While plenty of games will have you take control of a fish for some time, they way the fish’s movement is handled tends to vary, often opting towards something that allows complete freedom of movement or just ends up feeling a bit awkward. Surprisingly, Finny the Fish & The Seven Waters does an excellent job of making it’s main character Finny’s movements feel accurate to real life fish movement despite the game’s focus on cartoon visuals and fantasy elements.
To move as the game’s main character, you press the X button to swim forward, tapping it repeatedly to gain speed and surge through the water. From there, Finny can be angled to turn around or move up and down, your speed determining how easily you can turn. At rest you can easily adjust your direction, but at full speed you’ll have much wider turns to account for your velocity. At various points in Finny the Fish & The Seven Waters you’ll need to swim hard to overcome currents or get a good amount of speed to launch yourself out of the water, but most areas have pretty open designs to give you the room to move about without having to worry too much about precision. This is hardly meant to be a simulation of life as a fish though, so Finny packs a few more abilities besides just being able to swim around. A tail slap can be used to attack other animals underwater and there’s a lock on system where Finny can direct his swimming towards a foe and then bite them with the square button, either able to eat them in one gulp or the player really needing to work the control sticks to thrash them about and bite them a couple times to weaken them. Despite this attack method sounding a bit violent, the biting and fish fighting is bloodless and mostly just involves Finny or a foe gumming their enemy to do damage. Finny also has an ability for when he’s out of water, that being… to flop. Finny can leap pretty well while on dry land, able to target his flops to get him where he needs to go despite his vulnerability.
Finny’s adventure begins with the unassuming fish being picked by an old kappa to help stop an evil that is causing trouble across the Seven Waters. Finny must set off to find certain creatures called Masters who have statues that can be used to stop the unknown evil, but despite this threat causing earthquakes and other troubles already, many of the masters don’t really feel pressured to hand over their statues until you’ve done something for them first. Some of them have reasonable reasons for withholding it, like there being a crisis in their area you need to help with first, and others just want a little quid pro quo despite being at risk as well if they don’t hand over their statues to help. Finny himself is a silent protagonist and mostly just a cartoon fish, but his reactions can be a bit charming at times, especially when he is meeting the last few Masters and getting a bit tired of them making him do work for the statues. The Masters though are definitely more interesting, as while they might not all be likeable, they are a group of interesting personalities, all with voice acting to back up their brief moments of focus. Finny the Fish & the Seven Waters features things like a childlike and absentminded giant salamander, a demanding and almost snobbish lungfish, and a bird named Shag who talks like a surfer dude, and while it doesn’t shy away from more popular animal picks like frogs for its characters, the Seven Waters contain plenty of different aquatic animals to meet.
While the Masters make up the talking animal character side of the game, the water has plenty of other fish as well, and along with some nice underwater visuals, it makes the submerged world Finny explores still look pretty nice even today. One of Finny’s main concerns outside of tracking down the Master Statues is his own survival, and to that end, he’ll need to feed regularly to avoid starvation. This hunger mechanic may seem at first to be a bit of a nuisance, but it reveals its use once you begin to realize it plays into much more than just staying alive. By hunting down and swallowing fish, Finny fills up his stomach, and if he ever needs a health refill, all he has to do is stay still to swap some of his fullness for health. The fish you’ll be eating are also all real creatures who break away from the cartoon art style a bit to make it possible to learn about some real life fauna through the game’s collection screen, with creatures from all across Earth’s waters cropping up as things to gulp down. Eating new fish or other undersea life for the purposes of your collection isn’t just done for the sake of it either, as you can earn extra lives at certain milestones, and extra lives can be pretty useful. Keeping on top of feeding isn’t too hard, but there are points in the game where it deliberately withholds easy meals to make things harder, and if you have no extra lives, you’ll be sent back to a save point to try again. Having an extra life will not only let you immediately come back from potentially being defeated by a predator, but if you do starve to death, it will bring you back with both full health and a full belly, usually letting you make it through an otherwise fairly easy experience.
