Many games made by people who love games can become somewhat derivative in the sense that developers often try to emulate what they love. Why Am I Dead At Sea does this by essentially marrying the graphics of Earthbound with the ghost detective concept featured in games like Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective and Murdered: Soul Suspect. Yet the game manages to be something wonderfully unique, with an intriguing possession mechanic and plenty of personality.
Why Am I Dead At Sea begins with a bang, quite literally. A gunshot and a few frantic images suggest a violent murder and after guiding a spirit to the light — or in this case, teady bear — the player finds themselves on a cruise ship. It turns out that the ghost was pulled back to the material plane by a boy who speaks with the dead. The spectral protagonist must solve the mystery of its death before it’s link to the corporeal world is broken.
Since the ghost can’t do much on its own, the player must use a unique possession mechanic to interact with the world and learn more about the grisly murder. With this mechanic, the ghost needs to gain an understanding of a person’s psyche to make them more susceptible to possession. This requires tactful and empathetic communication.
In order to achieve the cathartic moments that trigger possession, the player has the unique opportunity to gain access to each character’s innermost thoughts. These cutscenes are some of the most beautiful moments of the game, simulating the chaos of thought with abstract graphics and fragmented sentences. The haunting synth soundtrack also comes into play here and throughout the entire game to create an engrossing atmosphere.
Why Am I Dead At Sea as a whole has such a palpable, gloomy ambiance that is difficult to explain but very gratifying. Perhaps the secret lies in the black humor or the interpersonal conflict that’s almost too realistic. Either way, the game is unsettling in the best possible way, with plenty of chills and a quiet sense of suffering evident in the thoughts of every character.
Since the player has the ability to delve into each NPC’s mind, it’s a relief that all of the characters are very well developed. Their distinct and subtle personalities help prevent the large chunks of dialogue from running together, and the multitude of backstories are revealed progressively and naturally, occasionally making for a few unexpected twists. While some are certainly more useful than others, each NPC’s special ability hammers home their essence, whether it be heart breaking or hilarious.
As enjoyable as it is to interact with such well written characters, the game often grinds to a halt due to the way that the puzzles are structured. Little is required of the player apart from talking to different characters to learn information that moves the plot forward. While this doesn’t seem difficult, the problem is that the player has to go through countless permutations of possession. This means possessing one character to talk to all nine others and then possessing the next character to do the same thing until hopefully landing on a solution.
Perhaps it would be doable with a checklist, but there is no way to keep track of who has already been spoken with in the game. So unless the player has a notepad handy, this leads to a lot of wandering in circles, accidentally reliving the same conversations and missing other characters altogether. Unfortunately, hints are few and far between and generally seem more like objectives than helpful tips. Without any help, players should expect getting stuck at least once or twice.
Despite this problem, Why Am I Dead At Sea still manages to be a gripping experience. The excellent writing leads the player to genuinely care about each character’s story arc, not to mention the many other successes such as the soundtrack and the small windows into the minds of the NPCs. Even after hours of being stuck, the beautiful and often gloomy ocean backdrop remains a joy to look at. Why Am I Dead At Sea is certainly worth playing for the incredible atmosphere and compelling characters. Just be sure to bring a walkthrough.
Why Am I Dead at Sea is available for PC and Mac on May 11th. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.