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This unknown soul met an unknown fate.

"These trade ships, East Indiamen, not much keeping them above water, but planks of wood and the grace of God. Only surprise about the Obra Dinn: it’s come back. Empty."
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The year is 1802, and maritime shipping across the Atlantic Ocean is at its peak. One such ship, the Obra Dinn, begins a voyage from England to the Orient. With all passengers and crewmen onboard, sixty people sail out from Britain, and are expected back within a few months. Six months into the voyage, the ship fails to meet her rendezvous point, all attempted contact is unsuccessful, and the ship is declared lost at sea.

In 1807, the ship finally returns.

Return of the Obra Dinn is a non-linear adventure detective game developed by Lucas Pope, creator of Papers, Please, and released in 2018. The game is played from a First Person viewpoint, and features an rather unusual graphical style—namely 1-bit monochromatic graphics, inspired by games on early Macintosh systems. You play as an insurance investigator from the British East India Company, who boards the ship in the middle of the night to figure out just what happened to the crew and passengers. A man named Henry Evans sends you a book with a log of all the passengers on board, and a mysterious pocket watch called the "Memento Mortem" which can create an image of a person's exact moment of death. With these in hand, you set out to discover just where everyone disappeared to, and what fates have befallen the people onboard.

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The game's core gameplay conceit is that corpses are strewn about the ship. By finding and interacting with a corpse, the Memento Mortem will teleport you to a strange pocket dimension where the exact moment of that person's death will appear. Everything else past that is up to you—finding out how they died, who/what killed them, and why they were killed is the primary purpose of the game. The game is loosely divided into chapters which serve to illuminate who died onboard and why. This is not easy—there are very few easy answers, and you need to use your brain to piece together exactly who everyone was. Keeping track of everything from their names to their ethnicity to even what they look like and what their role was onboard is essential to uncovering what occurred onboard the ship.

Due to being a murder mystery game, beware of spoilers. Be warned that the spoilers here are even more extreme than usual for a murder-mystery game - due to the nature of the gameplay (which often revolves around identifying individuals), it's impossible to even mention people's names without potentially major spoilers.

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The Obra Dinn shipped with the following tropes:

  • 100% Completion: Only by accurately recording the identity and means of death of people in every other chapter will the player be permitted by their benefactor to learn what happened in Chapter 8: "The Bargain".
  • Accidental Murder: In the first chapter, there's an accident with the cargo that causes Samuel Peters to be killed. His brother Nathan holds fellow seaman Lars Linde accountable for this, and takes his revenge when they're about to leave the ship.
    • The Ship's Steward Zungi Sathi was wounded by spikes thrown by a crabrider. He dragged himself to safety all the way into the portwalk, only for Charles Miner to miss his shot at one of the crabriders, penetrate the wooden wall to the portwalk and finish off Sathi. Miner even gets fined for the "murder" in the final report.
  • Acquitted Too Late: One of the Formosan guards, Hok-Seng Lau, is executed for the death of a passenger, but it's revealed later that said passenger was actually murdered by Second Mate Nichols. Perhaps the wrongs are rectified in the Epilogue: although Lau's reward or estate can never be known or claimed, at least his executioner got fined £50 for his murder, along with that of Fourth Mate John Davies and attempted mutiny.
  • Anachronic Order: The game starts with Chapter 10, "The End," showing the final few people who died before the ship became a Ghost Ship. Once "The End" has been cleared, the rest of the boat opens for exploration. This means the player can experience the story in just about any order, but certain deaths can only be unlocked by seeing other deaths first. In particular, Chapter 4: "The Calling" and Chapter 5: "Unholy Captives" are experienced entirely in reverse order.
  • Anachronism Stew: The author has gone on record stating accuracy was attempted to the best of his ability, but there wasn't time or space to include every single detail and sometimes a line had to be drawn. That said...
    • One of the causes of death you can ascribe to a person is referred to as "electrocution". This word wasn't invented until the late 19th century and was used only to describe executions completed by use of an electric chair. "Electro" plus "execution." Furthermore, there were no electrical devices or anything else that would result in an accidental electrocution as we would call it today on the ship. The term must be used to describe one death: a crew member being struck by lightning.
      • It may also be used to describe the magical beam that kills It-Beng Sia and stuns the mermaids.
    • The names of the Chinese crew members follow the modern-day convention for transcribing Mandarin Chinese, called pinyin, introduced by the People's Republic of China in the 1950s. In the time period the game is set, "Li" and "Zhang" would be written down as "Lee" and "Chang" instead, based on their approximate pronunciation in English.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • The game will only unblur a crew member's face when you have the information needed to deduce their identity, making it easier to do process of elimination. There's also has a bookmark feature, allowing you to skip through the book by pressing on tabs to bring you to the next page with information on it. You can bookmark specific crew members as well, allowing you to mark every single memory they appear in on the map.
    • For every three characters you have correctly identified (including their ultimate fate and their killer, if applicable), you get them confirmed by the game and "locked in", so to speak. On the other hand, this enables some low-key cheating since you can "force" a confirmation by finding out missing elements via trial and error (for example if you have three identified victims, but don't know the name of the killer of the third, you can browse through the passenger log until you get a confirmation).
    • By zooming in on a person in a memory, holding it on them allows you to see their picture in the illustrations, making it easier to identify some of the more obscured figures.
      • The zooming feature does not work if most of the person's body is obscured or they're too far away to recognize, but their picture in the sketch will still be highlighted so they can be roughly determined by process of elimination.
