REVIEW: Befriend gods after the world's end in Mythic Ocean
Updated: Feb 8, 2022
Mythic Ocean is one of the few games that I feel wholly embodies the "wholesome game" moniker that has been gaining traction in recent years. It's a tale of empathy and friendship between gods who are stuck in an in-between state after the end of the world and before the beginning of the new one.
Combining visual novel sensibilities with a free-flowing ocean exploration system, Mythic Ocean is a pleasant surprise from start to finish. Find out how this choice-heavy adventure wriggled its way into my heart in this VGG review.
Mythic Ocean, developed and published by Paralune, released on PC on January 9, 2020. In partnership with indie publisher Nakana.io, the three-person Texas-based development studio is bringing the game to consoles starting with the Nintendo Switch on July 2, 2021. A free demo is available for the upcoming Switch release.
In Mythic Ocean, you start at the ending.
Waking up after the world has ended, you're greeted at the bottom of the ocean by a friendly eel named Elil. He wastes no time in telling you that your memories are gone, and the case is the same for the others you'll cohabitate with in this in-between world known simply as The Ocean.
Your neighbors in this impermanent place? They're the gods who have ruled over previous — now collapsed — worlds. They've been stuck in this cycle just the same as you: death, memory loss, new world, repeat. But you're the one who has to influence and nurture growth in the whole lot, preparing each to potentially become the next in charge.
Elil gets you on your feet and pushes you out into open waters to get started on figuring out who is going to be the one to build the new world.
There's Amar, an otter being who prefers partying over just about anything. Lutra, a small and confused telepathic larvae whose "curiosity and appetite are endless." The Twins, Kestri and Esti, who come from faraway lands and are so guarded they put up literal barriers when you first meet them. The scientist Alethea who knows something is up in this limbo-space but she can't quite figure out what. And the fifth who... well, the less said about them, the better.
"[The gods] are people you WANT to help reach their full potential, and that says more than just about any other character-driven game I've played."
One of the things that stands out the most about these characters is the unbelievable amount of growth you can be a part of in your quest to help them. Swimming through the ocean, you'll spend time learning about each god and making simple dialogue choices to help influence their actions. This particular gang of cosmic beings are fairly insecure, so they lean into your nameless and faceless character's advice with ease. Do you let them submit to their self-centered instincts or push them to be the selfless god you'd want to see in the world? It's all up to you.
Your influence on each of them is also determined by how well you cater to their personalities. It's not a matter of simply telling Amar that he has to work as hard as he plays. You have to play into his sensibilities, reminding him that the party could stop if he doesn't put in a little work to protect those he cares about.
It allows players to practice approaching a conversation in a way their friend is ready to receive. For me, it was reminiscent of my high school days, helping a friend get through a bad breakup by telling them what they want to hear before hitting them with the truths they need to hear.
This relatability and coziness comes through in Mythic Ocean's stellar writing. Blending comedy with these down-to-earth issues, these gods come off as deeply human. They're people you WANT to help reach their full potential, and that says more than just about any other character-driven game I've played.
You aren't only encouraging characters to work on themselves, but also helping these far-flung gods with their interpersonal relationships through a series of "quests," known as Fables. You can either help the gods develop empathy for their fellow ocean dwellers or isolate them. The way you handle Fables has grand repercussions for each character's overall story, changing not only the potential world they'd create but the relationships they have with one another in that world.
"Mythic Ocean, similar to Immortals Fenyx Rising before it, humanizes larger than life characters with grander destinies than we mere mortals could ever hope for."
Even the side characters grow and change alongside the story in surprising ways. I'll give you one example. Early on, in the game's first area, Aram's Kelp Forest, you'll meet a happy-go-lucky dolphin and a bitter swordfish. The swordfish is going on and on about how fake and annoying the dolphin's positive attitude can be. Eventually, the swordfish sends you over to insult the dolphin directly.
