I’m in awe of and terrified by the sea, which is at once stunning and inscrutable. My first—and final—scuba diving trip was at Tioman Island nearly a decade ago. A nature reserve well-loved for its immaculate beaches and crystal blue seas, the breathtaking sight makes resisting the call of the water impossible. Schools of fishes skirt just beneath the ocean’s surface, while vibrant hues of coral reef beckoned tantalizing from the seabed. But as I put on my scuba gear, my heart was clobbering so hard against my chest that I found myself gasping for air, even though I have yet to dive in.
At that moment, I discovered my fear of drowning.
Once fully submerged underwater, a barrage of dread and panic overcame me, and I inhaled probably a gallon of seawater before being pulled up to the surface. Yet, despite every fiber of my being begging me to scram back to shore and envelop myself in sand until it blisters my entire body, I still took the dive eventually. I blame my youth and my reluctance to look like a pansy in front of my friends.
Oh, blame it on the underwater creatures too. Did I mention the rich, dizzying array of marine life? The sheer magnificence of witnessing a bustling new universe? I would gladly sell my soul to the devil if there’s a way to scuba dive without fretting about carrying tanks of oxygen, or getting crushed under the pressure of the ocean depths.
Abzu lets me do that, but it also makes me envious of those who can witness the vast biodiversity of the sea themselves. You can explore the deep sea as a lithe, anonymous diver in this game, gliding through the waters as gracefully as a ballerina. As if plucked from a Hayao Miyazaki film, its soundtrack soars in perfect time with every somersault she performs, or when she let herself drift along to the rapidity of underwater currents. Teeming with wildlife, the ocean is filled with dense kelp forests and other fauna, as beds of eels and shoals of anglerfish float by aimlessly. Latch on to a passing turtle, and hitch a ride on a manta ray when you fancy a new ride. Or settle atop a sunken statue to quietly meditate; regardless of how long you spend underwater, you’ll never run out of air. Swimming in the cobalt expanse of this sea is both a visual and aural spectacle.
Like Miyazaki’s magnum opus Princess Mononoke, the majesty of Abzu’s sea is also tinged with a touch of spirituality, illustrating the awe-inspiring and restorative prowess of nature. Throughout the journey, the diver can interact with pools that will set various aquatic species free. Abzu is largely reluctant to divulge more clues into its phenomena, but subsequent levels hint at the cause of this problem and other environmental concerns. One prominent scene, in which the diver appears to be in mortal danger, visibly heightens the tension and shatters the universe’s utopian illusion. But the obstacle more than just threatens the diver’s well-being; it can also wreck the marine ecosystem.
Take a look at our coral reefs. Depleting at an astronomical rate, this left even some of the world’s leading coral experts at a loss on how to save them. According to a study that was recently published, extreme bleaching events that cause corals to expel the algae that photosynthesizes their food, now takes place every five to six years instead of the typical 25 to 30 years. Only by slowing down or even stopping the effects of global warming altogether may the reefs have a fighting chance at survival.
Reconciling this grim reality and what we see in Abzu may seem like a stretch. One of the most incredible sights in the game is seeing a whirlpool of fish swirling in the depths of the sparse, transparent waters. I take a closer look, keen to be part of the spectacle, and soon find myself surrounded by more fishes I can count. In real life, I may never be privy to such dazzling displays; I’m too much of a wimp, too afraid to dive into the sea again. But we can—and we really, really should—make sure that these animals, and all the wonders of this beautiful but alien ecosystem, will never be lost to future generations.