    • Sometimes, the cause of death can be pretty vague, and you can hesitate between two possibilities. Generally, both options will be considered valid by the game. For instance, seaman John Naples dies because his leg was cut off by the captain's steward Fillip Dahl. So is the cause of death "dismemberment" or "attacked with a sword?" Either one is counted as correct.
      • "Fell overboard" and "drowned" are largely interchangeable.
    • After the death scenes have played out, a transcript will be provided for any dialogue spoken prior to death. If the deceased has spoken at all prior to their death, an X will appear next to their dialogue, meaning that the player can collect clues from words exchanged between crew members, as well as from their surroundings.
  • Apocalyptic Log: With your stopwatch acting as your window into the past, rather than piecing together an Apocalyptic Log, you're writing one. The game takes cues from the environmental storytelling techniques introduced with Immersive Sim games like the Shock games, and makes their very lack of completeness the linchpin of the game's mechanics as well as the backbone of the game's entire plot outside of the framing device of the player's presence aboard the Obra Dinn.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Happens to both Seaman John Naples (who got his leg cut off by the Captain's Steward Fillip Dahl, possibly in an effort to free the mermaids from the lazarette) and Bosun Alfred Klestil (who got his arm ripped off by a kraken at the end of Chapter VII, though he only makes it through to the beginning of Chapter IX).
  • Artifact of Death: The Formosan chest seems to kill anyone who uses it through columns of fire. It-Beng Sia and Fillip Dahl both have their arms melted down to the bone because of the chest.
    • The shells even more so - they're the only thing during the Time Stands Still death scenes that is animated - whatever their true nature is, it's interacting with the Memento Mortem and its Death-Activated Superpower.
  • Artistic License – Ships: The author has gone on record saying he aimed for accuracy in the ship's design, but he could not achieve perfection and some allowances needed to be made for the sake of the game. Some standouts are:
    • The rigging is sparse for the size of the masts, even when the ship is in tact. This was done for the sake of simplicity.
    • The captain's cabin room lacks doors that would be necessary to keep wind and rain out of the cabin.
    • The Obra Dinn would be severely undermanned in reality. A crew of about 150 was standard for the East Indiamen of the time, so subtracting the 9 passengers, the Obra Dinn with its measly 51 crew members stands at barely a third of that. Probably necessary for the gameplay, as deducing who 60 people are is a daunting enough task; 150 crew plus passengers would be far too intimidating.
  • A-Team Firing: In Chapter III, four seamen participated in the execution of Formosan passenger Hok-Seng Lau by firing squad for the murder that Second Mate Edward Nichols actually committed. Played straight when three of them missed, but averted when Seaman Henry Brennan managed to fire a gunshot that hit Lau... and was therefore labeled as a murderer. Surprisingly, of the other three who missed their mark and are not labeled as murderers, only John Naples (himself a murder victim) is rewarded for his valiant efforts, while Patrick O'Hagan and Aleksei Toporov are fined for other crimes such as kidnapping and attempted desertion.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Say what you will about the Captain, but the man is pushing at least 40, likely 50 (evidenced by him telling his steward "Twenty years my steward!" in one scene), and he still fights off, and kills, two other sailors who are presumably much younger than him; shrugging off strikes to the chest from a sharpened wooden stick and a literal stab to the back with a knife. He also kills two mermaids by himself. Granted, they were encaged, but they had already killed a lot of people near-effortlessly.
  • Back to Front: Since the Memento Mortem needs someone's body first to show you the moment of their death and automatically locks onto the latest corpse around inside memories, each part of the story uncovered through present day remains is told in reverse order.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Downplayed example in the player character themselves, the Chief Inspector for the East India Company. They press on and on through horrific visions of death, gore, and terrible sea monsters, all in the name of accurate insurance investigation.
  • Badass Normal: Most members of the crew qualify to some degree. Some members, however, stand out as their actions on the doomed voyage are revealed to the player.
    • Despite his immediate apparent Sanity Slippage, Captain Robert Witterel's murders of multiple men in close combat the first set of deaths the player uncovers. The captain killed the three men when he had knives sticking out of him. He also absolutely doesn't mess around when bargaining with mermaids, as revealed in the Bargain chapter; while the mermaids were being held captive, he ordered them to call off the kraken by stabbing and shooting them until the last one complied.
    • In perhaps the greatest Dying Moment of Awesome in the game, carpenter Winston Smith point blank explodes one of the spider-crab rider demons with his hand mortar as he's in the process of getting speared, and stabbed by two of the crab's sharp legs, and this was after taking one of their spikes in the shoulder.
    • Despite being a lowly seaman, Henry Brennan is very active throughout the entire voyage, racks up an impressive body count of humans and monsters alike, and is one of the last members to die.
    • Not only were they one of the few to make it off the doomed vessel alive, but Emily Jackson personally shot the violent Leonid Volkov with a rifle, avenging the First Mate's steward.
    • In an excellent instance of Royals Who Actually Do Something, It-Beng Sia stabs the steward of the treacherous Second Mate and is able to access the chest to repel the mermaids at the cost of his own life.
  • Big Bad: Second Mate Edward Nichols, chronologically the first murderer on the Obra Dinn and the head conspirator of the deserters. The chain of events that result from his actions lead to the deaths of almost every person on board the Obra Dinn, including himself.
  • Bittersweet Ending: There is nothing you can do to change the fate of the Obra Dinn and its passengers—all you can do is literally watch the tragedy unfold and catalogue the events in the book. Indeed, once you depart the Obra Dinn, the coming storm arrives as causes the poor ship to finally sink. However, if you achieve 100% accuracy in your results it's made clear that you have fulfilled Henry Evans' last wish to document the tragedy of the Obra Dinn.
