Released almost two months ago for the English-speaking audience (thanks to Fruitbat Factory), SeaBed is a unique yuri visual novel that is both emotionally provoking and atmospheric. You’d be ill-advised to skip out on this one if you like yuri or visual novels.
Length: Medium (10 – 30 hours)
Lewdness: 1/3 (Several Kisses, Light Groping) [it’s considered to be an all-ages game]
Price: $19.99 USD
Summary: SeaBed is a yuri mystery visual novel told through the perspectives of three separate characters: Sachiko, Takako and Narasaki (Steam store page description).
Review: Aside from some pacing issues near the beginning as well as five minor “letdowns” that are subjective nitpicks at best, SeaBed is a visual novel that knows how to engage, enthrall, and emotionally mess up players/readers with its poignant and tasteful handling of adult themes.
The aforementioned pacing issues are a byproduct of two factors: its genre and, by extension, its NVL dialog box.
As a mystery visual novel, SeaBed opts to put a lot of emphasis on its descriptive writing and its stream-of-consciousness writing. As a result, players/readers are given plenty of details on sensation and the surroundings, which allow them to draw their own conclusions (much like how a mystery paperback novel would enable them to do so), and thus are able to immerse themselves in the visual novel. This was probably done with the backgrounds in mind which, while not exactly ugly or off-model, are often intentionally out-of-focus or painted and rendered indistinctly. Some could say it clashes against the character sprites, but I would disagree since they still are, in a sense, visually striking.
At any rate, the NVL, or Novel Style Game, dialog box, was chosen so the player/reader can focus on what’s being written. Although this style decision is not inherently negative and rather suits the game, its presentation helps slow down the game. Even though the player/reader can clearly see from whose perspective are the player/reader is seeing things from, the dialog box is prone to be filled with long exchanges of dialogue with a plethora of quotation marks. That means players/readers have to pay attention to know who is saying what since sometimes context can be a bit lacking. This is very different from the ADV (Adventure Style Game) dialog box that is found in most visual novels that I’m used to since that reads more like a script which clearly indicates who says what.
Furthermore, the NVL dialog box in SeaBed fades in and out as characters physically shift or change their facial expressions, which also noticeably slows progress. Again, this is rather different compared to other visual novels where such differences in position and expression are instantaneous.
The bottom line is that the first chapter, which is labeled as the Prologue, feels like a slog to get through because it’s deliberately slow-paced and because it’s the longest chapter by far. This might cause some players/readers to balk and it may sound like I’m criticizing the game for being a slow start, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just something to keep in mind since everyone’s personal preferences are different. If you consider that several characters start off being disorientated and unaware of their current situations, then this slow-pacing makes sense since they assume that all is well only to realize that isn’t the case. It establishes a sense of normalcy before they realize change must occur; and in (almost) all stories, change is more or less required.
SeaBed is also quite atmospheric and accomplishes in grabbing the attention of the player/reader through its use of music, an advantage visual novels have over traditional novels, and its “Tips.” The majority of the OST is calming, piano music, which means the “iconic” wombo combo of piano soundtracks and yuri visual novels is alive and well in this game! As for the Tips, they are like little peeks into the story behind SeaBed and serve to enrich and (partially) explain what’s going on in each chapter. The Tips, in short, help in world-building while the music help make the player/reader feel certain moods. And you had better believe and accept that you’re going to be experiencing a roller coaster of emotions if you play SeaBed.
As for the three protagonists, Sachiko, Takako, and Narasaki, they are all amazing in different ways. Sachiko appears to be stoic yet is very much a passionate person, Takako seems scatterbrained yet is insightful, and Narasaki is mysterious, motivated, and kind. In other words, all of these characters cannot be described as one-note or as blind adherents to typical character archetypes. They all grew on me as I played the visual novel and they all have their distinct “voices” which made seeing things from each woman’s perspective to be thoroughly enjoyable. I don’t want to speak for others too much, so I’ll just say that I really ended up caring for them, which made the ending that much more powerful.
Here is where I address the five minor “drawbacks” that I brought up earlier. None of these drawbacks affected my enjoyment of SeaBed to a significant degree, but that may not be the case for other players/readers, which is why I’m mentioning them. Although I have referred to SeaBed as a visual novel throughout this review thus far, it’s also a kinetic novel since there are no “choices” to be made at all. Now, this lack of player/reader interaction may prove to be off-putting to some, but it also means that you can just sit back and watch an excellent narrative unfold.
There are also no voiced lines, which can be a deal breaker for some. However, I like to imagine that a potential bullet was dodged since that also means there were no chance for improperly cast voices for Sachiko, Narasaki, and Takako. Players/readers can use their imagination as they see fit when it comes to their voices, which is fine in my opinion!
The fact that there were only five save slots felt very limiting, but the main menu also allows players/readers to jump to specific scenarios which partially solves the discomfort. However, that in turn is partially held back by how long and sluggish the game menu and transition screens take. It’s sort of standard and accepted fare for visual novels, admittedly, but having to just wait for the title screen to slowly load so I can click and do things got really old really fast and made me not ever want to quit to the title screen. Finally, I have to admit that I actually wish there was a Music submenu so I could play the songs on loop without loading up certain scenes or chapters, but I can accept that this particular feature is missing. But Fruitbat Factory, you should really consider selling the OST as purchasable DLC if at all possible. I’d be your first customer.
As for the yuri, there’s no shortage of it. It’s to be expected in a visual novel that has only one named male character who plays a minor role. There’s also plenty of platonic love and respect going on among the cast, but any romantic or sexual relationships that are brought up exclusively feature just lesbians. As expected of an all-ages game, there is also a distinct lack of erotic scenes which is actually to my liking since I don’t necessarily need to see two individuals get physically intimate to see they care for or are drawn to each other. The emotions they feel are clearly and explicitly conveyed through the text.
All in all, SeaBed is about acceptance, about moving on from the past and about not lingering on regret. It’s a game about seizing the day and trying your best. It’s also about taking care of one’s mental health, which plays a major part in the visual novel. There are some artistic licenses taken with psychology (and reality), but that just makes the game more interesting so long as you’re willing to suspense your sense of disbelief.
Lastly, the visual novel does not hold your hand. It respects you as a player/reader and hopes that you can pay attention and figure things out. As a result, that means the player/reader will have to connect the dots even after visual novel ends. If you’re the type who likes open-ended content and loves to theorize, SeaBed will be quite the catch. If you want to hear other people’s answers, then you always turn to forums or the FruitBats Factory Discord, too.
In short, I think SeaBed is a visual novel that’s worth picking up. Even though the first chapter may be a bit of a drag to get through, I promise that the game will pick up after that. The visual novel also manages to make excellent use of the three protagonists without becoming too messy to follow along. Be patient so you can reap dividends and perhaps shed a tear or two as you witness an amazing story from beginning to end.