All through historic durations of exploration, naturalists assembled cupboards of curiosities. These explorers amassed an amalgamation of organic artifacts — like shells, preserved bugs, and stuffed birds — together with different gadgets or sketches from their travels, and positioned them in picket cupboards.
The propensity to gather, maybe on the price to the unique inhabitants of a sure land, has lengthy dominated video video games. Heroes like Hyperlink from The Legend of Zelda or trainers in Pokémon assist themselves to the spoils of the land in pursuit of a singular aim. Saltsea Chronicles, a brand new narrative journey from the makers of Mutazione, takes a radically totally different strategy. As an alternative of plundering lands and other people, the participant directs a collective of people that rigorously strategy every island’s distinctive tradition. This crew doesn’t hoard any assets, however as an alternative fills out an almanac of stickers to memorialize the journey. It’s a small contact, nevertheless it’s a defining instance of the kind of intentionality dropped at Saltsea Chronicles. It makes for an extremely considerate and bold narrative expertise, even when the sport jumps slightly hurriedly between characters and the distinctive social questions their experiences immediate.
Saltsea Chronicles opens with 5 associates nestled round a hearth. I click on via dialog choices the place I’m given the selection to listen to a narrative in regards to the “previous” or the “future.” I click on the latter, and I’m regaled with an illustrated legend that speaks of a world the place “hoarders” took an excessive amount of and gave too little. These hoarders constructed glittering skyscrapers that made the seas jealous and rise consequently. Now, all that’s left is a smattering of islands in a physique of water known as Saltsea. The group buzzes with anticipation over an upcoming sea journey of their very own, however they hit a stumbling block: Their captain, a silver-haired individual named Maja, disappears within the night time. It’s as much as the group to look the ocean and discover their buddy.
Saltsea Chronicles emulates an strategy and construction typical to tv. Developer Die Gute Fabrik used a writers’ room to create the sport, and a few of its most dramatic moments echo the cleaning soap opera-esque storytelling of the studio’s debut recreation, Mutazione. Every of its twelve episodes follows the identical normal construction: Hang around on the boat, observe a crew assembly throughout which characters resolve the place to journey, after which nominate themselves to discover an island.
Throughout every episode, I’m able to decide two characters to discover a singular island, the place they’ll find out about its historical past and inhabitants. After I discover as the 2 crewmates, the duo returns with data. At that time, I learn one other crew dialog and decide dialogue choices, making selections like the place to journey subsequent or whether or not or to not settle for a brand new crew member. Every island is stunningly rendered to emulate risograph print strategies related to storybooks.
Private tales and the battle that arises between characters turn out to be the car for the writers to discover weighty political and social questions. The Grace, a serene island populated by counselors who assist folks grieve, explores ideas of restorative justice via a personality named Tukk. This individual, because it seems, murdered three folks. Upon seeing Tukk, a crew member named Molpe bursts in rage. She later presses an area chief named Afen in regards to the determination to guard this individual. Afen doesn’t deny the ache this individual triggered and says, “However hurt comes from hurt. In case you don’t cease to heal it if you see it… It’s going to solely proceed, handed on. One violence to a different.”
The builders additionally discover questions of tourism and exploitation on the plush volcanic island of Youlouca. We meet Bobbi, an area tour information who bristles at our arrival and complains of the guests, known as “incomers,” who’re creating noise on the island with an excavation mission. Swarms of scientists have descended upon Youlouca to guide an excavation of historic know-how, and but, nobody cares to be taught in regards to the cultural heritage of the island. Over the course of a number of journeys to the island, a crewmate named Neshko will get to know locals and newcomers alike, and be taught to interact the native tradition in a means that honors the heritage of the island.
As a reviewer who discovered the bigger social themes of the sport intriguing, it generally felt like island-hopping and character-swapping left sure concepts or social critiques feeling undercooked in a single playthrough. Every character has their very own needs, wants, and wishes that present exploration of a distinct theme and story. In case you inhabit totally different characters — which the sport will drive you to do — you then see the world filtered from every of their views. At factors, this led to deliciously provocative moments within the recreation, the place the participant actually has to occupy the angle of somebody who triggered the group hurt and should hear others air their grievances. Nonetheless, it additionally led to conditions the place every character’s particular curiosity won’t line up with the sport’s quite a few themes, so that you get a scenario the place you’re introduced with an ethical query however no actual reflection on it.
Previous to beginning Saltsea, the sport assures you that no reply is incorrect. Nonetheless, that doesn’t imply you received’t must make robust selections as its characters. Fortunately, I by no means felt like I used to be penalized for a “unhealthy” determination. In an fascinating design determination, nevertheless, I didn’t all the time know for whom I used to be choosing dialog. The sport highlights which character is talking, however after I was introduced with choices, it wasn’t all the time clear which character I used to be inhabiting as I made my determination. There have been instances after I unintentionally pressured a personality to behave like a dick, as a result of I combined up which character I used to be controlling, or whose dialogue choices I used to be choosing. It might be a frustration level for some gamers, nevertheless it additionally served as a reminder that generally we wrestle to search out the suitable phrases.
At sure factors, I couldn’t assist however really feel like this recreation was attempting to perform a little an excessive amount of. Coping with themes of local weather change, generational trauma, group, and loss is loads to pack into one recreation. It additionally introduced an bold variety of character views for gamers to navigate. Nonetheless, life at this time with all its woes additionally looks like slightly an excessive amount of, and I respect a staff that unflinchingly sails into the headwinds of the weighty points which have include life in 2023.
Saltsea Chronicles was launched on Oct. 12 on Mac, Nintendo Swap, PlayStation 5, and Home windows PC. The sport was reviewed on PC utilizing a pre-release obtain code. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media might earn commissions for merchandise bought through affiliate hyperlinks. You will discover further details about Polygon’s ethics coverage right here.
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