  • Black Comedy: Some very dark comedy when it comes to the sheer unlikelihood of some deaths, particularly when pairing the horror of what's going on with the jaunty upbeat music. Not surprising, when you consider the game's pedigree.
  • Blood from the Mouth: If you look closely enough in some of the death scenes, this happens to various crew members as they expire.
  • Burial at Sea: It is implied that most of the dead bodies are disposed of in this way, as you hear Captain Witterel's voice tell his remaining crew to "throw the bodies over" at the beginning of Part 2 of Chapter V.
  • Butt-Monkey: Helmsman Finley Dalton. He appears in exactly two scenes—Murder 3 where he's received a pole through the shin courtesy of the mutineers, and The Doom 7 while he's in the process of being dragged off the ship by the kraken.
  • Camping a Crapper: The fate of Edward Spratt, the artist. The Kraken crushes him while he's squatting at the front of the gun deck.
  • The Cassandra: The members of the Formosan royal family can't speak English and require a translator for anyone to understand them. This wouldn't be so much of a problem, except the language barrier prevents anyone on the crew from knowing about the dangers of the Formosan chest, and the mermaids that eventually hunt down the kidnappers.
  • Cassandra Truth: "Those ungodly beasts carry a curse!" Unfortunately, rather than rationally explain himself to his Captain, Fillip Dahl had cut another man's leg off in a desperate attempt to free the mermaids, and only achieves getting himself locked up with them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: On the Obra Dinn, if you look at the sea, you can see a little speck of light coming from a very specific spot on the sea. It never plays a role in the investigation. In the true ending, while you discover the events of Chapter 8: The Bargain, when the sailors make the deal with the mermaids, they give them the shells the chest contained. Said shells emit an extremely bright light. And suddenly, you remember that little speck of light at large, and you realize what it is...
  • Continue Your Mission, Dammit!: In the early part of the game, the man in the rowboat will keep calling out to you until you retrieve the journal and the Memento Mortem. If you solve every possible fate on the ship, the game will tell you "there is nothing left to do on the Obra Dinn" so that you know it's time to leave.
  • Cool Sword: While there's no shortage of sabres to go around, one of the crew members is seen using a large scimitar. Finding it hanging off his (numbered!) bunk is an easy way to identify him.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Most of them. The only crew members who get off lightly are the ones who die from illness.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Two of them due to those mysterious shells, which seem to inspire Too Dumb to Live in some people. Thomas Sefton attempts to pry a shell from a living mermaid and gets struck as it flails. Later, Captain's Steward Fillip Dahl. With nothing to do while locked up in the lazarette, he breaks free of his chains, opens the Formosan chest, and extracts a shell from it. Just like it had with It-Beng Sia, the chest kills the horrified Dahl a couple of moments later.
  • Dangerous Deserter: The penalty for desertion is death, as Nichols and his party well know, hence the ease with which they kill anyone who threatens to expose them.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The entire game is only two colors and highly pixelated with shades of grey represented by a dither effect, meant to mimic the colors of old CRT computer monitors, which also neatly resembles the pen-and-ink stippling of the in-game era.
  • Dirty Coward: Second Mate Nichols. Once the mermaids attack during his attempted escape, he immediately hides under the lifeboat seat while they proceed to kill the rest of his allies and captives. His steward calls him out.
  • Downer Ending: Downer beginning, due to the story being told in Anachronic Order. The tragedy that befalls the Obra Dinn and her crew is a sight to behold. Nearly the whole crew dies. Only four people make it off the ship, by desertion, and several innocents die either from unfortunate accidents or other horrific deaths. While some of the crew die heroically, many more expire either in painful or depressing ways. In the end, only four men remain—the Captain, his First Mate (also the Captain's best friend and brother-in-law), and the last two survivors of the crew. The captain is forced to kill them all in self-defense, and he shoots himself soon after, the weight of the whole ordeal leaving him utterly broken.
  • Driven to Suicide: One of the methods of death that can be chosen is suicide. Only one person commits suicide—Captain Robert Witterel shoots himself after surviving the entire ordeal.
  • Driving Question: What exactly happened on the Obra Dinn to cause the entire crew to disappear/die without a trace?
    • A second question develops after exploring more of the ship's history: what happens in chapter 8 to stop the Kraken from attacking the ship?
  • Dwindling Party: Throughout the Obra Dinn's ill-fated journey, the people aboard the ship get whittled down due to loose cargo, a lung disease, sea monsters, and some rogue crewmen. Of the crew of sixty, only four of them got out of the ship alive.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Winston Smith, despite being spiked in the torso multiple times by the giant crab monster, blasts it point-blank with his hand mortar, killing it before he himself expires from his wounds.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: They have been for several years before the ship returned, but the fact still stands. Is played somewhat more straight after you complete the game, as Henry Evans eventually passes, being the one of the final passengers of the Obra Dinn to die.
  • Evidence Scavenger Hunt: The only way that the player can solve the mystery is to hunt through the ship and find whatever remains can be found across the ship's various decks - then, it's up to the player to hunt through memories and create connections, ultimately piecing together the story of the Obra Dinn.
