This post is an edited version of my initial Seabed review. I’d like to think it’s a lot better.
Seabed is a wondrous doujin VN developed by Paleontology and published in the West by Fruitbat Factory, who I must say for legal reasons gave me a review copy of the game back when it released. A yuri mystery visual novel, it primarily focuses on the story of three women as they go about their daily lives, dealing with topics ranging from mental health to loss along the way. 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, an incident that occurs after they had been dating for years. It’s from this point that the story, set in the 90s, really takes off.
Seabed has a deeply intriguing narrative, though it’s hard to put exactly why that is into words without spoiling everything. For the vast majority of its run, the game is a simple slice-of-life story. Much as in an iyashikei series, there’s little in the way of plot movement, especially after the prologue — which makes up a good 30-40% of the game — finally comes to a conclusion. A significant amount of time is put into focusing on things like the couple’s many trips overseas or the way Sachiko goes about her day at the office. To some, this may be uninteresting, torturous in its mundanity. To others such as myself, however, it’s a very effective narrative decision. The focus on everyday life creates an intimate attachment with the characters and helps to establish a familiar and hypnotic tone which pays off in the long run by sinking its teeth into the reader and never letting go.
While Seabed’s principal characters are light on the development end — there are no major shifts in personality from the first word to the last — they possess a richness to them that’s rarely found in this medium, akin to that of literature. Like real people, their development does not entail a total shift in temperament, causing them to abandon their past selves. Instead, the game deftly has them overcome their biggest problems, not by ignoring them or fundamentally changing who they are but through finding the solutions that are available given what they’re like as individuals. Many of the characters who initially come across as slightly boring gain a lot simply by being observed as time goes on, especially those who arrive post-prologue. Sachiko and Takako may be the main protagonists but it’s quite likely you’ll end up with some other characters among your favorites list. Though that’s not to diminish our leads, as their captivating if simple personalities are what really fuel continued interest in the work during the uneventful stretches.
In regards to the yuri content, this game is pretty great. To a large extent it’s constrained to flashbacks — after all, Sachiko and Takako are separated from one another after the latter’s disappearance, so they’re no longer going out as they had been for oh so long. But don’t allow that to dissuade you; these flashbacks are stellar all-around. Adult yuri romance is quite hard to find and the relationship between these two is incredibly sweet, domestic, and empowering, especially given the time period the work is set in. Sachiko and Takako have known each other since they were small children and have stuck together ever since. There are tons of long, uninterrupted scenes set in their school days or on their trips to places like San Francisco and Rome. Even in the present, where they’ve unfortunately lost contact, their lasting impact on one another’s lives is acutely felt and it’s clear that their love has hardly faded.
At the same time, other members of the cast 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 and thus continues into the present narrative of the work, though it’s significantly less clear-cut when you venture outside their practically married life.
It’s worth noting that SeaBed is very much a doujin game, though 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 this often turns out to be an example of art from adversity, as they contribute well to the mood. I’d easily say this looks better than something like a Tsukihime or a Higurashi. The character art might take a bit of getting used to but it’s consistent and stands out from most other VNs, looking cute while not giving up on the “adultness” of its cast. This is even more true of the CGs, the large number of which is quite surprising given the game’s doujin nature. The music is similarly freeware but it’s incredibly fitting, never feeling tired in the many hours you’ll hear it repeated. I would have assumed they’d composed it themselves if I hadn’t been told otherwise, especially due to how well the various tracks instill an uneasy mood. Certain scenes work entirely due to the off-kilter tone set by the music.
And while we’re talking about that, let’s focus on the game’s mystery elements. One thing I have to give this work credit for is the way it slowly builds and defuses tension. Because most of the VN 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, often showing up in dialog that’s only natural to the characters, allowing it to maintain its tone effectively while also setting the reader up for the other shoe to drop. 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, many times by moving chapters and forcefully depriving you of the chance at answers. To really get this effect in full, though, you’ll need to be reading all of the TIPS scenes as soon as they unlock.
These mysteries often tie into the third principal character, Narasaki, and the way she connects our lost lovers. Narasaki isn’t the character you’re likely to come to this story for but by the time you close the program for good, she easily ends up becoming the most interesting element. The way she represents mental health is just not something I’ve seen portrayed in, well, any media I’ve ever read, watched, or played, really. It’s takes an unusually anti-psychiatry approach, confronting what it means to be mentally ill and how people should deal with their own mental problems, but I’ll leave it to you fair viewers to uncover what I mean by that as you read the work yourself.
Of course, if you’re not interested in the slice-of-life elements in the first place, it’s not going to be worth a read for you, because you’ll spend more time on Sachiko and Takako’s trips than you will learning the secrets that separated them. This is a work which is specifically designed to appeal to those who are 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 enjoy this game very much. If you are fond of those genres though, then this is an absolute must-read. Seabed instantly became my favorite VN upon completion, perhaps my favorite game in general, and I’d love if you could feel the same way.