Mythic Ocean

Developed by: Paralune

Published by: Paralune, Nakana.io

Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Rarely are video games as wholly bent on creating a feeling of serenity as “Mythic Ocean.” Swimming, talking and reading constitute the extent of its gameplay mechanics, so playing it feels like you’re taking a summer vacation from mainstream video games. And with no sections that need to be repeated to progress from one area to the next, “Mythic Ocean” provides a notably frictionless experience.

At its start, you find yourself in a library. A short walk down a marble hallway opens to a room where a desk is situated before a window that looks out onto a celestial view of space. Taking a staircase to the right leads up to a multilevel balcony at the end of which players come upon a floating yellow orb that briefly darts about before returning to the center of the star-sprinkled backdrop where it grows and floods the area with its radiance. The scene then fades to black and a textbox appears at the bottom of the screen. A character named Elil introduces themself and bids you to wake up. You emerge from the darkness in an underwater cavern where a large eel sways gently back and forth before you.

Patiently, Elil explains that your memories are gone, as is “the old world.” Elil goes on to add that you are in the ocean — “an in-between place” — where, according to an arrangement established in the distant past, it falls upon you to guide the development of the world to come. You learn that the ocean is populated by a handful of gods who have forgotten their divine status and are unlikely to believe you if you should try to persuade them otherwise.

As the steward of the world-birthing process, it is up to you to chat with the gods. By challenging or reinforcing their perception of themselves and their surroundings, you lay the groundwork for the world that one of them will create, and the others will play a role in shaping. Should you desire to anoint one the creator of the new world, you can tip the scales in the favor of your choice by locating portals hidden throughout the ocean that lead to a library. Nestled in the stacks are pages from a book that offer insight into the ocean. In exchange for 10 pages, Elil will give you a crown, which you can give one of the gods to swing the odds in their favor. In total, there are 18 pages available to retrieve. The more pages you give Elil, the more likely your choice will assume the reins of creation.

Though the gods look like fanciful cartoon characters, each is associated with different all-too-human traits: one is a self-centered pleasure seeker, another is fretful and ruled by their appetite, two siblings are guarded and suspicious of change, while another is driven by scientific inquiry. The last god you meet, Gnosis, offers players a tempting counteroffer to Elil’s request for pages. The mystical knowledge at their disposal doesn’t come cheap.

By chatting up the gods, players unlock different fables. For instance, one fable finds the god Lutra, an insectlike larva, furiously consuming the plants in a kelp forest — the habitat of another god. The way you handle the situation will have consequences down the line. I chose to speak with Lutra directly rather than have the other god intervene. Although I was able to get them to curb their munching and think of the other creatures who depend on the biome’s resources, Elil later tells me that perhaps a radical change to a place otherwise characterized by stasis might not be such a bad thing. (Some regard the ocean as a sort of prison.)

At the heart of “Mythic Ocean” is the notion that complex societies are resistant to one-size-fits-all, top-down solutions, no matter how benevolent a ruler’s intentions are. Such an obvious lesson is not exactly a revelation, but I enjoyed the manner in which the developers illustrate the point — with levity and a plot twist that reminded me of the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges.

While the lessons might not be very deep, the liveliness of the game leads me, ultimately, to the conclusion that “Mythic Ocean” is a neat game to turn kids on to philosophical reasoning.

Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.

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