Why Am I Dead At Sea: Cruising for a mystery

May 21, 2015


Why Am I Dead At Sea is a full-release follow up to the small-but-popular flash game Why Am I Dead. This game, like its predecessor, places you in the role of the spirit of someone recently dead. Your task is to possess others and use different abilities to investigate and deduce the answer to the game’s titular question: “why am I dead?” Why Am I Dead At Sea takes place entirely on a cruise ship with a diverse cast of nine characters, and while it is a little rough around the edges, the adventure has enough twists to continually pull the player forward in the quest for answers.

The main gameplay hook for Why Am I Dead At Sea centers around its possession and investigation mechanic. In your starting form, you exist as a spirit that is largely unable to interact with the world, and at first the only character you have the ability to possess is a cat. This cat, though, has a special ability to jump to high places, so you are able to explore more of the ship and meet new people. When you are able to get someone on the ship to open up and allow you to learn more about their personal motivations, you eventually gain enough information to be able to take control of them.

Each person has a unique power, from the ability to read the mood of others during conversation (useful for detecting deception) to someone with the ability to glance into the pockets of her fellow shipmates when standing close to them. Clever use of these abilities allows you to continually investigate and learn more information surrounding the mystery of your death.


In addition to these powers, the other most compelling thing about these characters is their relationship to each other. Each of the nine playable characters has a well-defined relationship to the others on the ship, and as you take control of each of them, it’s a good idea to talk to everyone on the ship over and over as new information is revealed based on who the participants are taking place in the discussion. One ship member may not be willing to divulge any secrets to the ship’s chef, but they might have a strong connection with the ship’s entertainment coordinator that will help them open up. Learning how each character responds to each other, and becoming invested in the small world this game creates, is essential for both success and enjoyment of this title. Luckily, the writing is strong enough and the relationships have enough depth that this commitment is worth it.

The aesthetic of this game is strongly nostalgic, with its EarthBound-inspired pixel art and original chiptunes. I love the look of Earthbound, and games that emulate this look tend to use it effectively, but the world of Why Am I Dead At Sea feels a little flat and lifeless. There is a charm and whimsy that usually comes with this art style, and it’s missing here. There isn’t a huge variety of environments, and most of the areas feel very similar and stark as opposed to vibrant and alive. The musical compositions are quite good, and while they don’t reproduce the classic chiptunes as well as a title like Shovel Knight, they do a decent job of setting the atmosphere. There are a few notable tracks that get to be a little grating, but for the most part the music is really well-designed.


The biggest disappointment with Why Am I Dead At Sea is undoubtedly in its level of polish. The game has a few significant bugs, including one that completely stopped me in my tracks. To the developer’s credit, this bug was posted to the Steam forums within a day of release and, after a quick response and apology, a patch was released a day later that had cleared this issue up (even for existing saves not requiring a restart). There were a few other moments when a graphical glitch was prevalent, or the sound would just drop out, and each of these moments were jarring and broke the immersion.

Why Am I Dead At Sea revolves around conversations and item descriptions, and as such, there is very little in the way of traditional gameplay. The puzzle elements of the game are extremely light, and there’s even one character that you can return to throughout that will basically just tell you then next thing you should be doing if you get stuck. When approached as a visual novel the game works, but as an adventure title it fails miserably.

If you’re playing Why Am I Dead At Sea, it’s likely because you find the premise interesting and you want to experience the story, and on this front the game lives up to expectations. The plot develops nicely, and there are enough interesting twists that keep you guessing until the end. I liked the direction things went, and I didn’t feel shortchanged by the ending. The pacing could have been handled better, as there is a lot of downtime as you try to find the exact right interaction that will progress the story, but the narrative is worth the investment.


Why Am I Dead At Sea could have used a little more development time, but there is definitely something here. It’s a curious title that delivers on what it sets out to do without doing much more. The visuals are a little underwhelming and the sheer amount of exposition is a little daunting, but perseverance pays off. As I finally found the answers to the game’s burning questions, I left the cruise satisfied for having taken the journey.

Pros: Well-developed plot, interesting characters and relationships
Cons: Visual style used poorly, bugs and glitches too prevalent

Score: 3/5

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