Open Sorcery: Sea++ – because who can resist a game with two programming puns in the title?
I love indie games. As much as some of my favourite games of all time are AAA games, indies are where the really interesting stuff is going on. They lead innovation and experimentation and take the risks that your standard AAA developer can’t, due to the amount of money behind their games. Without indies, we’d be at risk of losing the soul of the gaming industry and being left with the big publishers pumping out this year’s Fifa and Call of Duty number 106. So, when I present you with a text-based adventure-puzzler, released in early 2021 rather than the 1970s, you better believe it’s the sort of thing that could only come out of an indie studio (or, in this case, a single developer) and it is glorious.
I’m not going to go into too much depth on the story to avoid straying into spoiler territory for a game I genuinely believe you should play. However, the premise of the game is that you awaken in the middle of an otherworldly sea, made up of emotions and feelings and dreams, as well as your regular underwater paraphernalia (fish). You have few memories of your life so you must traverse the underwater landscape that you find yourself in to pull together the shattered memories you find there and use them to compile coding themed magic to help you on your way. It’s a beautiful combination of computer science, philosophy and magic which come together in a thought-provoking narrative on the theme of identity. Again, it’s the sort of storytelling that you rarely find outside of an indie studio and I really appreciate the content warnings on the opening screen and throughout, as there are some difficult themes explored.
The gameplay itself is focused on exploration and puzzling. In the opening area, you’ll swim your way around a grid of the seabed until you manage to build a webship and can travel further afield. You’ll come across a range of incredibly well-written characters, including ghosts that you’ll be able to set to rest by reminding them of their life. This is done by solving a puzzle using information about the ghost you have gleaned by speaking to it, examining its body and speaking to some of the other beings around the sea. These other beings include slave-owning shopkeepers that you’ll be somewhat less inclined to help, again due to the detestably wonderful way they’re written. You also need to collected motes: physical embodiments of concepts like dark, light, love, life, death, etc. In an interesting gameplay decision, you collect these by completing word-searches – I’m not sure many people want to spend time on a word-search rather than exploring the game they’ve just bought, but fortunately, the developer has thought about that and immediately flags that you can turn on an autocomplete option in the settings menu, making them entirely skippable.
As someone with no familiarity with text adventures, I did find the game a little obtuse on occasion. Sometimes I felt somewhat directionless and uncertain of what my goal was or how doing certain activities would help me progress, like a character in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with an indecisive DM. I found myself wandering around somewhat aimlessly in the opening section, just trying everything I was able to do until something progressed, which was quite frustrating. The lack of a map made it quite easy to get lost because my 12-months-of-lockdown-brain is not up to remembering what’s in every segment of a 7×7 grid (although this is less of an issue further down the line as you can ‘fast travel’ to important locations in areas you’ve already visited). Equally, there is no log of conversations you’ve had, so if you can’t remember exactly what an NPC told you about a ghost you’re halfway through awakening (because, again, lockdown brain) you’ll have to go back to that NPC and ask again. I’m sure these points are features of all text adventures, but the modernisation of Open Sorcery: Sea++ doesn’t do anything to improve on the genre there.
Open Sorcery: Sea++ is very much a relic of an early gaming era and, if you’re nostalgic for those days and miss the concept of text adventures, you’ve almost certainly already bought the game. For the rest of us who’ve never played a text adventure, there’s definitely some interesting stuff going on in Open Sorcery: Sea++ and I think it’s a great introduction to the genre and a truly thought-provoking narrative if you can get over some of the slightly annoying legacy features. If you’re at all interested in trying something new in gaming, you could do much worse than trying out Open Sorcery: Sea++.