  • Exact Words: The journal can only record who killed someone without any room for motive. This ultimately causes kills in self defense, executions of innocent people, and accidents to go down in history as murders in the eyes of the insurance company. Captain Robert Witterel's many kills in self defense go down as murders, and his estate is posthumously fined severely for it. Although Henry Brennan is one of the four seamen participating in the (wrongful) execution of Hok-Seng Lau, it was Brennan himself who fired a shot that hit Lau while the other seamen missed their mark, and is therefore labeled as a state-sponsored murderer. Charles Miner, who causes friendly fire, is labeled as a murderer as well.
    • There's also the alternative interpretation of events that the player can take - there's an achievement for blaming every single death on the Captain, described as 'loosely true, in eyes of company and crown' since while they were at sea he was, on paper, responsible for his entire crew's safety and wellbeing.
  • Failed a Spot Check: In present time, the player can see a twinkling in the distance in the ocean that they can never reach. It's the shell, proving the sea monsters held their end of the bargain.
    • During "The Calling", Samuel Galligan, Nichols's steward, calls out to another man, asking if he can still row - while it's plainly obvious that the man has a spear sticking through his head.
    • This is also the case for some of the bodies that can still be found by the player, while the other bodies from those periods are missing. Presumably those missing were thrown overboard, while those that remain were either unfound or nobody got around to dealing with them.
  • Featureless Protagonist: The nameless player character is never shown, and their voice is randomly picked to be either a man or woman's voice with each new playthrough. All a player can ever see of them is their gloved hands and coat sleeves.
  • Final Speech: Averted most of the time since most of the deaths occur during high action sequences, but some speeches are provided - for example Thomas Lanke manages to gasp out a few final words after being stabbed, lamenting how he was unable to save Peter Milroy from the giant squid. Martin Perrott's final speech in the last part of the Bargain, while not the last lines heard in the game, work as a final speech for the ship itself as well.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Henry Evans, the ship surgeon, has a monkey with him frequently in the early sections of the story, in particular Chapter 2. Come Chapter 9, said monkey is nowhere to be found on the life boat. Eventually, it's revealed that Evans shot the monkey in order to obtain insight into the final two deaths on the Obra Dinn that he otherwise would have had no way of knowing by creating a body for the player to use the Memento Mortem on.
      • In addition, if it wasn't obvious that the Henry Evans on the manifest and the Henry Evans whose preface begins the book are one and the same, the case containing the journal and Memento Mortem can be seen behind him while he's on that life boat.
    • A cow skull hung on the wall lets you view when it was slaughtered, which hints that even animal deaths can be viewed if there are remains available. At the end of the game in the True Ending, Evans ships you his monkey's severed hand. There's your remains.
    • The sketch "Justice at Sea" eventually gets shown as one of the deaths when someone is tried on the sea for murder. The culprit is hung from the mast and shot by several of the seaman in the back.
    • Spikes can be seen sticking out of the bulkhead that divides the rest of the cargo hold from the lazarette.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Not in the strictest sense, since every death scene is a freeze-frame anyway, but many clues are only found from examining the scenes in minute detail.
  • From Bad to Worse: Sums up perfectly the entire journey of the Obra Dinn. It started off with bitter cold and some sickness, and ended with attacks by a Giant Enemy Crab, a Giant Squid Sea Monster, and the crew going steadily insane until they were nearly wiped out.
  • Ghost Ship: The Obra Dinn sailed back to port with naught a person onboard, and the only noticeable remains of the crew are skeletons. The entirety of the game is trying to figure out how the ship met such a grisly fate.
  • Giant Squid: The Sea Monster the crew encounters in The Doom takes this form. It's a massive beast that easily dwarfs the Obra Dinn, with its tentacles able to snap the main rigging in half like it was a twig. The crew call it a Kraken.
  • Gorn: Some of the deaths depicted in this game are downright horrific in their brutality. Special mention goes to Maba, who gets torn in half by the Giant Squid. Another excellent example is Olus Wiater, who gets the top part of his skull blown clean off when he is shot with a pistol at contact range. In addition, two men are shot by a cannon, but there's only one body afterwards, implying that the other man, if not thrown overboard through the window by the blast, was completely obliterated.
  • Gratuitous Latin: Your pocketwatch. It's a slight variation on the phrase "Memento Mori"note 
    Memento Mortem — Remember Death.
  • Groin Attack: Narrowly avoided by the Captain, who has a mermaid-fired spike miss his groin and instead bury itself in the deck planks between his legs.
  • Guide Dang It!: If you don't use a walkthrough, the identification of a lot of crewmembers hinges on abusing the automatic confirmation mechanic (finding out the fate of two victims and then randomly filling in one or two blanks for a third) - for example, you're never told how to tell the four Chinese crewmembers apart from one another, but can find out their identities that way. But even then you might still run into problems if you misidentified a victim/killer/cause of death. Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw describes it best in his review of the game:
    "...you're probably going to have to cheese it when it comes to the four identical Chinese topmen; I have it on good authority that there is some method of telling them apart, but whatever it is, I doubt it's easier than randomly swapping their names around until you get a hit, like you're fussing over seating arrangements with a very indecisive bride."
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Several members of the crew are literally torn in half as they meet their ends. The Giant Squid they encounter in "The Doom" is introduced ripping topman Maba apart at the waist, and does this to quite a few other sailors offscreen. One unfortunate fellow in the same chapter is blasted point-blank by cannon-fire belowdecks, shredding his body, when the same Sea Monster reaches through a gunport and shoves the cannon sideways just as it's about to go off.
  • Hate Sink: Second Mate Nichols is devoid of redeeming qualities. He is notably the crew member with the dubious honor of highest amount of fines charged to his estate due to his manifold crimes committed on the Obra Dinn.
