Zetsuna’s back, this time with SeaBed! Thanks to Fruitbat Factory for their hard work localizing this title!
A one-off kinetic novel project from doujin circle Paleontology Soft, SeaBed is the tale of childhood friends turned lovers, Mizuno Sachiko and Takako, who have now been separated by some strange circumstance that neither can recall. Enter Narasaki Hibiki, the friendly neighborhood psychiatrist (and also another childhood friend of Sachiko’s) who takes it upon herself to bring some clarity to the situation. Together but also separately, all three go about their daily lives in the heyday of the late 1980s as they inch closer to finding out just what happened.
SeaBed is billed as a “yuri-themed mystery” novel in the NVL style, however both of these labels of “yuri” and “mystery” highlight the sides accompanying the main drivers of the game, character interaction and the workings of the mind in regard to memories. Kissing and other physical contact of that nature shows up and passes by equally abruptly, and while there may be the giant mystery in place, it is instead explored, not investigated, by unusual methods – recollections of the far past, reading old journal entries, psychiatric evaluations, and so on.
Such is how SeaBed handles itself. You, the reader, have a bunch of things to keep track of as viewpoints (from the three protagonists named above) and time periods jump back and forth – one scene features a typical day in the design firm’s office, and then another recounts Sachiko and Takako on vacation in another country. Despite how chaotic this feels, the novel instead lulls you in with a pleasantly soothing soundtrack and a nearly glacial pace of the story, reminiscent of a Slice-of-Life anime. As a result, the estimated reading time is around 20 hours. Both English and Japanese languages are available.
Artist hide38 was responsible for the bulk of the art assets, and did an astoundingly huge number of CGs as seen in the Gallery – nearly six pages (each page being 4×4) of them, with the last page being extra CGs and promotional illustrations not seen in the main game arc. The sprites I found charming in a simple way and nicely done, save for the problem of overly tiny hands appearing a couple of times. Puku did the background work, picking photos to use and applying a filter on all of them, but also relying on computer generation for certain backgrounds, like that of the sanatorium exterior with the camphor tree.
As stated before, the soundtrack really grows on you with a pleasant feel while lazing about in the events of SeaBed, after getting accustomed to the general pacing. Fruitbat Factory staff further refined them by going after seamless looping as stated in their blog post. In addition, the sound effect library is top notch – the collection goes above and beyond with all sorts of things from a howling winds to automobile noises to cooking and so on. The sheer scale of small noises really adds to the immersion. Then you have the harsh noises that generally convey the symptoms of what Takako and Sachiko experience, like the loud static whenever a fit happens. Thankfully these don’t pop up too frequently.
Since first-person narration jumps between the protagonists, stylized text bearing the name of the character doing the narration can be seen in the lower right. The first half of the story is mainly from Sachiko and Takako’s perspectives, while Narasaki makes up a majority later on.
There’s also extra chapters that unlock as you progress through the main story, under Tips. You can peruse them whenever you feel like and gain additional insights, though you will have to go back to the title screen via the in-game menu, load the Tip in question, and then resume where you left off. The general consensus appears to be “read each Tip right away” but it’s not required if you feel so.
One thing I did find a little odd was there being only five save slots compared to other VNs’ pages upon pages of save slots for much shorter works. Not that that’s a bad thing, since there exists the chapter select feature and then Ctrl text skip. Perhaps it’s just another small way SeaBed shows its age?
SeaBed ended up being a rare treat for me, as it was my first substantial taste of an NVL-format VN. It was a little challenging to work through the dialogue-heavy places and figure out who said what, but that could just stem from being much more accustomed to ADV style. Lots of little things are hidden (in plain sight?) throughout the game, like the abstract art transition eyecatches appearing in an art gallery. The experience improves with subsequent read-throughs as you’re generally less concerned with the events and pick up on more of these little surprises strewn about.
Whether or not you would enjoy SeaBed seems to be pretty clear – either you don’t mind the verbose and meandering manner in which most of the game proceeds at all, or you do.
If what’s said so far – regarding the slow pacing and slice-of-life feel – hasn’t chased you off yet, SeaBed is overwhelmingly worth the purchase and is a nice, substantial read you can enjoy multiple times.