There's something sort of harrowing about the bottom of the sea. Maybe it's the unknowable life forms or the darkness. Maybe it's the thought of millions of tons of water crushing your bones into a fine powder. Shinsekai: Into the Depths features the dark and dangerous environments at the bottom of the ocean as a hazard. It manages to do this while retaining immensely fun gameplay, even if its controls can be tedious and frustrating at times.
If you've not heard of Shinsekai: Into the Depths, before, it's a quasi-Metroidvania developed by Capcom. Until recently it was also locked behind Apple Arcade, Apple's game subscription service. Unless you have some sort of Apple product, you've been unable to actually play until its recent Switch release. I, for one, am glad that it can now cast a wider net in search of potential players.
Shinsekai: Into the Depths is a difficult game to talk about without making it sound worse than it is. The entire campaign takes place under the ocean, wanting you to really feel like you're there too. Everything, from the controls to the visual and audio design, immerses you beneath the waves. As a result, Shinsekai feels clunky and slow to control, but that's less of a problem and more of a concession.
Shinsekai: Into The Depths Is Eerily Immersive
If you've ever tried to run while waste-deep in the water you'll understand what I mean. It's very difficult to move through water when you're just in a swimsuit. Now imagine that you're also wrapped in thick layers of metal and breathing equipment. That's the real reason Shinsekai has you moving so slowly and deliberately. Combined with the audio landscaping, it really does feel like you're dragging yourself through the water at a painfully slow pace.
I don't want to give the impression that this all isn't fun to play, because it is. It's just that your slow movement is important because it causes an interesting dichotomy. You don't have health in the traditional sense, you have an oxygen meter that's constantly running down. You expand the oxygen meter by finding tanks as you go, and these tanks also operate a secondary health meter since they can take damage and eventually break down. The dichotomy comes because oxygen isn't just there to keep you alive. As well as breathing, you can use it as a boost to move quicker, even floating upwards without having to slowly climb up walls. Obviously the issue is that using your precious oxygen to sail gracefully through the sea means you need to find a refill much sooner. You might think that makes using your jets and extravagance, but you're going to need them eventually. Without them, you wont to be able to reach all of the areas, and they're sometimes your only hope of escaping from a hairy situation.
Combat Is Only A Minor Part Of Shinsekai: Into The Depths
While the main hazard in Shinsekai is the ocean itself, replete with deadly freezing zones, falling rocks and a distinct lack of oxygen, there are also some enemies to deal with. At first, combat mainly relies on your ability to beat things up with your wrench. Eventually, you gain access to a variety of harpoon guns with different attachments. When you come across a killer prawn, you can usually take them out pretty easily with your guns. The main drawback is that these resources are finite and you have to spend time digging through walls to find more rocks and build more weapons.
At a certain point combat mostly becomes about avoiding your foes. In the opening hours, it's not really necessary to run. You can either whack them on the head or fire a harpoon their way, and this takes out pretty much anything the game throws at you. In later moments, using your oxygen to flee is genuinely just a better option. Especially when the robotic squid enemies emerge. They're fast and aggressive, and you're better off using your oxygen to avoid damaging your precious air tanks.
Speaking of precious, resource hunting is another important factor in Shinsekai. You need to be able to craft oxygen power-ups, repair items, new weapons, and also upgrades to your suit's efficiency. To do this, you need to find minerals hidden in the walls. You can find them pretty easily by smacking the ground with your melee weapon, creating a sort of sonar effect. Climbing into different nooks and crannies to get the resources you need to continue is very important since they're used for everything from weapons upgrades to ensuring you can just keep swimming.
The Two E's Of Shinsekai: Into the Depths, Ease And Exploration
This is where the real crux of the Shinsekai gameplay comes into full focus: exploration. You need to explore to find your way forward of course, but you're also hunting for new items, resources, and collectibles. Not just to continue, but to try and figure out what is going on. The story has a certain mysterious quality to it. You start the game with basically no information about what is going on. As you go, you find little hints about who you are and why you appear to live under the sea, but you don't really figure out what is happening until right at the end.
Exploration is also straight-up required too. Your suit can only stand up to a certain amount of atmospheric pressure. This manifests as red pools of water at certain points in the world. You cannot go into these without suit exploding into pieces. To get around this, you have to try and find rare resources that will increase how deep you can go. Unlike the other upgrades, finding these is pretty much required, since progress without them is completely impossible. Luckily, for the most part, they're not particularly hard to locate. It does make you wonder why they shouldn't just be out in the open though.
If I had to pick one real downside to Shinsekai, it's that it's pretty easy. Even on the hardest difficulty setting, you rarely find yourself in life-threatening danger. After a certain point, it's super easy to load up on items that restore oxygen and repair tank damage. At that point, you'll probably find yourself rocketing around the sea like Sebastian with a jetpack. Fortunately, the end game does offer 'Another Dive', an extra mode which gives you 60 minutes and no upgrades to reach the deepest point possible and defeat a powerful boss. That does actually offer you a decent challenge.
Everything from the gameplay to the sound and visual design does a really good job of making you feel like you're deep underwater. Honestly, it might do too good of a job. Especially when you're wearing headphones, it can be quite excruciating. I can't imagine trying to play this game while suffering from Thalassophobia (fear of the ocean). The feeling of millions of tons of water pushing down on you from above is always present, and all the wonder of exploration in the world can't take that away. On the plus side, if you don't suffer from that sort of fear it means the game is dripping with a darkly appealing atmosphere.
Shinsekai: Into The Depths Review | Final Thoughts
At the end of the day, Shinsekai: Into The Depths is a fantastic, atmospheric Metroidvania title that does things with sound and visual design that no other game in recent memory has done. If you have even a passing interest in the genre than you've found your next 'must-play' title. While the game is a little short and a little easy, it offers a decent amount of reasons to play again, from collectibles to the extra unlockable mode. With a non-standard narrative delivery to tie everything together, Shinsekai ends up as an absolutely stunning adventure.
TechRaptor reviewed Shinsekai: Into The Depths with a code provided by the developer.
- Great Use Of Music and Gameplay To Create Atmosphere
- Amazingly Enjoyable To Explore
- Plenty Of Replayability From Extra Mode and Collectibles
- Very Interesting Non-Standard Narrative Delivery
- Too Easy
- Could Be A Little Longer