As the beast folds away its wings and plunges itself into the water, I begin to cry. I’ve been tracking it for a while now, cutting Kay’s narrow boat through the water, but each time I get close it turns its eyes to mine and beats its wings to move away from me. Abandoning the boat – leaping over the silent arms that reach out for Kay from the murky depths – she scrambles across the rooftops, terracotta tiles tinkling in her wake. But it’s too late. I know I’m too late. The beast has already disappeared.
Meeting this monster and uncovering its harrowing backstory broke me in a way I hadn’t quite expected. I felt sick moving through the preceding chapter, piecing together its stark, unornamented message, devastated by the story it was telling but compelled to see it through. It’s ugly and it’s painful and it’s heartbreaking to watch, but it’s necessary, too. The events in this twisted parody of a school – if a little contrived – rocked me in a way I’m very rarely rocked, be that via a game or otherwise.
If Sea of Solitude had finished here, it could’ve been a masterpiece. However, this is the game’s first encounter with one of the mysterious monsters roaming Kay’s watery world, and what could’ve been a devastating final gut-punch instead set a precedent that the rest of the game couldn’t quite match. The impact of each subsequent encounter is instead muddied by the one that preceded it, diluting the potency of the storytelling, and its stunning score and striking visuals are further clouded with clumsy mechanics, uneven voice performances, and inelegant metaphors that strip away the nuance necessary for such potent topics.