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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review: SeaBed (PC)


Review by Matt C.

Yuri visual novels seem to be gaining popularity in the West, and that's a wonderful thing. A good yuri romance will take you to places that no other game can, putting fresh perspectives on familiar ideas. SeaBed, a kinetic novel by Paleontology and Fruitbat Factory, is the latest such game.

SeaBed is a lot of things. It's a cute lesbian romance story; it's a gripping psychological mystery; it's a low-key slice of life adventure; it's a piece of travel fiction to inspire wanderlust. Most of all, it's a look at love, loss, heartbreak, and moving on.

At the heart of the game are Takako and Sachiko, childhood friends who found love in each other's arms as they grew older. As a young couple, they found a passion for travelling the world. Takako's childlike exuberance and love of adventure perfectly complemented Sachiko's quiet reservedness, making them an adorable and dynamic couple that found as much fun in admiring the architecture of Rome as they did parasailing in the Pacific.

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Then, one day, Takako disappeared. Sachiko doesn't remember when it why, and in her grief she started seeing hallucinations—her mind tricking her into believing that her lover never left. It hasn't negatively affected her life or her work, and to Sachi's mind, Takako's still there, like she's always been.

A chance run-in with another childhood friend, a psychiatrist by the name of Narasaki, causes Sachiko to finally realise that Takako is gone, and that the person she keeps seeing is just a hallucination. She still can't remember anything about Takako's disappearance, but with Narasaki's help, she sets out on a journey to get her memories in order and say goodbye to the visions one and for all.

On one of her previous trips, Sachiko had met a Nanae, an innkeeper from a town in rural Japan. On Narasaki's advice, she decides to take some time off work, and Nanae's hotel seems like the perfect getaway. Out of concern for Sachiko's well-being, Narasaki decides to also spend a few days at Nanae's place to see how Sachi's getting on.

kinetic visual novel

This sets up the main structure of SeaBed: a sort of slice-of-life look at Sachiko's time at the hotel, enjoying the mountainous countryside and helping out Nanae with chores, interspersed with flashbacks to her earlier days spent with Takako. The perspective shifts regularly between Sachi and Narasaki, allowing us to witness Sachi's recovery both first-hand and from the point of view of her doctor.

While all that's going on, alternate chapters also show Takako's perspective, though it's unclear when and where these take place. For her part, Takako seems to miss Sachi dearly, though she's also hazy as to the circumstances around their separation; her memory loss seems to be part of a bigger amnesiac condition, for which she's also seeking treatment.

So, switching between the perspectives of Sachiko, Takako, and Narasaki, SeaBed slowly pieces together a patchwork of the lovers' relationship: how they met, their childhood together, their growing closeness through adolescence, their romantic adventures, and the love that binds them together. It's a slow burn, but necessarily so: rather than some sort of intense crime thriller, SeaBed is a story built on melancholy. The mystery its heart hinges on the humanity and relatability of its cast, so the slow pacing is crucial for giving the twists weight. The fact that it's all written in prose, rather than the script approach typically seen in visual novels, adds to both the meandering pace and the dreamy nature of the story, to great effect for the most part.

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That said, it does sometimes feel like the pacing is too slow. Some of the writing gets overly descriptive and bogged down in unnecessary details, to the point of feeling robotic. For example: "The somewhat loosened metallic part of my working/reading/computer glasses turned with a low creak." Why not just say "glasses"? Instead of "metallic part", why not just say "arm"? "The somewhat loosened arm of my glasses turned with a low creak."

On top of that, there are scenes that feel like they could be cut in their entirety without any loss in either plotting or emotional groundwork. A slow pace is well and good, but there are times when SeaBed feels like it's just treading water.

This is particularly true in the early parts of the game. The prologue alone—which exists simply to establish the the background to the story proper—is a good quarter of the game. For me, I took around 12 hours to read through the prologue, and then one to two hours per chapter thereafter. There's a lot of dense exposition in those opening hours, much of which I feel would have fit better into later chapters (or just cut entirely).

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This makes those opening hours a bit of a slog, which is a real shame because one it gets going properly, SeaBed has a beautiful story to tell. Many of the twists are foreshadowed enough to not be much of a surprise, but that doesn't make them any less affecting. Sachiko, Takako, Narasaki, and even the small supporting cat are all such sympathetic, deep characters that even the most expected plot developments pack a punch.

It all builds up to an especially heartfelt ending, which I won't be forgetting any time soon. Suffice to say, coping with heartbreak is the major underlying theme here, and SeaBed's conclusion delivers on that perfectly. It wraps up the main mystery neatly—as you'd expect—but also leaves a few threads unresolved to give you something to ponder afterwards.

The artwork is absolutely stunning, too. Rather than the clean, crisp lines you typically see in anime games, SeaBed has a rough, sketchy style that leaves every portrait and scene overflowing with personality. Watercolour finishes add to that, imbuing the whole game with an appropriately dreamlike quality. The illustrations used for key scenes (or CGs, add they're commonly known) are plentiful, and each one is a joy to behold—whether it's a romantic moment between Takako and Sachi, or something as simple as a character lying in bed reading a book. I don't know if the developers have any plans to release an art book, but I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

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In short, SeaBed is a beautiful game. Some pacing issues aside, it's a poignant exploration of love and heartbreak that manages to feel both grounded and ethereal. One thing's for sure: this isn't a game I'll forget in a hurry.



- Matt C.
Contributor
Find me on Twitter: @MC_Odd
Review: SeaBed (PC)
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