“Saltsea Chronicles is a moving nautical adventure about the distances between us and what we gain by crossing them.”
Vibrant art style
Thoughtful dialogue system
Dialogue can feel boring
Lack of meaningful interactions
The stakes are high. My crew of misfit sailors are on an island-hopping quest to find their missing captain. Food rations are running low and there may be more missing people to worry about. Yet, here I was feasting on an island full of crabs. I saw it as a fun diversion from waterlogged post-apocalyptic stress at first, but a crew member later argued that there was something more important to the celebration than simple fun: It’s an acknowledgment that things are impermanent and that we should honor what is we have it while it lasts.
That bittersweet theme guided me through it Salt Sea Chroniclesa new narrative adventure from 2019 award-winning creator Seamas McNally Mutation. I may explore distant islands built on a flood-ravaged world, but my journey is anything but tragic. I dig deep into the culture, working diligently to understand and appreciate it. A dark fate may await my crew once we finally reach the end of our mystery, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stop celebrating the magic that surrounds us.
As long as you can handle long visual novels that require a lot of button presses to get through the text, Saltsea Chronicles is another moving narrative game from developer Die Gute Fabrik. An engrossing central mystery serves as a sturdy framework holding the real heart of the adventure: charming characters eager to admire each other’s richly detailed world.
Salt Sea Chronicles is technically a post-apocalyptic game, but the description makes it sound much bleaker than it actually is. A bit of historical background tells players that the once thriving world has been devastated by climate change exacerbated by megacorporations. When the tide rises, people are forced to rebuild the islands. Rather than discussing the immediate impact of this, the story takes place in the far future when the world appears to be in harmony.
This adventure takes players to a series of colorful islands, each of which is painted in Die Gute Fabrik’s signature visual style. The 2D environments are minimalist and rich in detail, combining patches of solid color with soft shapes that come together to create beautiful flora wrapped around imperfect human structures. This is a series of landscape paintings that strips each island down to its basics without losing its identity. It’s the same visual style that was created Mutation a constant fixture in my brain since I played it.
Even if you don’t know that both games are made by the same developer, this becomes clear when the games start to build their world. The adventure begins with a simple mystery; The ship’s captain, Maja, has disappeared and the crew vows to track them down. The player does not control one character, but rather the entire cast. While the goal is to find clues, the bulk of the experience is spent learning about each island and its specific culture. One chapter took me to an observatory perched on a cliff, where I encountered an island full of curious researchers. Others took me to a coven of spiritual guides called dreamsailors who were able to help me find a way forward and help heal any sadness I was carrying. I learned not about the ruins of the old world, but rather the dynamic world that emerged from it.
A hopeful story about the distance that exists between us… and what we gain by bridging the gap.
The learning process occurs entirely through dialogue, such as Salt Sea Chronicles is even more of a straight visual novel than Mutation. Rather than walking freely around the island, players simply click on highlighted points of interest to open dialogue exchanges that unfold in a scenario-like structure, complete with stage directions between lines. The minimal flow of gameplay can be tiring considering there are no voice lines or auto-advance text options.
The lack of interaction is a bit of a setback Mutation, which expertly encourages players to delve into its lush world through freer exploration and gardening components. I’m more of a tourist Salt Sea Chronicles, can only interact with my surroundings through local card games. This is reinforced by a full compendium of collectibles that notes everything I saw as stickers on the page but doesn’t give me much context about them. I’m an explorer who wants to be an explorer.
While there are some gaps in the gameplay, it was still enough to keep me interested in the 10+ hour long story. The central mystery is the strong link that draws in and out of magical realism. I was also tasked with making some important choices that could have a big impact on how my story unfolds. Different decisions would create ongoing “problems” with my crew that I had to resolve through my dialogue choices. For example, if I invite a new crew member to my ship, it could cause tension with my shipmates. There are always consequences to my choices, even if those choices only become apparent later.
What interests me more than anything is Salt Sea Chronicles‘ an eclectic cast of characters. I became invested in everyone’s stories by the end, from the reluctant leader Stew to the radio-obsessed Iris. However, these characters and their struggles are not alone, and developer Die Gute Fabrik emphasizes that with some subtle gameplay systems. First, I never control one character, but an entire ensemble. When faced with dialogue choices, I wasn’t so much given dialogue that the characters would say verbatim, but rather emotional prompts for different characters. I shaped more of the interpersonal relationships between the crew as their journey unfolded.
This idea was most impactful during island exploration. In each chapter, I had to choose two characters to take ashore. That decision allows me to focus on solving specific problems between crew members or simply learning more about each person by the way they interact with each other. The most meaningful moment in my adventure occurred when I sent Stew and Iris on a mission together, finding common ground between two different people bound by a sense of loss.
Our world does not exist in a vacuum; both humans and culture are shaped by each other. Sometimes we may feel like distant islands lost in the ocean, even though we are all in the same ocean. Salt Sea Chronicles celebrates that idea with a hopeful story about the distance that exists between us, both physical and emotional, and what we gain by bridging that gap. Even though we know the ocean will wash us away as time goes by, that doesn’t mean we have to stop sailing.
Salt Sea Chronicles has been tested on PC and Steam Deck.