The aptly-named RPG Why Am I Dead At Sea sets up an intriguing premise: You are aboard the S.S. Douce Amere, far out to sea. You are dead. Someone on the ship murdered you and it's your job to find out why. Otherwise, terrible things will happen to everyone around you. Can you put together the circumstances surrounding your death in order to save innocent people?
There is an inherent satisfaction in trying to solve a good mystery, and Why Am I Dead At Sea serves up several with enough twists and turns to keep the most seasoned detective on their toes. Unlike most murder mysteries, you're a poor soul who has to solve their own without the aid of memory. A psychic boy named Paulo calls you back to the living world. Paulo can sense that you died violently on the ship, but cannot tell why, nor does he know who you are.
The game is similar to Ghost Trick in that you must take possession of people or animals to interact with the world around you. Why Am I Dead At Sea allows the soul to not only possess people and use them to explore the ship but to read their minds to gain valuable insight into the mysteries surrounding the doomed vessel.
As with many things in life, there are caveats in death. You cannot fully possess people right away. You have to get to know the person and form a connection with them, gaining an understanding of their motivations and vulnerabilities, or else their essence will absorb yours if you try to take over. Each person also has their own abilities to help you glean hints of truth from the world around you. It's through getting to know the nine characters on the boat (not including Paulo, who mostly serves as a human tutorial) that the mystery progresses. As you'll discover, everyone has thoughts they'd rather keep secret...
Much like Phoenix Wright and other mystery games before it, my only hangups with Why Am I Dead At Sea come from getting turned around. With nine people who can all interact with each other on several levels across multiple conversation branches, sometimes you need to trigger one particular conversation to progress. The story of Why Am I Dead At Sea is at least usually good about nudging players in the right direction. Still, there were times when I just started possessing everyone, hoping to come across the interaction that would move the story along. Paulo can give helpful hints, but occasionally he has nothing to say and it's hard to remember who has talked to whom about what.
With that said, Why Am I Dead At Sea has everything else going for it. The sound design is well-done. The audio cues changing from lighthearted ship music to the darker theme song upon interacting with certain characters make my hair stand on end. The catchier tunes stick firmly in my head from time to time. The character design reminds me of a British mystery in that every single person gives you reasons to suspect them and all of their backstories play a role in explaining their behavior as pieces fall into place. The characters are suspicious or endearing, relatable or repulsive. They have depth and the story kept me guessing. Every time I thought I'd solved a mystery, two stranger ones took its place. There is much more to this story than I expected when starting it up for the first time.
Why Am I Dead At Sea also manages to explore heavy themes within the narrative. While not much can be said without spoiling major plot points, there are things the characters discover or are going through that can resonate with players. The game manages to explore the tragedies and disappointments of everyday life and illustrate that anyone we interact with could be shouldering unimaginable burdens, or be a monster beneath their benevolent exterior, or simply be struggling with their purpose in this world.
If you're a fan of solving mysteries and think yourself a strong detective, play this game. If you enjoy games for the stories, play this game. As long as you like a lot of reading and retro visuals, this is worth a shot. With multiple endings awaiting you, you'd better be ready to do some legwork if you want to get to the bottom of the doomed ferry. Hop to it, gumshoe!
TechRaptor covered Why Am I Dead At Sea on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.