Sunless Sea Review

Sunless Seas, a roguelike spinoff of the browser-based Choose Your Own Adventure game Fallen London, expands upon the original and makes it accessible to those who enjoy the vaguely steampunk premise, but who do not enjoy entirely textual CYOA games. Its blend of text-based advancement, but animated gameplay, gives it a broad appeal.  You make the decisions, but you also have to see them through.

I was introduced to this game by a friend, who had bought it due to her experience playing Fallen London. I was initially skeptical of the entire thing, what with “London being transported to an underground cavern by bats”. But once I managed to suspend my disbelief, and just go with the flow of the game, I found it tremendously enjoyable. The character creation system allowed a lot of individualization, and the ability to set one’s one “win condition” meant that it was possible to have a different experience playing each time. Indeed, the randomization of the game map meant that even if the exact same parameters were chosen each time, progress through the game would still be different.

During my first run-through, I died within 10 minutes. I had been so drawn in by the textual elements, that when I started navigating my ship, I did not realize map elements could interact with, and in this case destroy, it. After rolling a new character, I found that I would have to start all over- with missions, locations and quests all different from before. A frustrating hour later, I finally discovered the will system. By paying for a will, I was able to pass down most of the money and items that I had gathered in previous runs. But writing a will also took most of the money that I had acquired- as it turns out, the main feature of the will was to fix the previously explored portions of the map, allowing immediate progress beyond that.

Eventually, I managed to complete a character arc.

The good thing about this game is that, as previously explained, it has a lot of replay value. For my first successful run, I was a poet named Lord Byron, whose goal was to make enough money to retire a rich man. For my next character, I created an orphan named Ragged Dick who wanted to make it into high society. While there is a finite amount of character combinations, the amount of time it takes to complete a “choice” ensures that it feels endless.

All in all, I derived 1 hour of frustration, but 20 hours of enjoyment from this game. The combination of passable graphics and animated gameplay with a fully textual advancement system and story, made for a unique take on the CYOA genre. For the minimal cost of $10, I would recommend this to anyone interested in maritime , steampunk, and CYOA games.


0 thoughts on “Sunless Sea Review

  1. How would you say it stacks up compared to other “rogue-lite” games, if you’ve played many (FTL, Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy, etc.)? Sunless Sea’s setting and aesthetic is really intriguing, but I’m very lukewarm on the permadeath genre, unless it’s doing something extraordinary.

    1. I actually haven’t played many other games in this genre. With regards to the permadeath thing, initially it is a real hassle, but once you manage to write a will for the first time, it’s essentially a save function.

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