For full disclosure, I played this game using a free review copy provided to me by Fruitbat Factory.
Seabed is a yuri mystery visual novel, developed by Paleontology Soft and published by Fruitbat Factory. It primarily focuses on the story of three women as they go about their daily lives. These women are Sachiko, an introverted lover of books, Takako, an energetic woman who rarely thinks before acting, and Narakaski, a childhood friend of the two who meets Sachiko again as a psychologist. The central thrust of the plot is Sachiko’s grieving after Takako’s disappearance. From there, the story unfolds.
Seabed’s story is great, though it’s hard to put exactly why that is into words without spoiling everything. Most of the time, the game is a simple slice-of-life. Much as in a work like Aria or Hidamari Sketch, there’s not a lot of plot movement, especially after the prologue. A great amount of time is put into focusing on things like Sachiko and Takako’s trips overseas or the way Sachiko goes about her day at the office. To some, this may be uninteresting. To others, however, it’s very effective. This focus on everyday life sets a great tone which pays off in the long run.
As we spend more and more time simply observing the lives of our main characters, we come to really care about them. The characters in this story are not as deep as you would expect from a game of this length but they’re all incredibly likable. That is to say that while they don’t develop a ton throughout the game, they already start out in great places.
Sachiko and Takako are quite realistic characters. Like real people, their development does not mean that they totally shift as individuals, abandoning their past selves. Instead, the game deftly manages to have them overcome their biggest problems without ignoring them or fundamentally altering themselves in order to deal with them. Many of the characters who initially come across as slightly boring gain a lot simply by being observed as time goes on. Sachiko and Takako might be the main protagonists but it’s quite likely you’ll end up with some other characters among your favorites list.
In regards to the yuri content, it’s pretty great. To a large extent it’s constrained to flashbacks — after all, Sachiko and Takako are separated from one another after Takako’s disappearance, so they’re no longer going out. What’s there, however, is excellent. Adult yuri romance is quite hard to find and the relationship between these two is incredibly sweet. They’ve known each other since they were small children and have been together ever since. As I said, there’s plenty of flashbacks to their trips, and even in the present where they don’t have each other around, their lasting impact on one another’s lives is acutely felt.
Other members of the cast also show clear signs of romantic interest in our leads. Without spoiling too much, I can say that the yuri is not entirely constrained to the relationship between Takako and Sachiko, though it’s significantly less clear-cut outside of them.
SeaBed is a very doujin game, but it’s still fairly well-produced in spite of that. It’s true that most of the backgrounds are just photos with filters over them but it manages to look great anyway. Visually, this is not comparable to a Tsukihime or a Higurashi. The character art might take a bit of getting used to but it’s consistent and looks pretty great. This is even more true for the CGs, of which there are many.
The music is freeware but it’s incredibly fitting. I would have assumed they composed it themselves if I hadn’t been told otherwise. I especially want to compliment the ability the tracks have at instilling an uneasy mood. Certain scenes only work because of the odd tone set by the music.
While we’re talking about that, let’s refocus on the mystery elements. One thing I have to give the game credit for is the way it slowly builds and defuses tension. Because most of the game is totally mundane life experiences, it has little time for climactic events. Instead, more and more questions are raised in a very matter-of-fact way, allowing it to maintain its tone effectively while also conveying a somewhat off-kilter atmosphere. It’s really quite brilliant and managed to keep me hooked for hours. The structure contributes to this, as it always manages to shift away quickly after dropping something that’ll leave you wondering what’s going on. That said, to really get this effect you need to be reading all of the TIPS scenes as soon as they unlock.
Of course, if you’re not interested in the slice-of-life elements in the first place, it’s not worth a read. This is a work which is specifically going to appeal to fans of yuri, slice-of-life, and mystery. If you don’t like at least two of those genres, you’re probably not going to like this game very much. If you do like those genres though, then this is an absolute must-read. Playing SeaBed was one of my most rewarding experiences this year and I’ve had a lot of rewarding media experiences this year. The game is 15-25 hours long and absolutely outstanding to those it’ll appeal to.
The game releases on Steam on December 19th. It’s absolutely worth the $15 if you get a chance.