Sea of Solitude finds beauty in depicting loneliness

“The vision, in a nutshell, is to let players experience different types of loneliness. But all in a playful way,” says Cornelia Geppert of Jo-Mei Games. And that’s about all I could get out of her at this point. It’s not a lot, but it hardly matters once you’ve seen what Geppert and her team have done with that concept.

Somehow only in the conceptual stage, it’s called Sea of Solitude, and the images released so far sell themselves. We see a young girl called Kay, who has been turned into a black and blobby monster, as she journeys through a sunken city to find out what happened to her. Of course, she also seeks a way to change her form, but this is hindered by the presence of large monsters. Jagged-tooth fish swim the waters when the grey storms strike lighting down from the skies. A huge bedraggled crow guides Kay, tells her how to survive, acting as her only friend, for now.

she is an inky drop in the vast volume of a crystal ocean. 

My first thoughts upon setting eyes on Sea of Solitude was that it was beautiful in the same way Team Ico’s games are. But what does that comparison mean? Geppert has already said it: loneliness. Team Ico pits its protagonists against colossal foes all in order to illustrate the loneliness nagging at their souls.

In Ico, it’s the desolate castle that bears over the eponymous horned boy, just as it does the oceanic waves that crash against the craggy rocks supporting it. The castle is symbolic of Ico’s exile from his village, as it is there that his elders locked him away in a stone coffin, alone, and for good. The towers and steep, crumbling walls of this overbearing presence separate Ico physically and metaphorically from everything else in the world as he attempts to climb its heights, and solve its puzzles.

Likewise, in Shadow of the Colossus, Wander’s heart-wrenching detachment from Mono, caused by her death, is what leads him to the forbidden land where he hunts and kills the colossi to resurrect her. Not only is his foe mountainous, but the terrain also rises enormously so that he has to travel through darkened valleys, and over large barren plains finding nothing else but grass and rock. Often, there is nothing but open air to gallop across on the back of his steed. Completing the effect is the way the camera positions Wander against the backdrop so that it belittles him. Yet, as with Ico, he overcomes the odds that the visuals illustrate as being such a heavy friction to his goal. He fights against his isolation by climbing hand-over-foot toward the sky, collapsing the giants between him and consolidation, one at a time.

“her biggest enemies are not the huge monsters that she meets” 

In Sea of Solitude, Kay will have to face similar challenges. We know this as these first screenshots tell us as much. When she leaves her boat to swim in the waters, she is an inky drop in the vast volume of a crystal ocean. Even though the buildings are submerged they still tower above her with chimney breasts and slanting roofs. She has to stack crates and find alternate routes to bypass the city’s geometry. Then there are the creatures that appear and disappear as if part of a dream. They dwarf her size by tens of times, and must see her as we would a single worm flailing in a field; a weak morsel barely worth bothering with. 

But, according to Jo-Mei Games, “[Kay’s] biggest enemies are not the huge monsters that she meets on her way through the Sea of Solitude, but something way more dangerous.” What a tease that is. Could it simply be the “naked terror” of loneliness with which author Joseph Conrad was so familiar? All we do know is that this is a game about exploration, love, and endurance. And at its heart is an aching isolation that some of us will be able to relate to. You’ll know whether that applies to you as soon as you meet eyes with it.

You can find out more about Sea of Solitude on its website.