While playing Last Day of June a very simple realisation came to me: when we play video games, we almost always encounter death in one way or another. Most of the time, it is through battling enemies, or shooting opponents, or even racing to save someone from perilous danger. However, most of the time, the death is abstract, something that appears very casually on your screen – a kill streak or a prompt to respawn.
This is why Last Day of June felt like a breath of fresh air to me. Death in this game, permeates everything you do, affecting characters in a significant and meaningful way. Even beyond that, this game is about trying to deal with loss, whether of a loved one, a family member or a friend that left you – a feeling that all of us can relate to.
• Developer: Ovosonico
• Publisher: 505 Games
• Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
• Also Available On: PC
• Release Date: Available Now
In the game, you play as Carl, who lost his wife, June, in a car crash. Carl discovers that he can use June’s paintings of their neighbours to rewind time and relive June’s last hour through that character’s eyes. Having discovered how the events of their day contributed, Carl can rewind time again and attempt to correct it. However, having done so, Carl causes a Butterfly Effect ripple, that triggers another event with the same tragic outcome.
Throughout the game, as the player, you will inhabit various villagers – the Little Boy, the Best Friend, the Hunter and the Old Man – over and over again, in order to arrange the events of the day in such a sequence as to prevent the car crash. Your time-travelling leaves its effect on the idyllic village. The gates opened as one character, will unlock more areas for the next one. Sometimes, you will need to revisit someone’s storyline to make a minute change, that will impact the day of the next villager in a significant way.
When I previewed this game a few months back, I praised it for transporting players to important bits of the story, without replaying the same parts over again. After completing the game, this is still mostly true. If you successfully solved a puzzle as the Hunter and then had to backtrack in order to trigger another event for a different character, the game won’t make you re-do the Hunter’s puzzle in full again. However, if you are stuck and unsure what to do, you will end up in a loop where you spend several minutes seeing the same cutscene over and over again. There is no easy way to switch characters during their day and you always have to complete their sequence. This will then trigger the cutscene showing the day’s end and Carl and June’s car crash, even if you have not changed anything. The unfortunate side-effect of that is that the crash turns from sad and tragic event to an annoyance and looses all its emotional weight. However, some of the other game’s repetition is actually an important story tool and has a great pay off.
While the story of the game is primarily about Carl and June, by inhabiting the other characters you have an opportunity to learn their stories as well. There are collectible memories that can be gathered all around the village. They shed light on how other villagers have encountered loss as well. These are also equally touching if only mini-stories.
What I particularly like about Last Day of June, is that it uses ‘show, don’t tell’ principle for its story. Even the characters in the game don’t talk, but express their emotions through adorable nonsensical sounds. A diligent player will pick a lot of information just by exploring the village, looking at paintings in the houses, discovering ghost dioramas and watching how characters act with each other. So after you piece together a story, it feels particularly rewarding.
The characters themselves are also incredibly expressive, which considering they have no eyes and don’t talk properly, is an impressive achievement. Ovosonico, the developers of the game, worked with Jesse Cope, an animator on Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, and it absolutely shows. While the characters might look odd, even slightly creepy at first, they become endearing almost immediately. All of them have their specific walk which tells you a lot about their personality as well.
It is impossible not to feel something for the characters. You smile as they adorably run throughout the village or laugh at the goofy dog. Then, seconds later the game brings you back to sadness and then, with another loop of the rollercoaster of emotions, back for fresh air to the Little Boy enjoying flying the kite with the Old Man. The story, while overall not long, is really enjoyable. If I would looking to nitpick, I would say that it signposted one of its end of game twists a bit too loudly. When Carl discovers the secret, I knew what it was from the beginning. However, the overall ending still came as a bittersweet surprise.
It would be amiss not to mention the soundtrack. The game itself was inspired by Steven Wilson’s Drive Home, and he gave a lot of his songs to Last Day of June as well. The music is melancholy and beautiful, fitting the story perfectly. I would also recommend watching the video for Drive Home to spot its references in the game.
Last Day of June is a beautiful tale of Carl and June’s love that will make you sad, then smile and ‘aww’, and maybe even cry. Fine I cried, there, I said it. The narrative of the game might have stumbled in too many loops of time that can outstay their welcome, but otherwise, it is a perfect little game. Beautiful soundtrack and vibrant, almost impressionist-like look of the game, is another welcomed bonus. While the game’s puzzles are fairly simple, it is the narrative and the characters that will stay with you, and the end of this story you will want to experience.