Mythic Ocean

PC, family friendly

On one level, Mythic Ocean makes not a lick of sense. On another, it’s a fascinating exploration of consent, consideration and consequence. Quite why it’s a game about exploring undersea locations and chatting with the fishes, I’ve still no idea, but I’m rather glad I played it.

The conceit here is, to say the least, big. You walk through a strange building, climb to its roof, and find yourself floating in outerspace. Then moments later you’re underwater, being talked to by a well-informed giant eel. And told that you are to speak to six different deities, none of whom know of their own godhood, to decide which is to be the Creator of a new world. Oh, and you’ve done this countless times before, and will do it countless times again. But each time with no memory of the last. Yeeeeaaaah.

Why exactly a new reality is cast by an amnesiac, from a selection of peculiar creatures who live under the sea, based on your interactions with each and their consequential interactions with one another, I cannot tell you. A three-eyed weasel-thing, a blue-haired goggle-wearing pink blob scientist lady, a mysterious telepathic grub… all living among a collection of splendid cartoon sea-beasties, in various sub-aquatic biomes. You must travel between them, influencing their relationship with you by your conversational responses, which in turn influences their relationships with their surroundings and companions.

On one level Mythic Ocean works because you’re swimming around a very pretty underwater world of sealife. These are recognisably real species. Or at least recognisable to my 5-year-old marine biologist who helped me out by pointing out creatures like a frog faced rabbitfish (no, really), or a remarkably frilly sea cucumber. And some even I knew like lemon sharks, turtles and swordfish. What I was concerned were gloopy controls in the opening on-land scene turn out to be perfect for swimming about these environs, and chatting with any creatures sporting a speech bubble.

On another level the game works because it’s surprisingly deep in its subjects, and complex in how your responses to them affect the world. I hesitate to give examples because they’re the bulk of the game’s surprises, but I’ll mention one: ethical questions about scientific research, and the consent required when testing subjects. This gets really involved, with a requirement to make some really tough choices, each with severe pros and cons, and a large impact on how the story plays out. And it’s just one of many throughout, involving each of the gods, all building up to your ultimate choice of which you believe should carry the responsibility and burden of restarting the world in their own image.

And that’s the nub of it. You influence the gods through your relationship with them, and then those influences impact how they might create the new world, and indeed react to events that transpire within it. That all plays out in a series of post-game story cards, guided by the two or three hours of play that came before it. With the clear intention that at the end, you take everything you learned both during your interactions, and in their results, when you play it again.

This is hugely ambitious, obviously, and there’s no question it’s somewhat held back by the completely barmy nonsense of the overall scenario, and the relatively small scale of the game itself. Why underwater? Why these creatures? Why only these creatures? Why only these scenarios? It’s incongruous to a pathological degree. And yet, somewhat inexplicably, it all rather works.

Replaying the game, which can be done in about two hours when you know how to fly through, does reveal a few cheaty bits. Lots of conversations that look like they could have gone to two extremes end up circling to the same place. But importantly, others don’t, and it really is possible to have a different impact on each god. As you play, there are also pages of a history book to collect, and these can be used to increase your ability to influence the final choice for Creator. The more pages you invest into it, the more influential your choice. However, spend all the pages there, and there are other parts of the game you cannot do. In fact, in my second play through I realised I’d be quite tempted to try spending none at all on the choice…

That a new play takes two hours is certainly problematic. The second time I played I made a lot of decisions that weren’t my natural choice, to see what changes occurred. But of course at the same time, I was also interested to know what different endings might have occurred with the same choices but a different selection. I learned a little late that using “Continue” on your last game restarts you at the point of selection, so I could have seen. In that second play though, I’d not nearly had such an influence, and the choice was out of my hands, so it was the same ending whatever.

However, crucially, that ending was utterly, utterly different from my first. Just nothing in common at all, and the consequences of the way I’d behaved this time bore out in many ways, not just in the actions of the selected god (gosh, it wasn’t pretty), but also the way the other deities behaved in this new world. Which is amazing, but also brings me back to that two hour issue. I really don’t have time to essentially play the same game a third time to see it all play out another way. And yet, I’m not sure what other choice there could be, other than a rather mercenary Twine-like approach to the game without the actual exploring.

Speaking of Twine-like, I was really impressed by how versatile the conversations are here. Meeting the characters in a different order completely changes the way conversations are phrased, and little details early on change the choices later. Entire conversations I had in my first play didn’t appear in the second, and vice versa, based on choices made. Unfortunately there don’t appear to be any credits in the game, so I can’t see who wrote it all, nor indeed if it is using Ink as I suspect it may. But no matter, this is incredibly well implemented, and I didn’t find a single glitch in what must be the most astonishingly intricate web.

So, yes, it makes absolutely no sense. And yet within its own doolally world, it makes all the sense. It’s a lovely, daft, interesting, deep and complex game, with no combat, no death, just choices and consequences. Ethical dilemmas and questions of morality. And, perhaps most importantly, a head-banging puffer fish and a breakdancing crab.

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