I didn’t quite know how to feel after I’d completed The Sea Will Claim Everything. It’s the sort of game where you need to take a moment to reflect on when it’s finished. It’s filled with big ideas about the nature of humanity and the steady destruction of the hidden, beautiful places in the world. It’s a game filled with music that can touch the listener on an almost-spiritual level. It’s a colorful world on the peak of oblivion, peering back at you and asking that you take one last look at it before it takes that final leap. It asks you to think about the terrible apathy that lead this world to that point and then think about how it’s polluting your own life.
You may doubt me from looking at the artwork. It has a childish style to it, as if the images were all created for a kid’s story book. Now, I liked Verena Kyratzes’s art when I first saw it, but I can see how someone would doubt that this game was for adults just from looking at it. It won’t take you long before you see that it’s purposely meant to put you in a state of wonder, trying to bring you back to the point where you were a child looking out at the world. Everything seems whimsical and pure – a childhood dream that you’re going to float through as you play the game.
Then, it kicks your feet out from under you. The problems and poisons of modern life pulse underneath that charming, innocent artwork. This place is not somewhere I would expect to be hearing talk of foreclosures and oncoming tyrants. It came dangerously close to having me glaze over at the mention of them, preparing to be preached at, but it managed to walk that fine line by setting me up the way it did. It felt like an affront to have terrible things happening to this innocent place, like suddenly having one of the Sesame Street characters break down and divulge a story about years of abuse.
I remember one point in the game where you learn about a murder, and just how shocking it was to hear it. It happened to a character who hadn’t even been introduced, but to hear about something like that happening in this wondrous world was gut-wrenching. Death comes so frequently in games that, until a few days ago, I wouldn’t have ever imagined reacting in such a way to the mere mention of murder. Evil just seems so out of place in this world, but, like reality, it was behind every corner.
At some points, the story seems heavy handed – Jonas Kyratzes is not shy about his opinions. You can see the ties to the Occupy Movements that were so big not too long ago. That rage is there. Kyratzes does a better job of making you sympathize with the reasons behind it than anyone in the tents ever did, though. This story subtly takes you in and shows you a world as afflicted as our own. Then, by virtue of the gameplay itself, it gets you to help the people in the world.
Helping people is pretty much what games tend to be about deep down, right? Instead of rescuing kidnapped damsels, you’re asked to help someone find their brother, or retrieve a lost memento. Through each of the tasks you have to do to complete the game, you see the array of problems the people have based on their dwindling incomes. The problems these people have are often small, but paint a larger picture as you start to see how everyone’s problems all seem to have a similar source.
Yes, they are fetch quests, but the story has built them in such a way that it felt like I was helping out my neighbors. The troubles these people are having are all pretty small, but have large ramifications. For instance, there’s a mouse in the game who wanted to eat a rare cheese that’s too expensive to produce any more. While looking for the items, I had to speak to other people and families, finding that many of them were more than happy to help if I would find them something equally simple that was now beyond their means. I watched as the lack of money and jobs affected every step of my task, seeing it rippling through the entire society. The problem seemed simple at first, but the careful narrative set it up to show me the real world problem.
You’re probably wondering when I’m actually going to describe the game. It’s a point and click adventure, one that you play through primarily by doing fetch quests for people. Somehow, the game manages to have both unique problems and solutions for the troubles this genre can have. At points, you’re going to have a ton of items that you’ve got saved up for this or that person. Instead of having to mash them in that person’s face while hoping you picked the right one, you can just talk to that person and the right item will be removed from your inventory…assuming you choose the right dialogue option, of course.
As an added bonus, the game keeps a log of everything you’re supposed to be doing, giving you details on who needs what. It made it very easy to know who I’d gotten the right item for and reminding me what I was up to in many instances. The game also makes a scratching noise whenever something has changed in your log, making it obvious that something important has changed.
However, the game often gives you recipes to create the item you need. This means using a machine in the starting area that requires you to use items in a specific order to create what you need. Instead of picking those items from your inventory, you have a picture of all of them with no indication of which one is which. You also can’t back up once you’ve picked an item, so the only way to find out what you’ve chosen is to click on it and then back out of the machine. With 15 available things to put in it, this gets annoying quickly. Did I also mention there’s a second machine in the next room you usually have to use in tandem with it?
You’re also forced to spend an awful lot of time puttering around the beginning area. There’s a lot to do before you can even get out in the world, which is a shame because that’s where every good thing about the game happens. The starting area lacks freedom, making you look around for keys and doodads among the hundreds of things on each screen. One room literally has you click on about a hundred boxes until you find the item you need. It was so infuriating I almost quit the game entirely.
Once the game opens up, the emphasis is on talking to the characters rather than clicking on background items, which helps a lot. Still, clicking isn’t completely boring work. Jonas Kyratzes has written goofy, informative, and funny descriptions for just about every flower, rock, and animal in the game. It makes it fun to click around the screen while looking for an item since you’ll usually get some odd description for your time. The problem is that this leaves you with hundreds of things you can click on that don’t actually do anything. It makes narrowing down your searches impossible, so some points in the game are reduced to a crawl while you click on everything on every screen you can reach.
Once the music hits you, I’m not sure how much you’ll care about the game’s setbacks any more. The music is the core of this game, the piece that holds everything together. Chris Christodoulou has created some of the finest pieces of music I’ve ever heard before, drawing out emotions in such a genuine way that it doesn’t seem possible. When people talk about music stirring up emotions, this is the kind of thing that’s being referred to. The sense of melancholy and longing in “The Sea Will Claim Everything – Part II” will touch you in a way I doubt you’ll expect. Poking around an image for the right clickable spot isn’t all that bothersome when “Habanera of the Sun” and “Grains of Sand” float through your speakers. Even when you feel silly for helping a bunch of weird characters in a story book for adults, when “Plingpling Fairydust” hits your ears, it all makes sense in its own way.
The music in this game is beautiful beyond words. It drives home the dreaminess of this place, the magic of being on another world. For all of its subtlety, its strikes like a hammer, halting the listener with its power. There were a lot of times when I was brought to a complete halt by the music, something that’s never happened to me before in real life, let alone in a video game. It holds the whole game together, creating an experience that’s unlike any other.
As you make your way through this game helping people, maybe a thought will occur to you. I may be reaching a bit, but this game really made me wonder why I’m willing to help these fictional people out of simple issues when I don’t do much for people in real life. Their problems are simple but all lead to one complex issue that has worldwide ramifications. Maybe if I was more willing to help out other people, I could start making changes in the way society works. Even if the game drives home the insignificance of your actions in the long run, it shows you that they’re the start of something important. Even if evil will win in the end, maybe others will see what you did and turn against it as well.
Yes, the game itself has some problems. The interface is a little annoying, and some of the puzzles are needlessly obtuse, but that’s the point and click genre. It’s almost impossible to make one of these games work in a streamlined way without making it too easy. With The Sea Will Claim Everything, you have music and images that will take you to another world and make it feel like it’s home. Its story will make you reflect on your own life, and maybe how you could be out helping the people in the real world like you were so willing to in the game.
It’s a beautiful experience, one that made me truly proud of what the medium can accomplish. When your parents, loved ones, the media, and strangers look at your hobby and ask you why you bother with such a crude and violent pass time, I want you to point to this game and say “That’s why.”
The Sea Will Claim Everything is available for $10 from Jonas Kyratzes’s site, www.landsofdream.net.