Feet firmly planted on the deck of a — somewhat — stolen a ship, I sail away from an island some of the crew had never dreamed of leaving. That was before Maja, a charismatic and innovative leader convinced the motley gang of misfits to join her in seeking the horizon. But Maja isn’t here for this maiden voyage, and no one knows why. This mystery, and the pull of a world brimming with friends to meet and unlimited opportunities, lies ahead.
The complex and rich tapestry making up just this first island makes the thought of exploring a sea of new, equally intricate, locations both compelling and daunting. Cleverly, the game’s inciting incident — the possible kidnapping of the ship’s would-be captain — doesn’t give the characters, or the player, any chance to get hung up on decision paralysis. I have to discover what happened to Maja, and I have to do it now. It’s a skillful way to kick off Saltsea Chronicles‘ otherwise dialogue-heavy and pensive narrative.
Lying just under the surface of this watery world is a disaster. In a time long ago, the Hoarders violated the land and plunged Earth almost entirely into the sea. Consequently, the globe is now made up of insular communities of island dwellers, and machinery is all but taboo.
I learn all of this in the hours following Maja’s disappearance. Picking two crew members to investigate what’s happened, I use their individual skills — or try to mitigate problems stemming from their weaknesses — to talk to the villagers and uncover what I can.
Murl — a studious intellectual seemingly more interested in cataloguing people than befriending them — takes the first slot on this particular mission. I team him up with Iris who, having grown up on the island, knows its superstitions and complicated relationships well, but is also ensnared by some of them.
The dynamic is unique. You could fill an ocean with adventure games boasting dialogue options and insightful environment observations. But Saltsea Chronicles weaves in a whole other layer by making just talking and walking through the world a balancing act.
Murl’s scientific worldview might entice a like-minded villager to divulge some information, while simultaneously causing tension. I also might not have learned as much about my surroundings if Iris didn’t grow up with the place’s traditions, basking in the memories of diving off cliffs and vocally disdaining the community’s more mystical beliefs.
Both crew members were important to the success of my investigation — and the resulting theft/rescue of the crew’s boat — but I didn’t walk away completely unscathed. No matter how careful, a few pop-ups during my adventure let me know I’d caused tension between the protagonists which I’ll have to focus on working out later.
Saltsea Chronicles‘ protagonists float off into the night in search of answers and their captain. I suspect they — and I — will get a lot more than they bargained for. But it’s too late to turn back: The horizon beckons.