Once you read enough mystery fiction, you’ll discover quickly that nearly all stories contain detective-like elements in them. Ther’s typically someone out there with the goal of solving “the mystery,” which is almost always malevolent in nature. That is to say, the entity behind it will practically undoubtedly be some bad guy. Then we’ll all carry on our merry way when our protagonist, likely a sleuth of some kind, connects all the dots and solves it.
However, what happens when the mystery contains no malice of any kind? Furthermore, let’s throw in a mystery that hinges on the player ascertaining the true nature of the story itself. The reader is required to separate the fiction’s reality, from the fiction’s fiction, with no “crime” as a purpose to drive the story forward. Well, as a concept, this is one of the things that initially interested me in Paleontology Soft’s psychological mystery title, SeaBed. While the game was initially released on Steam, it’s Nintendo Switch offered me the perfect opportunity to see what lies beneath the ocean’s surface.
SeaBed is a visual novel that has a trinity of protagonists and viewpoints. Protagonist number one is a young woman named Mizuno Sachiko, who runs a small design company with her girlfriend. However, something is off, as Sachiko is learning, she might be experiencing some hallucinations of her past lover, and her memories don’t seem to be matching up with reality. To assist her is protagonist number two, psychiatrist Narasaki Hibiki, a childhood friend of both Sachiko and our third protagonist, Takako. Takako is Sachiko’s past lover, who has a mysterious dementia-like illness that is eating away at her memories. To try and flesh out the synopsis of this psychological mystery title any further would be doing it a disservice, as this extremely unorthodox game tells an astonishingly compelling character-driven narrative that thrives on your deciphering of the story as it occurs.
Aesthetically, SeaBed is similar to titles like Higurashi: When they Cry using filtered photos as backgrounds. It has an absolutely obscene amount of them too, which is excellent as it allows the story to cycle through a whole collection of backgrounds for each location and more specific context-based backdrops. Still, this doesn’t stop it from having some charming portraits and CGs. SeaBed also shares Higurashi’s lack of text boxes, instead opting for the screen itself to be one big text box. This works because the background gets darkened, so the text is visible, so don’t worry about it looking messy.
SeaBed really shines through with its sound design that goes beyond just an array of blissful background pieces that had me half to tears. Nearly every action is punctuated with a consonant sound, whether it be a creaky door, footsteps, the clinking of glasses, a cool breeze, practically everything. The sheer volume helps the narrative achieve a level of immersion with its completely linear story that other visual novels that have self insert characters and player choices wish they could make.
I should also point out that Seabed is visually rather minimalistic, but that only assists the title with its mesmerizing writing. Each of the three protagonists tells their sides of the story in their own particular way, with the writing style changing somewhat to suit the character. This constant shift of character and style, as well as background and audio changes, prevents the title from being hindered by a slower-paced narrative.
The story itself ended up being more about characters confronting their feelings and often taking introspective moments to try to work out what they’re really doing with their life. This leads to a tale with practically zero tension but continuously keeps you guessing and formulating just how all of these plot elements tie together masterfully. Then to be extra fun between chapters, you’ll unlock tips. Instead of making things more defined and understandable, these are additional scenarios that early on do the functional opposite, adding mysterious scenes and had me reciting the words, “what the hell does this mean?” over and over as I scrambled to put the pieces together. And I enjoyed every second of it.
SeaBed really isn’t much of a game, but as a piece of interactive media, that is quite possibly one of the most enjoyable things I have had the pleasure of experiencing. The story tells an evocative narrative about self-reflection and actualization that seemed to enjoy breaking me down emotionally just as much I took pleasure in breaking down its themes and characters. All I need now is something to help with this overwhelming feeling of emptiness now that it’s over.
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