All through historic intervals 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 objects or sketches from their travels, and positioned them in picket cupboards.
The propensity to gather, maybe on the value 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 purpose. Saltsea Chronicles, a brand new narrative journey from the makers of Mutazione, takes a radically totally different method. As a substitute of plundering lands and other people, the participant directs a collective of people that rigorously method 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, but it surely’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 a bit hurriedly between characters and the distinctive social questions their experiences immediate.
Saltsea Chronicles opens with 5 buddies nestled round a fireplace. 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 referred to 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 particular person named Maja, disappears within the evening. It’s as much as the group to go looking the ocean and discover their pal.
Picture: Die Gute Fabrik
Saltsea Chronicles emulates an method 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 sport, Mutazione. Every of its twelve episodes follows the identical normal construction: Hang around on the boat, observe a crew assembly throughout which characters determine the place to journey, after which nominate themselves to discover an island.
Throughout every episode, I’m able to choose 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 choose dialogue choices, making choices 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 particular person, 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 choice to guard this particular person. Afen doesn’t deny the ache this particular person prompted and says, “However hurt comes from hurt. In the event you don’t cease to heal it while you see it… It can solely proceed, handed on. One violence to a different.”
Picture: Die Gute Fabrik
The builders additionally discover questions of tourism and exploitation on the luxurious 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 challenge. Swarms of scientists have descended upon Youlouca to steer an excavation of historic expertise, and but, nobody cares to study 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 study to have interaction the native tradition in a manner 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 desires, wants, and wishes that present exploration of a unique theme and story. In the event you inhabit totally different characters — which the sport will power you to do — then you definitely see the world filtered from every of their views. At factors, this led to deliciously provocative moments within the sport, the place the participant actually has to occupy the attitude of somebody who prompted the neighborhood 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 state of affairs the place you’re offered with an ethical query however no actual reflection on it.
Picture: Die Gute Fabrik
Previous to beginning Saltsea, the sport assures you that no reply is incorrect. Nonetheless, that doesn’t imply you gained’t need to make robust choices as its characters. Fortunately, I by no means felt like I used to be penalized for a “dangerous” choice. In an attention-grabbing design choice, nonetheless, I didn’t at all times know for whom I used to be deciding on dialog. The sport highlights which character is talking, however after I was offered with choices, it wasn’t at all times clear which character I used to be inhabiting as I made my choice. There have been occasions after I unintentionally pressured a personality to behave like a dick, as a result of I blended up which character I used to be controlling, or whose dialogue choices I used to be deciding on. It could possibly be a frustration level for some gamers, but it surely additionally served as a reminder that generally we battle to seek out the fitting phrases.
At sure factors, I couldn’t assist however really feel like this sport was attempting to do some an excessive amount of. Coping with themes of local weather change, generational trauma, neighborhood, and loss is quite a bit to pack into one sport. It additionally offered an formidable variety of character views for gamers to navigate. Nonetheless, life immediately with all its woes additionally seems like a bit 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 Change, 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 could find further details about Polygon’s ethics coverage right here.