  • He Knows Too Much: The reason why two people get killed. Thomas Lanke overhears a mutiny plan and immediately panics, yelling "Mutiny!" at the top of his lungs. He warns the other crewmen, but is fatally stabbed for his trouble. Earlier, Nunzio Pasqua has the misfortune of walking into Second Mate Nichols' plan to steal the Formosan chest and also receives a fatal knife wound.
  • Heroic Mime: The protagonist utters a few words at the beginning of the game as they approach the Obra Dinn via rowboat, and that's all they'll ever say.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Third Mate Martin Perrott opens up the lazarette and gives the Artifact of Doom back to the last mermaid in exchange for sending the Obra Dinn back home, and receives several lethal wounds for his trouble, before he can make the creature understand. Although Perrott dies of his wounds, the mermaid holds up her end of the bargain... or she might have, if several attempts at mutiny hadn't got the rest of them killed.
    • Attempted by It-Beng Sia, the Formosan leader, who gives up his life to open the chest and activate the defenses that stun the attacking mermaids. Unfortunately, by that point nearly everyone else had been killed anyway, and all he really achieves is saving Second Mate Nichols and allowing him to carry the mermaids back to the Obra Dinn, sealing the fates of the rest of the crew.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: The captain, dealt a tragic hand and forced to kill the last of his crew as mutineers in self-defense, goes down in history as a murderer, and his estate is fined posthumously for it.
  • His Name Is...: The fate of Chioh Tan, who is killed mere moments before Captain Witterel can extract any details about the Formosan Chest or the mermaids. The (translator-aided) interrogation only makes it as far as 'there's a shell and it's dangerous'.
  • Hourglass Plot: The ship's manifest lists captain Robert Witterel on first position and seaman Samuel Peters last. The captain is the last person to die aboard and his fate is the last one listed in book, while Samuel Peters is the first casualty on the ship and accordingly his fate is the first one listed in the book. It's actually possible to play in a way that his death is the last one you see aboard the Obra Dinn.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: the methods of death include "speared" and "spiked", and a number of the crew members get skewered quite severely.
  • Impossible Insurance: The final resulting insurance verdict in the Golden Ending. While it does reward the estates of victims who died valiantly in the line of duty and punishes the estates of criminals with heavy fines, some characters who killed in self defense or accidents are labeled and fined as murderers, such as the Captain. Charles Miner, who tried to kill a monster but hit a person instead, is also labeled as a murderer.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Every character shot by a gun dies in that instant and no later. Which has a gameplay purpose as multiple deaths hinge on bullet trajectories.
  • Interface Spoiler:
    • One of crew members in the ship's log is Henry Evans. Since Henry Evans was the one who sent the player character the journal and the Memento Mortem pocket watch in the first place, it can be reasonably assumed that Evans made it off of the ship alive.
    • Some of the possible methods of death are oddly specific as well. What does it mean to be "spiked", for example?
    • Edward Spratt, the artist aboard the ship, isn't in any of his own sketches. Identifying his body is therefore trivial - it's the one with his signature, "E.S.," instead of a portrait in the journal.
  • Jerkass: Second Mate Nichols is revealed to be the most abhorrent member of the crew by an order of magnitude. His Evil Plan seems to have been to hold the Formosan royalty and their magic chest for ransom, killing an innocent man and framing one of the Formosans for his murder, resulting in his conviction and execution. Nichols then kidnaps the royalty and sets out with some other people in on his conspiracy, and ends up getting them all killed as he cowers in his row boat. When Nichols tries to bargain with the Obra Dinn as they catch up, he is dealt a very deserved Karmic Death by the last remaining Formosan.
  • Kill It with Fire: One of the crab riders is killed by being set on fire, with a midshipman unfortunately being caught in the blaze.
  • Late to the Tragedy: Five years too late, to the point where you don't find a single living soul left on the Obra Dinn.
  • Left Hanging: At a certain point in the game, you will run out of crew members to find and memories to explore. As a result, since the player is only privy to the events in which crew members die, much of the story of the Obra Dinn is left unfinished.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: The Memento Mortem has three abilities: it lets you hear the last moments of any person you see as a corpse, see the exact moment of their death and it lets you do the same to corpses you see in those visions, transferring an image of them into the present. The original owner, Henry Evans, uses these abilities to learn what happened in a locked room: he throws in his pet monkey through the grate, shoots it and pulls it back out on a rope. Then he uses the Memento Mortem on the corpse and makes his way back through the several other bodies in the room.
  • Magical Accessory: The Memento Mortem, a magical pocketwatch which allows the bearer to see and hear visions of the past at the very moment when a person died.
  • Man on Fire: The fate of Midshipman Charles Hershtik, as well as any unfortunate soul who opens the magic treasure chest.
  • Mathematician's Answer: When the main character is asked how their companion is supposed to hoist the (far too heavy) suitcase they brought with them onto the ship, their answer is "Carefully."
  • Metaphorically True: You can get the hidden achievement "Captain Did It" by blaming the Captain for all deaths aboard the Obra Dinn, since this is, according to the achievement description, "Loosely true, in the eyes of Company and Crown".
  • Multinational Team: Downplayed. The Obra Dinn is an East India Company merchantman, so a lot of the crew are British, especially English, but like most commercial vessels they pick up crew wherever they happen to make port (typically places where the British Empire has colonial holdings) and need a few more hands. As a result, a significant portion of the crew is not British-born. This has a gameplay impact, as it can help to identify who-is-whom when piecing together the record of what happened.
