By Jaime Skelton (MissyS), Editor-in-Chief
What lengths would you go to in order to save the one you loved? I have never been so unfortunate to directly face this question in my life, though I have pondered it in the many “what-if” scenarios that play through my head on restless nights. And while I feel strongly that I would be willing to do anything in the right circumstances, I also accept that there is also a factor of inevitability we all must accept in the course of our lives.
But what if there wasn’t? Last Day of June, a puzzle adventure game by developer Ovosonico (publisher 505 Games), offers a story in which the player explores the depth of this question in a richly artistic way. Featuring the artistic talents of director Massimo Guarini, musician Steven Wilson, and writer/animator Jess Cope, Last Day of June offers a wordless narrative on the nature of love, death, and acceptance.
The story puts players in control of Carl, a man who has suffered the loss of his beloved June in a tragic accident. Awaking one dark night alone, Carl shifts into his wheelchair and makes his way to the kitchen to make a meal, only to find that a mysterious light and presence has appeared, giving life to the paintings in June’s abandoned studio and bringing memories alive in ethereal forms in the cold night outside.
Soon, Carl discovers that he can use these paintings to enter the lives of a few of his neighbors on the fateful day of the accident: a young boy, a close friend, a sport hunter, and an elderly man. These sequences allow the player to take control of these other town members, at first seeing what actions led to the accident before taking the opportunity to change these events in an effort to save June from death.
The scenario plays out like a melancholy Groundhog Day, as players must puzzle out what actions to take in order to earn a new outcome. As more characters become available, players must switch between each timeline, even using the actions of the characters to help make new areas accessible for each other. There is a lot of trial and error, and a lot of repetition, in this gameplay. My heart became numb to the accident as I watched it play out over and over, and while many of the cutscenes are skipped or shortened in repeat character playthroughs, there were times I simply wanted to tell the game “just play this outcome.” And as the game offers no guidance, there were a few times I needed an outside hint to help me figure out what I could do to change events in certain timelines.
During Last Day of June, players can also find memories of the characters, small blue spheres which unlock photographs of their past. Each character, outside of Carl and June, has five memories which come to illuminate their character, giving them a greater sense of place in the events of that day. While each of these mini-stories is shallow, it is enough to give empathy and understanding to the characters who have no verbal dialogue.
The controls of the game are simple, primarily focused on moving and interacting with a button when prompts indicate the character can take action. Both keyboard/mouse and controller options are available, though I feel the game is better experienced through a controller due to its more fluid movement controls.
The story’s ending is predictable, hints slowly revealing a greater truth behind the events unravelled – and yet it retains an emotional impact that will still have you grabbing for tissues as the end credits play. In fact, I had barely calmed my tears when the “true ending,” which plays post-credits, had me bawling again. It’s an ending which carries a message of acceptance and continuity.
Although Last Day of June is more than a “walking simulator,” I have to remark that it is one of the most gorgeous video game experiences I have encountered. The art style is as if someone breathed life into an impressionist painting, and although the lack of eyes on the characters may give a “creepy” vibe from a distance, they also force the player to focus more intensely on the non-verbal communication and action. Though some have criticized the choice to have no voice acting or written dialogue, I applaud it: by doing so, Last Day of June strips away the nuances of language and culture to focus more closely on a relatable human experience.
Last Day of June is available on Steam for $19.99, and takes approximately two to three hours to complete. Players looking for more action or gameplay will be turned off by the price and short play time. For those who appreciate cinematic gaming experiences, Last Day of June is an essential purchase. While it falls short of being a masterpiece, due to a predictable plot and repetitive gameplay sequences, it still stands as one of the most emotional and beautiful titles available, a testament that video games are art.
Final Rating: 4/5
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.