System: PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch | Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Ovosonico | Reviewed On: PS4
We, as humans, are drawn by the connections we make with others. Whether it be through physical interactions or digital messages, being acquainted with other like-minded people can bring a sense of joy & embrace that brings added value & in some cases, purpose to our lives. The sobering side of life is that one day, we must pass on; Memento Mori, as it's known in Latin. What makes death so much harder to process is that the deeper the bonds you share, the more impactful & heart-breaking such an event will affect you.
Today, we will be looking at a game that tells the tale of a person fighting this grieving process; portraying the beauty of their life & the cold reality of their loss. Directed by Massimo GuariniI & based on the 2013 song called "Drive Home" by UK musician, Steven Wilson, I present to you my review of Ovosonico's BAFTA-nominated 2017 adventure-puzzle game; Last Day of June.
Last Day of June tells the story of Carl & June; a couple who embark on a romantic trip to their favourite spot by the lake, embraced by the radiant sunset & the tranquility of their surroundings. En route home, they are involved in an accident which leaves Carl bound to a wheelchair. For June, she was not so lucky & she tragically succumbs to her injuries. Heartbroken & in solitude, Carl continues to be haunted by this day, leaving him wondering what could've happened if something played out differently; anything to bring the love of his life back to him.
Prior to her passing, June was an avid painter & was able to paint all of the village’s residents. But one particular evening, Carl notices something mysterious that occurs with her artwork & discovers that he can interact with them. By pressing his hand against them, we can revisit past memories from that tragic day through the perspectives of his fellow villagers.As the player, you embark on a journey as you piece together the events that occurred that day & those which led to the accident. Each painting represents a different villager which you can play as; from a child who wants to play to a best friend moving away, a hunter seeking his prey & an old man who helped June that day.
Whilst this concept is based in fantasy, it stands as a realistic representation of guilt & thought-provoking backtracking that seems natural for someone in Carl’s position. This mission of seeking the alternatives becomes a core aspect of the game, as you try to place the villagers in certain situations to see how they affect the events of that day & if there's any chance this horrible accident could or can be avoided.
The game naturally presents themes surrounding grievance & the process we go through as humans, as Carl appears as a shadow of his former self; left scarred by what transpired. It's a story that you can naturally sympathise with; knowing that the person Carl cared about is no longer with him. We see his sadness, numbness & anger play throughout creating moments that I empathised with. The discovery of the power of June's paintings provides a ray of hope for Carl; that June may come back to him.
Is it cruel to think June's return to life is possible? Is the game set within a reality that could allow such an act to take place? These were the questions on my mind throughout & naturally, I wanted Carl to reach a state of happiness after everything he's been through. I wanted to jump through the TV, give him a hug and keep him company bit of course, this is simply was not possible. Instead, I felt empowered as the play to will Carl on & help him seek out those answers he clearly wants to know; in hope that he could either reach a point of happiness or acceptance.
The game chooses to not have its characters verbalise any words, which was an interesting choice. Sometimes, actions speak louder than words & I found this to be the case as I began to interpret the tone of each character’s voice, their expressions & body language. You can understand the story from these elements alone & I never felt there was a moment that I couldn't interpret; asides from the ending. Without spoiling it, I felt the game does reach a wholesome & heartfelt conclusion despite the reality of its premise; providing a moment of self-reflection that was personally appreciated.
The unfortunate downside of this title is its lack of gameplay. Aside from the fluency of its controls, there wasn't much to do in this world expect for walking around the village, traversing its puzzle segments & discovering the effects each character's actions has on the outcome of this incident. I found that smaller interactions had no effect on the game's outcome (only key events) & my endeavours to seek the impact of minor conversations led to repeated viewings of the same concluding cutscenes.
The puzzle segments felt rather simple in nature. There was a couple of moments that stumped me, but nothing I wasn’t able to logically solve over time. The village acts as a mini-sandbox with minimal clues, which at least provided some element of challenge that I enjoyed figuring out. The game does provide a series of memories from each of the four villagers, which can be optionally collected. Each of the villager's 5 memories presents a photo that when compiled together, create a simple-yet-effective backstory to each person. I was very impressed with the way the game allowed me to become emotionally invested in its supporting cast through this limited use of exposition.
Due to this being a linear story lasting approximately 3 hours, there is unfortunately little replay value to the game unless you are wholly invested in the story it portrays. It’s certainly a title that you could replay once or twice a year, if you feel compelled after an initial playthrough.
Where the game lacks in interactive engagement, it makes up for in its presentation. The game is brimmed with visual potency; using a blended style of 3D animation, complimented with a array of vibrant & somber colour tones that accentuated the village's beauty & the tone of its plot. From the gorgeous sunsets to the dimly lit setting of Carl's home, the atmosphere it presents in each situation was effectively set by its creative team & in some moments, breathtaking to behold. It was a pleasure to explore this precious little town & my only wish was that it was a little more expansive; showcasing the rare treasures that I've personally found smaller towns provide. The game also retains the continuity of its presentation between gameplay & cutscenes, which made the experience flow without any notable interruptions.
If you have by chance watched Wilson's 'Drive Home' music video, you will notice a clear resemblance between both the video & this game. One of the reasons for this is due to the collaborative involvement of animator & director; Jessica Cope, who was the director for the 'Drive Home' music video. Jessica has previously worked on some notable projects including Frankenweenie & Metallica's "Here Comes Revenge" music video & her presence in this game felt that a level of artistic integrity was present. Her work in the video created a baseline that would allow the game to take a greater form with her involvement.
Steven Wilson is also on-board as the game's composer; making this feel like a more direct collaboration of his past work. Given the expansive nature of this concept from a 8-minute song into a 3-hour game, I felt it gave Wilson the ability to use the integrity of his near four decades of songwriting abilities to craft some emotionally-expressive tracks; allowing this interactive adaption to flourish audibly. The power of the violin & piano in 'Driving Home' was sublime, even the game's title track is a instrumental version of Wilson's delightful song 'Routine', which I thoroughly enjoyed.
It contains a beautiful arrangements of songs & as someone who has previously not delved deep into Wilson's back catalogue, it intrigued me to seek out his other musical works.
Last Day of June is a game that radiates beauty in the face of tragedy. It’s an effective expansion of its source material; presenting an emotionally-investable story, backed by a radiant visual style & an integral soundtrack that projects a high-caliber level of presentation. As a game, it unfortunately misses the mark; often feeling a little basic at times, but has some moments that felt fun to engage in. However, my negative thoughts does not mean that the experience is not worth your time.
It feels like a cross between a work of art & an interactive story, which will appeal to the senses & perfect to complete in a single afternoon or evening. The story also has potential to provide an emotional rollercoaster so if you feel prone to such a premise, be sure to grab a box of tissues & be prepared to be captivated by this emotive tale of love, loss & acceptance.