  • Multiple Endings: The ending changes depending on how complete your records are of who died and how; as soon as all the flashbacks have been seen, regardless of how complete your records are, it's possible to leave the Obra Dinn on a rowboat. The people responsible for the inquiry will be dissatisfied with a lack of effort if you didn't identify enough crew members' fates. Miss Jane Bird, one of the survivors, will also write a letter to the inspector commenting on their efforts.
    • If the inspector has solved 27 fates or less, Bird's letter will say that Dr. Evans died of disappointment; the book is so incomplete that it disheartened him to the point of worsening his health. He then used his last moments regretting having entrusted the inspector with the task. Granted, Dr. Evans was on his deathbed, but still!
    • If the inspector has solved between 30 and 56 fates, the letter will say that the book is incomplete, but Dr. Evans appreciates the effort, acknowledging the difficulty of the task. Bird will say that the remaining survivors: she, Emily Jackson, and Davey James, are content living in Morocco and asks the inspector to not write back.
    • If the inspector has managed to solve all 58 fates, the letter will say that Dr. Evans died pleased with the inspector's efforts. As an expression of his gratitude, he returns the book to the inspector along with an object necessary to complete it. Bird will then ask the inspector to not write back, as the memory of the voyage is too painful for her, Jackson, and James.
  • Mundane Utility: The Momento Mortem. A powerful artifact that allows the player to look back at the moment of a person's death, and it's used to... investigate insurance claims.
  • The Mutiny: Three of them. They all fail.
    • Second Mate Edward Nichols leads a mutinous expedition to the Canary Islands, with the Formosan royals kidnapped and the chest stolen. The mermaids track down their rowboats and slaughter almost all everyone involved, including the Formosans. Nichols survives the ordeal and catches up with the Obra Dinn, but gets gunned down in revenge by the one Formosan he left on the ship.
    • In Chapter IX. Escape, Gunner's Mate Olus Wiater broaches the subject of taking the ship and selling the Formosans' treasure with Fourth Mate John Davies, but they don't get far before Thomas Lanke overhears them and calls out to warn the rest of the crew. Lanke dies for his trouble, but the would-be mutineers are killed in the resulting fracas as well.
    • The few surviving crewmen attempt to take the ship from the captain in Chapter X. The End, but Captain Witterel kills them all instead, leaving him as the last man alive aboard the Obra Dinn. He shoots himself shortly thereafter.
  • Never Found the Body:
    • Chapters IV, VII and IX all have 'conclusion' pages, allowing the player to enter the fates of crewmembers who vanished during that chapter without leaving a scannable corpse. They can generally be deduced by returning to the memory in which they were last seen alive, and determining what was *about* to happen.
    • The skeletons that can be found in the present day were bodies that were never found and/or disposed of by the crew. This makes sense for the last people on board the ship, since nobody was left to clean them up, but the trope then crosses over with Failed a Spot Check for John Naples, whose leg is found behind a staircase at the other end of the ship from which he died; Edward Spratt, who got strangled while using the ship's head (toilet) at the bow; and Zungi Sathi, who crawled into the portwalk to hide, got hit by friendly fire, and lay there dead without being found for the remainder of the voyage. The same goes for the unidentified stowaway in Chapter I, who died in a barrel, got neatly stored away and then nobody ever noticed.
      • Averted with Timothy Butement, whose leg is found outside the First Mate's window; investigating the first part of The Escape shows the First Mate leaving his cabin with a very serious I-have-a-dead-man-hanging-outside-my-window expression; in the next part, we see a topman climbing over the side of the ship near the body and the captain standing near him. This indicates that they were about to salvage the body, with the First Mate gathering crewmembers to help when they waltzed into the titular escape. This implies, that the events from Chapter IV to Chapter X happened during a stretch of a few hours at most, so certain bodies just got missed in the general chaos of everything that happened.
  • Nice Hat: The officers aboard the ship sport some nice hats. Special mention goes to Christian Wolff's top hat, Olus Wiater's mariner's cap, and Alfred Klestil's boater.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Focusing on the moments of death for the crew means that the player avoids seeing the (mostly) gruesome causes of death. However, that doesn't mean that you don't hear them play out. Sometimes they're quite mundane (such as the deaths caused by illness) but when you're listening to, say, a man being ripped apart by a giant squid monster...
  • Notice This: Remains that you can use the Memento Mortem on have moving specks of light (or flies) floating around them. In an environment where everything else is still, this helps in locating particularly small pieces of a body.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted, as the crew list includes both two Johns and two Charleses. Naturally, both pairs have one flashback each naming the person in conversation by first name only, requiring the player to deduce which of the pair is actually being referred to. There are also two Edwards, two Henries, two Samuels, two Thomases and two Williams, but no such confusion arises between them.
  • Ontological Mystery: To an extent. Finding out what happened to the ship's crew is important, but in doing so the player is slowly revealed to a second mystery: the purpose of the voyage and why it went so wrong.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: The mermaids are treated as "terrible beasts" by the game. They have claws instead of hands, react like feral monsters when attacked, and can shoot long spikes that make pincushions out of the crewmen.
  • Pensieve Flashback: The player character solves the mystery by finding corpses and using the Memento Mortem to look into their last memories.
  • Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: Averted: Although all four female passengers wear their periodic-style dresses at the time, Emily Jackson shows that she has a gun and is not afraid to use it when Leonid Volkov is attacking her and her remaining companions as they are escaping.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Prior to his apparent Sanity Slippage in Chapter X, Captain Witterel shows this during chapter IX when he threatens to shoot Leonid Volkov if he doesn't let the escaping party go peacefully. This also suggests that Witterel authorized them to take the lifeboat to begin with.
