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Sea of Solitude

Game review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
Sea of Solitude Game Poster Image
Eloquent adventure deals sensitively with mental illness.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

The story addresses tough issues like depression, divorce, and suicide, but the overall theme is optimistic and covers how to manage and overcome these problems. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The heroine is flawed like most people, but learns important lessons throughout the adventure. 

Ease of Play

The content here features a lot of straightforward puzzle/platformer gameplay. There are some challenging timed sections that require fast reflexes. 

Violence

Monsters eating the heroine could upset younger kids. The in-game dialog makes mention of suicide and bullying. There are also sections where kids say things like, "We'll find you and we'll kill you." 

Sex

The game includes slight flirty talk in memories recalled by the heroine. 

Language

One instance of the word "s--t." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sea of Solitude is a downloadable puzzle platformer for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PCs. The gameplay focuses on complex psychological and emotional themes, and its storyline confronts the issues of depression, suicide, bullying, and divorce. The heroine can be killed (eaten by a frightening monster), while areas darkness and fanged shadow monsters could be too scary for young kids. Dialog among dysfunctional family members and between an unhappily married couple could also be too intense. Mild suggestive themes occurs in two instances, and there's one occurrence of the word “s--t.” 

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What's it about?

SEA OF SOLITUDE is an adventure platformer with puzzle elements. Starring a young woman named Kay who's suffering from depression, the game focuses on getting to the root of her problems by navigating a dark psychological landscape. Monsters dominate a dark, partially-submerged city, and Kay has to find her way (by boat and on foot) past them by plumbing the depths of her memory. The game alternates among exploration, platforming, and puzzle-solving, and mixes things up by tossing in the occasional timed challenge. Players progress by shedding light on Kay's buried memories, which, in turn, will literally cast light on the physical environment. The point of the game is to help Kay work through her relationships with friends and family and overcome her depression through a better understanding of herself.

Is it any good?

This pretty little game is a lesson in graphic simplicity, while providing an honest, emotional narrative that will no doubt hit a nerve for anyone dealing with sadness or self-doubt. Sea of Solitude's balance of dark/light gameplay, cartoony style, and minimal score prove you don't need complex effects to tell an effective story. It may also go a long way towards removing the stigma surrounding mental illness. Kids who've suffered from depression will identify immediately with Kay, the heroine. She looks like a monster because she feels like a monster. And the semi-submerged city she finds herself in is an obvious metaphor for her isolation and feeling of drowning in her own emotions. 

Early on, Kay realizes how unreliable her memory is, and how she's soothed her conscience by altering it. It's a survival mechanism even more mature people fall back on when life gets scary or complicated, and Kay surprisingly taps into it without thinking. There's one thing about conscience though; it has a pesky way of revealing the truth when we least want it, and the same happens to Kay. She's forced to confront some painful truths, but in the process finds a deeper understanding not only of herself, but of the people around her. She becomes a better sister, daughter, and friend. Gameplay reflects this by lighting up the environment and filling it with color, and it's undeniably satisfying to watch the transformation happen. And while you get a definite sense of accomplishment from helping Kay, the game doesn't rely on an unrealistically “pat” ending. As anyone with depression knows, it can't be conquered -- only managed. Sea of Solitude does an admirably sensitive job of conveying that, along with the mix of fear and optimism that comes with that knowledge. Seen strictly as a game, it's an adventure that's well worth your time. But as a tool for helping kids with depression feel less alone, it's worth a good deal more. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about mental health. Why is it important to have open communication when it comes to mental issues? Do your kids know they can come to you for help? Do you know who you can turn to if you're having concerns as well?

  • How does the media depict mental illness? Has it done better or worse than in years past? 

  • What do you do when someone talks about suicide? Do your kids know to tell an adult if a friend talks about suicide?

Game details

Themes & Topics

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