You do it... but the dolphin is so happy-go-lucky that he completely misinterprets it and asks you to thank the swordfish, which of course just enrages him further. You go back and forth like this until later on in the game, you see the swordfish's aggression deflate against the dolphin's positivity.
There are many more side-characters you can meet throughout the world and each one manifests this level of growth in some way.
As you get to know each creature, your non-linear explorations can create a deep familiarity with the world itself, too. Made up of five different areas, The Ocean is fully explorable in a first-person perspective.
Each of the gods you run into sticks to their designated area for the most part, which means a lot of returning to the same places again and again to progress the story and complete Fables. As the game goes on, side characters take root in certain areas of the map, some parts of the area change visually, and even the gods themselves wander around to show off as much of each locale as possible.
In between your nudging of the gods, you are encouraged to find shiny blue orbs scattered about each area. These orbs open up portals to a mysterious library, one you see briefly just before waking up with Elil, where you can gather pages of a tome that seems to chronicle previous worlds. These can be tricky to find, as they are invisible to the ever-helpful sonar ability demonstrated in the GIF above and are generally tucked into places you wouldn't think to look. This all mainly amounts to busywork, although the pages you collect do have the potential to alter things with a few interesting gameplay hooks.
Eventually, after you've met all the side characters and gathered all the pages possible, traveling grows tedious. Thankfully, this is offset by a handy teleporter that takes you directly to each character, but using it can make your journey toward the game's end fly by in a way that feels more rushed than exciting.
Like all visual novels, there's an inherent replayability in this adventure, with different dialogue options and routes to follow. Knowing that every little interaction can lead to vastly different outcomes makes Mythic Ocean a curiosity for completionists.
But for this game in particular, it almost feels wrong to play again because of the way the story setup works. In my first five-hour playthrough, I was just as lost and confused as the memory-wiped player character and their friends. Part of the drive is in slowly piecing together the stories of the characters around you and the greater world. That punch is lost in a second go-around, already equipped with the memories and knowledge you'll need.
That being said, after a second one-hour playthrough (sped up using the game's built-in dialogue fast-forwarding), I was treated to a vastly different ending than in my first session. A few different choices here and there, a few changes in approach to addressing each character's needs, and I had a nearly polar opposite world created by a totally different god in the end.
There's a granularity to Mythic Ocean's choice system that seems to take into account just about every interaction you have, and that's awesome. It does make it hard to figure out just HOW to get to a specific ending in subsequent playthroughs, though.
Graphically, Mythic Ocean features a beautiful watercolor art style that is replicated both in the 48 illustrations unlocked through special dialogue moments and in the stylized 3D art. Between the commonplace sea life you encounter and the fascinating character designs of your godly friends, Paralune has crafted a simple and effective look with Mythic Ocean.
The Switch version doesn't feel held back by the hardware at all, and it stands as one of the prettiest games I've played on my Switch by far. There were a few frame drops in one specific area, but they never lasted too long and I didn't feel like they hindered my experience.
The soundtrack literally leaves you swaying along with the seaweed, and each song helps keep the tone where it needs to be: menacing and ominous as you reach the darkest depths and playful when you're among the party animals of the kelp forest.
Mythic Ocean, similar to Immortals Fenyx Rising before it, humanizes larger than life characters with grander destinies than we mere mortals could ever hope for. It tells a story of friendship and empathy (or at least my version of the story did) that showcases the power of positivity in the face of uncertainty. Even considering minor issues with the pacing of the late-game progression and with the overall discovery of unique scenes and endings in follow-up playthroughs, I loved my time with Mythic Ocean, and I think you will too if you're a fan of good stories and good vibes.
video games are good and Mythic Ocean is... GREAT. (8.5/10)
+ your choices feel like they have real consequence, the writing is excellent from end to end, and the vibes are impeccably cozy
- pacing problems near the end of the game and minor technical issues. completionists may leave frustrated
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