  • Red Herring: Quite a few of the choices for possible fates don't actually happen to anyone. There also doesn't seem to be a single murder committed by a "foreign enemy" as such — every death is down to an accident, illness, the sea-dwellers, or members of the crew.
    • Some seemingly obvious assumptions may also turn out to be wrong. For example right before dieing of his wounds the Bosun asks about "his frenchman". Another crewmember tells him he was "torn apart" by the kraken. One of the earlies memories of the kraken attack you come across has a crewman being torn right in half, front and center. This is not the Bosun's mate though, neither is he french. The actual Bosun's mate is a few meters away, last seen fighting a tentacle of the kraken, right next to his Bosun.
  • Retraux: Obra Dinn is a 3D, polygon-based game, but with a shader that renders everything such that every frame looks like a heavily dithered, entirely pixel-based image on a one- or two-color monitor from the early '80s. The game defaults to the off-black and off-white of the original Apple Macintosh, but can be tweaked to IBM, Zenith, LCD, and more, with stippled shades of grey and a slight glow effect from the brighter 'lit' pixels.
  • The Reveal: A nested series of escalating reveals as you go deeper and deeper into the ship. The captain put down a mutiny and then shot himself, the ship was attacked by a colossal squid and then invaded by giant crab-like horrors, the attacks occurred when Second Mate Nichols robbed the Formosans of their treasure and ended up summoning a host of mermaids, framing one of the royal guards for a murder he'd committed (that guard being the man killed by firing line in the 'Justice at Sea' sketch). The first two chapters are mild by comparison, containing a few deaths by sickness or accident. The final reveal, in 'Bargain', is that Third Mate Perrott gave his life to return the shell to the mermaids and free the sole survivor, and that the captain's steward, Filip, burned to death after getting his hands on the shell. Perhaps the greater reveal is that, supernatural though the plot might be, there was no eldritch madness at work. All the deaths that weren't due to monsters or illness occurred thanks to the usual combination of human cupidity, hatred, and paranoia, and even the monsters might have been avoided if not for the murderous Nichols and his party of thieves and kidnappers.
  • Reverse Whodunnit: All deaths that aren't accidents or illnesses have the killer very clearly performing the act, with the entire situation visible. The way that Show, Don't Tell is used gives players mental images of what is happening, with the sounds that the killer, victim, and witnesses make right up until the act itself is performed. Your goal as the player character is to deduce who died based completely on personal assumptions, and comparing other events with each other in order to piece together the full situation. Every three fates you deduce correctly are "locked" in place to save your progress.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Second Mate Nichols again. Chioh Tan, the last of the Formosan guardsmen shoots deserter Nichols for abducting his fellow travelers and framing Hok-Seng Lau for the crime. He tries to explain his actions, but the mermaids reawaken and attack before the translation is complete, rendering the whole thing moot.
  • Same Surname Means Related:
    • Two members of the crew have the surname 'Peters', which would probably go over the head of the player the first time they read the crew list - it only ever gets mentioned when one of the Peterses takes revenge for the death of his brother. However, the tricky part is identifying which Peters sibling is which.
    • Early on it's revealed that the Captain's first mate was his brother-in-law. Luckily his wife retained her maiden name, making it simple to guess.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Two groups of people try and get away with lifeboats. It ends very badly for the first group, since they try right as the Kraken attacks the Obra Dinn, and all of them are hurled into the deep. The second group, who does it after the attack, is much more successful, and its four members are the only survivors of the tragedy.
  • Sea Monster: The Doom is all about an attack from a giant kraken, with tentacles that tear the ship apart and crush several crew members as they try to fight it off.
  • Serial Escalation: In both directions. In chronological order, events get more and more over-the-top, but when viewed in roughly reverse order during normal gameplay, the player's discoveries become increasingly fantastical, from a giant octopus to crab riders to actual literal mermaids.
  • Sherlock Scan: Invoked. Your pocketwatch allows you to see and hear a reconstructed version of events merely by looking at a heap of bones, stains on the wall, or fallen timbers. From this, observant players can deduce the identity of just about everyone onboard by paying attention to not only the role they play on the ship, but also how they act in many situations.
    • Every single person has clues to their identity, with one such example being that the guys sleeping in hammocks in Chapter 2 have tags on the bottom of them that correspond with their number on the crew register.
      • Going a little further about analyzing the scene above, most of the sleeping crew keep their heads under their blankets and so names cannot be directly attached to their faces... but their shoes poke out, and players can match them up in other scenes by looking carefully at character's ankles.
    • Once you've figured out that some of the paintings group together the people who work under the same role and that the stewards all dress the same, it's possible to deduce several more key identities without their names even being said.
  • Shout-Out: In the "true ending" finale, a bookshelf contains a few items in displays:
  • Shown Their Work: Lucas Pope has stated that he has aimed for accuracy while designing the Obra Dinn. Even while considering the limitations, it is clear that he has done his research.
    • Captain Witterel's estate was forfeited to the Crown because he committed suicide. Suicide was considered a crime in England during the 1800s, and the penalty was to have the suicide's property forfeited to the Crown.
    • The giant crabs the crew are fighting are modeled after the Japanese spider crab.
  • Spike Shooter: One of the possible methods of death is "spiked by a terrible beast." One of the nastier things about the crab monsters is their ability to launch volleys of bony spikes with enough force to pin a man to the wall, through the chest and out the other side of the wall, from across a room, multiple times.
