Whenever I think of developers Studio Fizbin releasing a fresh title, there’s an expectation that they’re going to deliver a quality game. In fact, their reputation is for creating delightfully weird, yet humorous, point-and-click adventures like those found in The Inner World series. The time has come for Studio Fizbin to delve into new territories now though, with the first-person narrative adventure Lost At Sea looking to ponder life as a whole. Will this shift in genres and mood be plain sailing, culminating in Lost At Sea being an unmissable adventure, or does the experience ultimately fail to captivate?
It’s hit and miss to be fair, but Lost At Sea just about manages to pull off the most important aspect of what is a mysterious, and quite profound, narrative adventure. Be warned however, tissues may be required.
Lost At Sea throws you straight into a strange situation, one which sees you taking over the role of a woman named Anna who is stranded, alone, on a mysterious island. It becomes apparent that this island must be explored – through a first-person perspective – with only a compass as a guide. The island has four different biomes to unearth and these represent different stages of Anna’s life. There are memories to piece together within each biome and you’ll have to solve numerous puzzles in order to retrieve the fragments you need to make them whole. All the while though, a darkness lurks; one that’s going to disrupt your ‘adventure’.
The aforementioned darkness is the manifestation of fear. Although you’re relatively safe inside the biomes, as you venture out in search of memory fragments, a cloud of darkness with what looks like an eye at its core is trying to derail your progress at any opportunity. Should the fear consume you, you’ll be knocked unconscious and then awaken near a safe place. The concept is fairly clever because the key to defeating it is to stare right at it, which symbolises the confronting of your fears. I have no issue with the idea, but given that the darkness appears frequently, it soon becomes repetitive and a bit of a nuisance.
Nevertheless, the reason you’re wandering around the island is to uncover and work through Anna’s memories. Upon finding a biome and the emptiness where the fragments are missing, the compass will guide you towards specific spots to partake in puzzles and completing these earns you the missing pieces. Puzzles consist of either relatively simple tasks or baffling conundrums that aren’t difficult once the general idea is understood; there’s no in-between and they’re not all particularly well-designed.
One example of the simplistic nature is a problem to solve which literally requires no inputs whatsoever upon initiating the puzzle, while another is merely a bit of basic platforming. In stark contrast, others see you protecting an orb throughout its journeys and moving in tandem with an invisible character. A game of musical chairs and a juggling mini-game are also present, which really highlights the variety of activities presented to you. Not exactly brain-melting puzzles, it has to be said.
It’s really not about the puzzles however, for the meanings behind them are much more important and help you to grasp what Anna has gone through. Bit by bit, the story of Lost At Sea unfolds, with the trauma she’s faced constantly tugging on your heartstrings. The voiceover for Anna is on-point and due to this you begin to understand her pain in no time. She’s a mother, a wife, and a daughter; all three aspects of her life have led to hardships and just one of them would be enough to break someone, so you know that three times the trauma won’t be good for anyone’s mental health.
This is not a happy tale, but I take it as a slightly uplifting one that’s more about how life can easily change in a heartbeat and coming to terms with the hand you’re dealt. I do appreciate the way it handles Anna’s guilt in regards to the situation, because it does a good job of normalising those feelings and expressing that people can overcome adversity. The narrative on the whole is deep, dark, and in many ways it perfectly captures the handling of losing someone – among other things. The only drawback is that it’s possible to complete the biomes in any order and that can cause some confusion, while also spoiling things you wouldn’t have found out yet if the story was in chronological order.
My biggest criticism however, is that the visuals have been utterly sabotaged. What should be a trek across a beautiful island is instead a journey that’s ruined by an incessant brightness. It’s genuinely hard to see where you’re going in most areas of the island and it’s like constantly having a torch shining in your eyes. Fortunately, the illustrations used to recollect the memories of time passed by don’t suffer the same fate – they’re wonderful pieces of art.
Overall then, Lost At Sea is great at the narrative aspect of the adventure and tells a heartfelt tale that will very quickly see you empathising with the protagonist. The only issue there is that it’s all too easy to experience the memories out of order and it’s something which can hinder the experience a tad. As for the puzzling side of proceedings, well, the meanings behind the concepts are much better than the puzzles themselves. It’s not helped by the fact that the visuals are seriously disappointing because someone got overzealous with the brightness in development, while the manifestation of fear just gets annoying.
If a short yet emotional narrative is all that you’re after – you’re looking at a maximum of two hours of gameplay here – then Lost At Sea should manage to satiate those needs, but maybe consider waiting for a sale because the price at launch is a little high for the content within.
Become stranded in Lost At Sea on Xbox Series X|S via the Xbox Store