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SeaBed (PC) artwork

SeaBed (PC) review

"The NeverEnding Yuri"

Slow burn. For a while now Iíve been trying to think of a term that summarises Paleontologyís debut visual novel, SeaBed, and thatís what Iíve settled on. Slow burn. It tells a tale centring on loss and dealing with grief, but itís in no hurry to do so. Slowly and carefully, it takes time to establish the people, the places, their stories and what they mean to each other. It tells its tale how it feels is best -- passť nonsense like a chronological order be damned. It doesnít mind delving back into the past or invading the memories of its cast to replay scenes it feels are important.

Sound confusing? Itís not done yet. SeaBed has three protagonists who take turns telling the tale from their perspective. Inseparable friends, Sachiko and Takako have known each other since they were children and have seen their once platonic relationship slowly evolve into something more romantic. Upon the founding and the success of their own design company, the pair spends most of their personal funds on travels abroad. But, during one of these trips, Takako mysteriously vanishes, leaving Sachiko to deal with the shattered remnants of the life theyíd both built.

A lot of SeaBed is seeing how Sachiko deals with the fallout of Takakoís sudden disappearance. She starts hallucinating images of her former partner flicking in and out of her life, waking her in the morning or turning up at their shared apartment asking for lunch. Being the most rational of the pair, Sachiko recognises this as abnormal behaviour and enlists the help of another childhood friend, Narasaki, who now works at a nearby clinic. The driving point of the tale shifts smoothly between the trio, but takes on an air of uncertainty, blurring the lines between what might be real and what might be delusion. Sachikoís an unreliable narrator at best, finding it harder to distinguish the world that unfolds before her eyes from the created universe running in her head. Youíre never certain that Takakoís points of view are from the girl herself, or just another figment of Sachikoís imagination.

Narasaki provides the main grounding in reality, systematically trying to rationalise Sachikoís behaviour and logically eliminate the causes of her delusions. A lot of words are spent trying to find the logic behind the disorder, which would be fine if that was one thing, but SeaBed spends a lot of words on everything, which is going to be a problem for people expecting to check in to a couple of hours casual reading before hitting the end. That kind of investment will barely see them complete the prologue; Paleontology is hard-committed to the novel half of its visual novel tag. Itís a huge twelve chapter dive that can often feel padded due to its overloaded descriptions and exhaustive attention to detail.

For the most part, it works. When the characters are discussing Sachikoís mental relapses and Narasakiís trying to get to the root of the issue, the theories and explanations need to be fully fleshed out; itís a difficult diagnosis by a doctor discussed with a patient who needs to fully understand everything for the prognosis to work. On the other hand, no single character in SeaBed does anything simple like just eats a sandwich or drinks a coffee; they first note how the lettuce perfectly complements the ham, which is sliced finer than usual and hanging over the side of the bread like a decretive lace.

By the time SeaBed was done, some twenty hours after I started, I really didnít mind that the authors had gone into so much detail. In the end, knowing that Narasakiís coffee always tasted overly bitter to Sachiko because the former only used it as a means to keep herself focused was a little detail I was happy to learn. Its kinetic nature means thereís no choices to make throughout the tale to influence the plot one way or the other, and the combination of this and its well above average length is sure to turn some of the visual novel crowd off. But they might find theyíre robbing themselves of a ambitious and delicately constructed tale.

SeaBedís in no hurry to shuttle you along to a conclusion, because itís so utterly in love with the world itís trying to create. There are mysteries afoot not only in the lives of the three protagonists but surrounding the equally well-developed cast that surrounds them. Sometimes some of these plot twists are lost behind the text walls, but it just means the design changes and evolves at a much gentler pace than you might be used to. Itís an unavoidably slow burn, so that it only rarely managed to lose my interest as it plodded every faithfully towards its conclusion is testament to the strength of the tale it dares to tell.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (December 31, 2017)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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