Title: Shinsekai: Into the Depths
Release Date: March 27, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
The deep-sea has always captivated me. From a very young age, I’ve been drawn to the wonders of the ocean. Though the sea isn’t all beauty, many dark secrets are hiding beneath the waves. Shinsekai: Into the Depths takes place entirely on the bottom of the ocean, merging the authentic horrors of the depths with a post-apocalyptic setting. When the game was revealed to be coming to Nintendo Switch, it instantly caught my attention.
Originally released on Apple Arcade, Shinsekai: Into the Depths is an “undersea exploration” game. The story takes place in a world where a thermonuclear war has covered the planet with ice, driving humanity under the sea. Sometime after the undersea migration, a lone undersea miner finds his home destroyed by ice and must find refuge elsewhere. In his journey, he finds a mysterious mechanical creature that leads him on a trip across the depths.
The story in Shinsekai is interesting, but it is never pushed onto players. Very little is told directly in the game; just about everything that I said about the story comes from information that Capcom has released. Things about the apocalypse can be inferred from the environment, but nothing is explicitly stated. In my opinion, this is the perfect way to deliver a narrative for this type of experience. If interested, players can do their own digging and try to find out more about the world, but if not, they can experience the gameplay without a dense plot dragging things down.
Perhaps the best thing about Shinsekai: Into the Depths is its soundscape. The first thing players see upon booting the game up is a message encouraging the use of headphones while playing. Doing so creates a more immersive sound experience and enhanced my overall experience.
Games very rarely capture the atmosphere of being underwater in the way that Shinsekai does. From simply walking around the ocean’s floor to fighting giant sea creatures, everything players do in the game is accompanied by stellar audio effects. This is an aspect of games that I admittedly rarely notice, so the fact that it stands out so much in Shinsekai is impressive.
These sounds are accompanied by a truly stellar soundtrack. While there aren’t any bangers that you’ll be humming along with, the peaceful (and, during a few encounters, intense) tunes are composed masterfully. For the Switch version of the game, the developers have included a new jukebox mode, which lets players remix the music in many different ways. This is a perfect way to revisit all of the tracks after the game or simply put them on in the background while doing something else.
At a glance, Shinsekai: Into the Depths is a beautiful game. I say at a glance because up close, things begin to fall apart. The ocean can be a beautiful place, and this translates well into Shinsekai. Many textures, however, look blurry when blown up on a big screen. This goes not only for the game’s environment but also for some of the creatures you will encounter. The experience is far much better when played in handheld mode, but this could just be because these details are more difficult to spot.
Shinsekai has a straightforward objective where you simply have to move forward. As players progress, more defined goals are given, but they ultimately break down into getting from point A to point B.
While this might sound simple, the game’s level design and gameplay make this process incredibly addicting. Each new area was full of new things to see, upgrades to acquire, and enemies to fight. It was thrilling discovering everything and never knowing what would be around the next corner.
The core gameplay loop of Shinsekai involves the player arriving at a new area, scouring it for resources, crafting upgrades, finding unique items, and moving on to the next area. As stated earlier, this loop can become methodical, especially for collectors such as myself. It was almost impossible for me to leave an area without making sure that I had mined every mineral or picked up every item available. Luckily, collecting everything usually benefits you, with upgrades coming much quicker to those who do so.
The sea inst all rewards, however. Players will be faced with a large number of aquatic enemies in their time with the game. Combat can take a while to get used to, but once you master it, taking down enemies feels incredibly satisfying. I can’t say that I found Shinsekai to be particularly tricky, but the combat still provided an enjoyable obstacle between you and your goal.
Characters, enemies, and environments in Shinesekai are incredibly well designed. The world feels unique among a slew of other post-apocalyptic games on the market. The creatures of the depths, organic or mechanical, are all wonders to look at, most notably in the game’s encyclopedia mode.
The Switch release of Shinsekai also includes a brand-new time attack mode allowing players to take on a maze. The mode challenges players to finish it as fast as possible, which is certainly no easy task. While time attack modes are never my favorite, this mode is an excellent way to continue playing after you beat the game and a helpful distraction from the main story.
It didn’t surprise me to learn that Shinsekai was initially released on iOS. There are a few glitches with NPC movements that are incredibly noticeable in contrast to the smooth movement of the main character. Many fish seen in the background will lifelessly move back and forth in a way that looks incredibly unnatural. A much more noticeable glitch appears whenever the main character’s mechanical companion moves, which, as you might expect, is quite frequent. It never really moves smoothly, stuttering from place to place. It almost feels as if this one character is moving at a much slower framerate than the rest of the game, so it sticks out a lot. This by no means ruins the game, but it was strange to see.
Shinsekai: Into the Depths is a charming exploration game. With an addicting gameplay loop and a stunning soundscape, I can see many players thoroughly enjoying their time on this underwater adventure. While it isn’t all that long, the 10-hour story doesn’t overstay its welcome and finishes up exactly when you would want it to.
It’s clear Shinsekai was ported from mobile as many textures just don’t look right on the big screen, but aside from this and the few glitches involving NPC movement, it blew me away. Those looking for an addicting, charming, and, at times, unsettling adventure on the ocean floor will find precisely what they’re looking for with this game.
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