When battles do start though, the limitations of Finny’s options become a bit clearer. Besides the tail slap and biting fish, you can’t really do much else in a fight, meaning that whether you’re fighting a bigger fish like a catfish or piranha or taking on something huge like a gator, you’re either going to be tail slapping like mad or attempting to lunge in and bite them, a failed lunge always having an animation of a disappointed Finny after to slow things down a touch. While you can eventually swallow some of your bigger opponents if you win the battle despite it not logically making sense at times, other times you’ll just have to avoid them or other hazards like debris floating through the water. Lures are another major threat to Finny though, fishing hooks cleverly disguised all throughout the Seven Waters even when it’s hard to conceive how humans are dipping their lines in that particular area. When hooked, Finny needs to swim against the line as hard as he can to break it, slapping it with his tail or leaping out of the water to shake it off, and since these look like the regular fish you’re feeding on, they can come as a surprise or might end up appearing a bit too frequently. Much like thrashing around prey in your mouth it’s pretty frantic, but breaking the line does require finding out how to best go against the angler’s attempts at reeling you in. You even get to keep the lures you break off as a second collection, but there’s no reward for getting the variety here, so you can avoid them as best you can if you so wish.
The fighting side of Finny’s adventure isn’t much deeper than his feeding, but the tasks the Masters ask of you do push this away from being a repetitive adventure. Finding hidden items, delivering herbs before they spoil to a mother otter and her sick child, and dodging machinery in search of a coelacanth are just some of the tasks that come with entering one of the Seven Waters, and they do happen to vary up their environments a bit despite all the areas being submerged. Cave waters focus on winding rocky tunnels, the jungle has some ruins to explore, and fast-moving rapids get a focus for one of the areas. On top of the main goals and environmental design changing around enough between areas, there are also scales hidden about that will increase Finny’s stats if he finds them, able to get things like a stronger bite, more health, a bigger belly, and and the ability to better spot lures to help him out with the fairly simple feeding and fighting a bit. The funny thing is, despite the frequent feeding being pretty basic, it helps the more involved missions and area designs avoid being completed too quickly to appreciate them. Being made to spend more time in small sections of the Seven Waters prevents you from tearing through the game too quickly without really feeling like the game is stalling you. In isolation though, feeding on fish or going on these little quests would probably get a bit dull, but the balance achieved by needing to consider one while doing the other gives the game the kind of flow you’d hope for in an underwater odyssey.
THE VERDICT: A charming underwater journey, Finny the Fish & The Seven Waters mixes its fantasy story and elements with trying to mimic some realities of living as a fish, and it does so swimmingly. Feeding and fighting off predators will be the focus at times, but so will using magic crystals to raise and lower water levels. The quests the Masters lay out for you in your quest to stop evil give the game a story structure and the need to feed is rewarded with ways to help you during the main adventure. When the focus leans a little too hard into either the objectives or catching fish though, things can be a bit shallow, but the balance is maintained pretty well throughout to make up for the simplicity of the tasks, and with some bright and energetic visuals and music to help it along, Finny’s adventure feels a good fit for the fish.
And so, I give Finny the Fish & The Seven Waters for Playstation 2…
A GOOD rating. Finny the Fish & The Seven Waters is a good example of how decent systems can be elevated by a lot of variety. Eating fish is made more interesting by the variety of prey available, underwater areas are made more interesting by their secrets and biodiversity, and the missions keep changing up their goals so they don’t feel like retreads. Simplicity in design could have held things back quite a bit if Finny kept his focus on one aspect of the game at any one time, and there are admittedly moments where you might have to focus too much on his tummy or the task at hand, but keeping things moving lets life as a fish feel like a fun time. The tasks aren’t as involved or as varied as they might have been if they were the sole focus of play, but as a package, they work well together and avoid the stagnation they’d experience if they were too heavily relied on individually.
Finny the Fish & The Seven Waters is certainly not a realistic take on being a fish, and that’s to its benefit. It translates a fish’s movement and life into the game world pretty well and then sets out a fantasy journey for that normal fish to participate in, Finny almost being the everyman of the fish world who receives an underwater call to adventure. It’s certainly not a typical set-up for a game, but that’s part of its charm, having just enough to hook a player for its short but interesting experience.