Sometimes I like to think about the tactics used to subvert one’s expectations. Some go with dramatic irony, when all signs point to one conclusion, then flips it at the last moment. Others, such as Doki Doki Literature Club, paint the presentation of the game as a happy and harmless escapade of high school hijinks. Most know how that turned out. Mythic Ocean is very similar, in that a game about Gods and universal creation feels like fanciful frolicking on a quiet Spring day. And yet, after playing through the main campaign three times, I feel anything but peaceful.
Indie titles have a tendency to sneak up on you, with (usually) no history to fall back on for what to expect from a given studio. For all I knew, this could’ve been a bunch of fluff about swimming around doing fetch quests and skimming through tryhard dialogue. There have been numerous examples where a game would look promising in trailers, only to perform under that initial promise. And with Mythic Ocean, a title heavy on dialogue, it becomes extra apparent that its gameplay won’t be high priority. Trusting my gut has gotten me into stressful situations, and now the fate of existence lies in wait. Cautiously hopeful, I swam ahead.
What do you see as a proper world? This is the core question that Mythic Ocean presents, and it’s up to the player to groom the Gods into seeing certain perspectives. It begins with a meeting: Elil is here to guide you with the general info necessary to start the choosing process. They explain that the universe is created in a cyclical fashion, with the fate of existence resting on the hands of those that would be chosen. How are they chosen? Motivation. Speaking with them and making them understand more about the facets of philosophy will urge them to want to make change. But the catch is that they don’t know they’re within the choosing process. For all they know, you’re a helpful friend that happened upon them through circumstance.
To those coming into this, know that dialogue is the key to everything. Where this game gains its value is in its ability to engage, immerse, and empathize. Players wishing for a more mechanical experience of gameplay finesse will not find this experience very worthwhile. Throughout the process, the player will be tasked with a lot of back-and-forth between Gods and occasionally other NPCs, where dialogue options will be the most of what one will tamper with. A very emotive gameplay style, dealing with the mental process of deliberation and perspectives that lie within intelligent beings. To say the story is integral is akin to saying the nose is essential for smell.
As such, it becomes extra imperative that the dialogue and narrative remains compelling enough to keep the game afloat. I can personally attest to the quality that Mythic Ocean provides, particularly with the structure of advising the Gods. Each is given an ample amount of backstory to keep their motivations intact, while also enough history with others to give them genuine chemistry. A world as full as an ocean can provide feels fuller when its major components can work in fulfilling unison. There wasn’t a single God I didn’t care for, even one that strives to be more dictatorial. Being able to help them understand the world and help with their internal struggles was always a joy.
What this cyclical process implies is that replayability should be and is highlighted as a key component of quality. Mythic Ocean and its emphasis on playing God is sufficiently replayable, though at a price. Among the things that the player can with each run is speak with various NPCs that attempt to bring some color to an otherwise empty ocean ecosystem. If not for a few extra achievements and a little witty pizzazz, there’s little point in involving oneself with them. Repeated playthroughs thus make for a very similar experience only in smaller doses of Godly dialogue exchanges. One could even exploit an in-game ability to unlock most Gods’ endings without many replayed journeys whatsoever. It’s hard to say the game is worth replaying when the only substantial change comes from endings achieved. For some, that’s more than enough motivation; others may rather play with their own imaginative scenarios.
And what may come as a hazard to oncoming players is the depth to various conversations with these Gods. After playing the game a few times, it’s come to pass that the way these characters behave relies almost entirely on empathy or apathy. Not all are built the same, granted, but if you want to have them be kind, be kind to them. If you want them to be self-fulfilling, have them remain self-fulfilling. It’s not hard to drive these basic foundations unto the characters with the dialogue choices, and the results are easy to predict when the ending is in sight. Some may not care much (like me), but for those who may expect more complex philosophical assessment, Mythic Ocean is as weighty as a snack in that regard.
Enjoyment is certainly subjective, with numerous factors playing a part in what one finds stimulating. Some will see the silliness of the deep-sea creatures as charming, others may be more enthralled by the adviser’s position. What it all amounts to is that the title is willing to compensate for all kinds of different players. There are carefree moments interspersed between dramatic moments of interpersonal strife. Even moments of overwhelming tension occur that took me by surprise, further instilling a story capable of multiple tones. The way it manages to manipulate expectations and create complex situations makes for lovely reading. If nothing else, this is a tale worth experiencing at least once, even if repeated ventures aren’t as rewarding.
Think Reef Shot, only without a camera and with far more dialogue. A decision most interesting was the one made to put this story underwater. Aesthetically marvelous, though we’ll get to that later, the control inevitably becomes more floaty and less precise. Traversing the waters, albeit with lots of wide-open space, is always a cause of concern for many the veteran gamer. Mythic Ocean does little to distill the almost inborn hesitance caused by the prospect of underwater travel, though only through the accumulation of little irritations that persist throughout the story.
A complex scheme, this game has not. One moves with the standard “ADWS” format and interacts with NPCs and objects by left-clicking. One can also use a teleporter device (which is a Godsend) by pressing T and can vastly increase swimming speed by holding the left SHIFT key. For a large majority, these will be the only keys one will use. With so little input, one can understand why I emphasize early on that this is a specific kind of game for specific players. And even with so little input, there comes some difficulty in trying to stabilize within these glorious recesses.
To interact with someone (or thing), one has to come to a near-complete stop and left-click when applicable. One also has to get within a certain distance (a few yards away) in order to register the interaction. Not always an arduous task, but there are occasions when the characters one wishes to speak to are continuously moving. Trying to get within that specific distance and making that complete stop is never a sure thing. There are times when I’m chasing an individual around for minutes before I can even talk to them. For a game like Mythic Ocean that makes its due by interacting with Gods, they occasionally make something so simple feel so irritating. Overall, it’s fine, only with sprinkles of complication that make going from points A to B a little too absurd.
Graphics & Audio
In terms of character design, there seems to be an emphasis on fantastical imagery the likes humanity would not be able to comprehend. Species coated in wondrous blues, telepathic insects, and three-eyed otter… things. Such interesting designs only highlight the importance they have in crafting existence within their image. However, the real selling point here is of the oceanic atmosphere. Traveling aside, the decision to place this underwater is something that, aesthetically, brings a lot of potential. The variety of life forms, structures, and lighting intricacies are all on display in lively fashion. Exploring the areas was one of cathartic pleasure, even if the goal wasn’t to sightsee. Some of these areas are especially captivating, particularly when coated in darkness or mystery. It helps to create the magic of discovering another world.
The way the soundtrack courses within the visual field is nothing short of transcendent, especially, again, during the more cryptic areas. When it isn’t being ominous, many of Mythic Ocean‘s tracks remind me of this tune from the Super Mario Sunshine OST. A tranquil rhythm of exploration and discovery that melts the brain into the heart. Combining the peaceful sounds of hopefulness with the damper tones of melancholy, there are a lot of distinct tracks that will likely evoke nostalgia whenever I choose to go back to it. While not its strongest asset, the auditory design is something that seems excellently placed to provide every possible atmospheric motive. Note: This game does not have voice acting.