Capsule Review: The Sea Eternal

A choice-based text adventure whose opportunities for self-expression and grand mysteries get in each other's way.

A ChoiceScript game set in an underwater city of immortal merfolk. Make choices to define your character, decide how to interact with others, and respond to the events of the game’s plot.

I was excited to play this after how much I loved Lynnea Glasser’s previous work, Creatures Such as We, but while The Sea Eternal is still well-written with a compelling world and characters, I found that the way the game is structured meant the results were disappointing.

In both games, your choices are largely about self-expression. You choose how to react to situations, who to spend time with, and how to interact with them. This steers your personal story in particular directions, but what that means differs greatly. In Creatures you have little power over the major plot events so you’re basically choosing who to keep company through the story and what kinds of conversations to have with them. It fits well in a game about exploring ideas and connections between people and makes it feel more like you’re choosing your own experience than missing out on content.

In Sea, however, your character has much more influence and your actions can have irrevocable society-wide ramifications. This results in an odd combination - many of your choices are still about who to spend time with and how to interact with them, but a handful will lock you into substantially-different endings. If you are left unsatisfied with unresolved mysteries or the outcomes of certain events, you can replay and make different choices - but a lot of your time will still be spent just interacting with the characters, so you’ll either have to read through content you’ve already seen or role-play differently to see other content. This damages the appeal of the game’s opportunities for self-expression and can reduce the characters from people to sets of flags.

More of a problem is that the game seems to read a lot into why you make the choices you do, both to justify the way the plot forks and to assign personality stat points which then block off a number of late-game decisions. The result can feel like arbitrary option restriction - in my playthrough, my attempts to learn more before making rash and uninformed decisions with huge consequences seemed to be interpreted as a lack of interest in challenging the status quo, so the game’s biggest mysteries and hooks were left unresolved in my ending despite my character having continued opportunity to dig into them.

I’m left feeling that the game is trying to balance two contradictory goals - the low-stakes self-expression that worked so well in Creatures and the mystery and intrigue that was added in Sea. Either on its own is compelling, but together they get in each other’s way.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished one playthrough in a bit under two hours. I was not satisfied with my ending, feeling like it left far too many interesting questions unanswered and plot elements unresolved, but I didn’t want to go back through all of it again to make different choices in the couple of plot-relevant decisions in order to get the game to actually explore those aspects - especially since I was happy with who my character had been and how I’d treated the other characters and didn’t want to change that.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.