  • The Stoic: The protagonist. Corpses everywhere, mysterious visions, monsters in said visions... They never seem even slightly fazed.
  • Stray Shots Strike Nothing: Averted. One crewman dies when a bullet intended for a monster instead pierces the wooden wall behind it - and the unlucky crewman hiding on the other side.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Some characters die in the middle of a conversation, or whilst doing some mundane action on the ship, so suddenly seeing them in the middle of a gruesome death scene can be quite jarring.
  • Take Your Time: When you have seen all scenes, your ferryman will tell you there's a storm coming and you should finish up. Having seen what happens in these parts around storms, you may be tempted to hurry - there's no need to, especially since there is no Post-End Game Content. Once you're off the ship, the game has a denouement and is then over.
  • Taking You with Me: Winston Smith manages to kill the crab rider with his hand mortar, shortly before dying of his wounds.
  • Too Dumb to Live: You'd really like to fill that one in as cause of death for some people. Like the cook who jokes about cooking a still living mermaid that has already killed two people in the last five minutes and attempts to reach for a shell it's holding. And the foolhardy carpenter's mate who attempts to attack a much bigger threat. Not to mention the Captain's wife, who walks out on deck while the ship is being attacked by a sea monster to ask for the location of her husband.
  • Translation with an Agenda: Captain Witterel states that Hok-Seng Lau confessed to murdering Nunzio Pasqua during his execution, but in the very next scene it is revealed that Nichols was the one responsible. The player later finds out that a crewman who could speak both Chinese and English was in league with the actual culprit.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: In Chapter VII, Part 2. Surprisingly, almost no one seems to notice the kraken attack that killed Artist Edward Spratt at the bow of the ship, since most of the crew members are sleeping and some of them are having an early breakfast. Steward Paul Moss, on the other hand, appears to have heard something... a little strange going on...
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Second Mate Edward Nichols' personal greed sets off a chain reaction of events that ends up getting almost everyone killed.
  • Video Game Tutorial: Chapter 10 serves as this, introducing you to the mechanic of the 'memento mortem' watch -Chapter 10 includes some of the easier identities to discover as well, easing the player into the concept of using intuition and collected knowledge to solve the mystery.
  • Villain Ball: For Second Mate Edward Nichols: When returning to your ship after a kidnapping plan that goes awry because of the mermaids, disposing of the bodies of your fellow mutineers is one thing, but leaving your dead captives on a lifeboat along with the stolen treasure in front of your assassin who doesn't understand English is a bad idea.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: During A Bitter Cold, one crew member vomits off screen as a cow gets slaughtered on the orlop deck. You do hear him vomit, and you end up seeing the aftermath, but the lack of colour ends up softening some of the grosser details.
  • Walking Spoiler: In perhaps an unprecedented case, everyone. All members of the crew start out unidentified, and each provides varying degrees of insight into the overall narrative of the Obra Dinn.
  • Walk on Water: When you get to the second half of the two-chapter story arc (Chapter IV), you get the ability to walk on water and explore the ocean for clues, obviously due to the Memento Mortem allowing scenes to be frozen in time in death memories.
  • Weather Manipulation: The mermaids are implied to be capable of this. The attacks on the Obra Dinn begin with crab-riders boarding the ship exactly when a crew member is killed by lightning; they end when the Kraken leaves with the storm.
  • Wham Episode: Chapter 7: The Doom. It begins by interacting with a corpse in the captain's quarters, and features an attack by a giant squid. This chapter is also likely the first the player will see some of the more fantastical features of the story, exposing that the Memento Mortem is not the only supernatural element in play.
  • Wham Shot: Quite a few. Because of the structure of the game it's possible to encounter numerous different ones: such as finding the corpse of an enormous crab located in the cargo hold. Many of the deaths are in effect fully-navigable Wham Shots.
    • For people who only were used to the demo, the death of Abigail Hoscut-Witterel is this. Initially, her body was left as a teaser for things to come in the demo, with only vague ideas about her death available to hear. When you finally get to see her death in the full game, you probably did not expect it to be at the tendrils of an enormous sea creature.
    • There's also Part Two of "Murder", which is a wham shot when the player realizes that they're walking around inside one of the sketches they've been using to identify people.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Not every member of the crew gets their own specific death scene, so several chapters end with a 'conclusion' of who has been unaccounted for during the chapter - these people will most likely be the more difficult people to identify, since the player actually needs to find them during the death scenes.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The Memento Mortem treats the deaths of animals the same as it does for humans. In Chapter 2, a cow is slaughtered for its meat, which the player can see by using the pocket watch on its skull. This is also how Henry Evans shows the player the events of "The Bargain" by sending them his pet monkey's severed hand.
  • Whodunit: Also Whatdunit and To Whomwasitdun.
  • You Can't Get Ye Flask: It can be infuriating choosing the exact right verb for how certain crewmates are killed by the various monsters. Fortunately, some of the more ambiguous deaths accept multiple options as true - for instance, Abigail Witterel, who dies in the kraken attack, is crushed by a mast that the beast wields. The game will accept "clubbed by a beast", "crushed by a beast" and "crushed by falling rigging". Another example is that two of the people get their arms melted by the quicksilver in the Formosan magic chest, so both their fates can be either "burned" or "poisoned" or "electrocuted", whichever floats your boat.
  • You Killed My Father: Nathan Peters accuses Lars Linde of killing Samuel Peters, his brother, and clubs him in the head.
  • Your Head Asplode: It happens a few times. One of the crew is shot through the jaw into his skull, completely tearing his face off.

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