Shinsekai: Into the Depths is an action adventure about searching for the last remnants of humanity at the bottom of the ocean. Imagine Metroid II: The Return of Samus but underwater, with all the unique movement and oxygen mechanics that go along with it. And despite first releasing for iOS, the game world is large, with one full playthrough lasting over 10 hours. Capcom has really surprised here with a unique and innovative Metroidvania — that is rife with little frustrations that hamper the enjoyment.
The end of the world
In Shinsekai: Into the Depths, ice has inexplicably taken over the land and is pushing into the depths of the ocean. Between that and a variety of dangerous natural and mechanical nautical threats, humanity faces extinction, so the mute protagonist is desperate to find any semblance of a new home with others. The story unfolds entirely through environmental storytelling, images of human research found in computers, and occasional cinematics. It’s a little obtuse, but winning or losing the final battle surprisingly leads to different endings. It’s debatable which one is the happier ending.
The visuals service the gameplay and the story well overall. Destroyed and decaying human structures pepper the landscape at depressing intervals, and though a lot of the rock and coral (etc.) looks the same from place to place, different lighting can create an atmosphere of peace or dread. Frame rate stays mostly steady, though there were some hiccups now and then for no particular reason.
The audio, meanwhile, is a highlight of Shinsekai. Lots of great atmospheric sound effects really sell the fact that you’re underwater, and the soundtrack can be serene or oppressive as the scene demands. However, the music player option that unlocks after finishing the game uses an unlabeled menu with elaborate and unconventional sound options, and it’s borderline incomprehensible at a glance. A lot of strange decisions like this permeate the game.
Underwater, no one can hear you scream
Shinsekai: Into the Depths makes thoughtful use of its underwater premise. In fact, your oxygen supply serves multiple simultaneous purposes. If you run out of oxygen, you die of course, so you must restore it at save points or from oxygen bubbles. It’s also generally a life bar. Taking a hit will damage your oxygen container (of which you can hold several at a time), and taking another hit will break the container, decreasing your maximum oxygen supply.
This is even more serious than it sounds because dashing through the water with agility costs more oxygen. In other words, having a lot of oxygen containers means lots of health and lots of agility; having no oxygen containers means you have low maneuverability and are constantly near death.
Fortunately, oxygen containers are generously placed on the standard difficulty, (There is an Easy mode too.) and Shinsekai has a crafting system that lets you make items to grant more oxygen or fix damaged containers, among other things. You can also craft to upgrade gear, like augmenting your gloves so you can climb walls or ceilings faster or improving the efficiency of your oxygen usage, and you can upgrade weapons to make them more effective. Crafting materials are found from excavating the seabed or killing enemies (or regular sea creatures, if you’re a jerk).
You have a basic melee attack that never gets stronger, but you also get a harpoon gun and various other ranged weapons that require ammo that must be crafted. The right thumbstick is used to aim, and time slows down while you do so, so aiming typically isn’t difficult. Although, you really can’t afford to enter battle recklessly, and sometimes the best choice is to just pass through quickly and hope the enemies don’t chase you. A couple weapons, such as one that penetrates walls to strike inaccessible objects, are used to solve puzzles too.
The opening area of Shinsekai involves a lot of claustrophobic spaces and basic game mechanics, so it’s kind of shocking when you complete that area and discover a submarine you can pilot. You can take this invincible submarine wherever it fits, and you soon realize the opening area is only one tiny space in a huge game world.
Exploration is only confined by your suit afterward, which can only survive the pressure of water of a certain depth. You must craft to upgrade your suit to withstand deeper depths and see more of the game world. Like Metroid II, Shinsekai invariably has a goal of just descending deeper and deeper.
Environments offer decent variety, such as an abandoned ship and a volcanic area, and it becomes addicting to explore one more random nook or cranny. The level design is quite strong overall in that respect. Enemies become increasingly dangerous over time too. The few bosses in the game aren’t overly difficult though, except for one where I never quite understood what to do and just settled for excessive brute force.
And when it’s all over, you unlock Another Dive mode, a timed challenge mode that will satisfy hardcore fans but may be a bit much for the more casual players.
Shinsekai stumbles in the details
Aesthetically and in core game design, Shinsekai: Into the Depths is a great success for Capcom. So it’s baffling then that the game sabotages itself with numerous small yet frustrating elements. For starters, you will suffer fall damage for extraordinarily small drops. That means you have to be excessively gentle whenever touching down on the ground, tilting up on the control stick in order to slow your descent as much as possible.
Another annoyance is how easily your character can cling to a wall when you just meant to, for instance, dash away from an enemy. There is an awfully steep learning curve to understanding the underwater controls in Shinsekai in the first place, but even once you finally conquer that challenge, you are still likely to find yourself clinging to walls by accident because the controls are overly sensitive.
Possibly the most annoying thing of all is that you receive a “helper” robot early on, which mostly grabs nearby items for you to save you time. However, the robot can physically get in the way, and if you can’t use the item it grabs for you due to being at maximum capacity, then that item will get in your way too. I lost count of how many times the robot and its superfluous item physically blocked me from excavating items that I did want. Shinsekai would be better if the robot didn’t exist at all.
And finally, the menus are a bit cumbersome to navigate. There are so many different items, weapons, ammo, and pieces of gear to craft that all appear under different menu tabs, and the crafting materials themselves are difficult to keep straight too. It took me maybe half of my playthrough before I finally started to keep it all straight.
All of these details individually are trivial, I admit, but in combination across over 10 hours of gameplay, it really disrupts the overall flow.
Shinsekai: Into the Depths should get a sequel
Shinsekai: Into the Depths is a game worth playing. Its large world is addictive to explore, its oxygen mechanics are innovative and create dramatic gameplay moments, and its audio is a real delight. However, the flow of gameplay is regularly disrupted by weird annoyances like excessive fall damage, a helper robot who doesn’t help, and menus that are a little too cumbersome to navigate comfortably. The bones here are really strong though, especially for an unexpected Capcom experiment, and a sequel that gets rid of this game’s annoying missteps could be a home run.
A review code was provided by the publisher.