writing.
By no means am I attempting to downplay the severity of the struggles at play in this title, but the presentation of it is very in your face, not leaving much, if any room, for thoughtful interpretation and unique conclusions.
When the credits roll, even if the narrative moves you, it will likely not leave a significant lasting impact due to how the writing throws all of Kay’s issues in your face without making it more of a tense, emotional build-up. Regardless of artistic intention, which is incredibly subjective, some more subtly nuanced and generally less blatant writing would have gone a long way in making this experience feel like I was not consistently preached at. However, the subject matter discussed is extremely personal, so the way it is explored will drastically vary in quality from person to person.
In regards to gameplay, players undergo a series of platforming and lite puzzle challenges. The title also has stealth elements as Kay must avoid the monster lurking in the depths of the sea and properly time her movements to avoid being devoured. Kay feels great to control, as her movements are generally smooth and responsive. The actual platforming here is relatively mindless in execution, though.
Every segment is straight-forward, requiring little to no thought on how one must progress. At times, it feels more akin to a walking simulator rather than a platformer. This lackadaisical fruition directly harms the narrative since the dull nature of progression makes the absorption of the story feel like a chore, especially when coupled with how preachy the writing can be. Players will pretty much always know where to go, thanks to the flare mechanic that shows you to the next objective. While this mechanic’s inclusion could have been used to eliminate frustration points, it felt largely unnecessary with how linear the game was.
There are collectibles players can grab, but honestly speaking, these were never compelling enough to warrant further thought since a good chunk of their placements were literally right in your face. They felt more tacked on than much else.
Sea of Solitude: The Director’s Cut does contain a well-done score with atmospheric beats and quality voice work. I have not played the original title, so I can not compare if the redone script and voice work are better or worse, but the voice acting is quite qualitative. Kay’s voice actress emits grief and despair, and the aggressors she faces spit out a believable tone of unjustified venom. These efforts do not get to shine to their fullest potential, thanks to the superficial script. However, the quality of the voice acting alone may be enough of a driving force to reach the end.
Sea of Solitude: The Director’s Cut is difficult to quantify the efforts of. I can appreciate the premise of the scope of negativity it attempts to convey, and the voice actors were clearly invested in their roles. However, nothing it says manages to stick and leave a semblance of meaningful impact when it comes down to it. The writing is too direct, showing a lack of needed subtly for the darkest elements of the character-driven narrative to hit home.
Even beyond that, it’s not fun to play. Despite how smooth Kay feels to control, it never reached its fullest potential due to the dull linearity and thoughtless platforming sequences. Some players may find this to be a worthwhile title to experience from its story elements alone. Still, it solely depends on how one intakes depression and overall grief and whether or not the game ties to your own struggles and interpretations thoughtfully.
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