I went into Soul Searching completely and utterly blind. I feel like I say that a lot in my reviews, but it’s absolutely true – and it means that I have no expectations and that I’m very often pleasantly surprised.
This is exactly what happened with this game. I downloaded it because it was free one day on the Nintendo Switch eShop – even better! – and I’m always up for trying out another indie. I found out that it was a game I could complete in one sitting, at around 2 hours (max) for a run, and decided to jump right in; I like a nice short game that I can get right to the heart of in a single evening.
Soul Searching, at first view, is a very simple-looking, top-down pixel art survival adventure. It was made by a Turkish indie developer team consisting of two brothers, who go by the name of Kayabros. As the protagonist, you’ll sail off from your homeland on an adventure, travelling from island to island, meeting the inhabitants of the islands along your way and learning their stories. Each place has a unique feel and a different tale to tell, from a dusty-looking industrial town to a village perched on the edge of a volcano. Each of these is communicated incredibly well despite the sheer simplicity of the graphics.
On that note, you won’t be blown away by the graphics in this game. But to reduce it to simplistic graphics and a mini survival game does not do it justice. It takes true talent to communicate so many emotions in what is such a minimalist experience. Soul Searching does exactly this.
There are some very tame survival and management elements to the game, with your thirst, hunger and energy gauges constantly draining; you’ll need to make sure you have enough food and water to make each journey, and you can buy tools like fishing rods and engines to make this easier. These elements are easy to manage, and you are not punished harshly for dying.
You’ll also experience different events as you travel across the water, including storms and even attacks by ferocious dragons. Each journey will also be interrupted by a small black-and-white episode – memory? Flashback? An alternate life? It’s not quite clear, but that’s no criticism, and these scenes are no less profound because of their vagueness in this regard. These scenes portray depressive episodes in the character’s life – feelings of isolation, of being lost, of being directionless or purposeless. Feelings we can all relate to, and which for me certainly hit home more than I wanted to admit. These episodes are what Soul Searching is all about: trying and struggling to find yourself in a world that has its own ideas about who you are.
Soul Searching is at once a peaceful and relaxing game to play, a combat-free survival narrative, and one that is, at the same time, much more profound than it initially seems. The music and sound design in particular are beautifully done, and add so much to the calmness of the experience. With some magical elements thrown in, it becomes something of a mind-blowing experience.
Encounters with dragons were some of my favourite parts of the game, and genuinely took my breath away; there’s something so incredible about meeting a dragon in the middle of a vast ocean. Not to mention I absolutely loved the little pixel art designs for the dragons, which seem a little more complex and detailed than other designs in the game and are awe-inspiring.
Soul Searching is a beautiful little indie game that triggers incredible emotion in such a short period of time and with such simple graphics. It took my breath away.
Soul Searching is available for Nintendo Switch, PC and Mac. It’s available through Steam, Humble Bundle and itch.io.