With death comes many feelings-grief, sorrow, sometimes relief, and almost every time, a yearning to change what’s occurred. Naturally, we think about what we could have done and depressingly, what we shouldn’t have done. Never, though, are we given the chance to see if things could have gone a different way. Last Day of June sets out to explore those feelings and the impossible ability to make the changes we deem necessary to prevent the outcome of death.
In Last Day of June, Carl and June, decide to spend the day together in a favorite spot just outside of their little village. Just as they have before, the couple spends the day relaxing and simply enjoying each other’s company. This date is cut short by a thunderstorm and ultimately, their relationship too is cut short by a tragic event destined to follow.
The game picks up years later with a lonely Carl, injured both mentally and physically by the events of that tragic day: the day he lost June. After a stroll through the house, now closed up and darkened by sheets and depression, Carl is presented with an opportunity to relive the hours before his love’s untimely death, but this time, from the perspectives of others in town–friends and neighbors alike. As these characters, you can change the events of those hours and in turn, the outcome of June on that fateful day.
Throughout the game, Carl’s grief is tangible. Without any true dialogue, the game’s use of colors, animations, spoken gibberish and body language shine through. Darkened colors speak to Carl’s deepening depression while his slumped shoulders and lack of eyes demonstrate his lack of true existence. He’s simply living out the rest of his days. Repeated gibberish quickly becomes a language that’s easy to understand.
Even the art style, which is somewhere in between the movies Kubo and the Two Strings and Corpse Bride (how fitting *cringes*), communicates the feelings our protagonist is working through. These unnatural-looking characters live within a watercolor painting, weaving from brushstroke to brushstroke as the town’s coastal wind blows through. Last Day of June’s art style is less passive as it leans heavily on it as a part of the story. Without it, this story certainly would have fallen flat.
Unfortunately, the art style can’t stop the gameplay from falling flat. What starts off as a smart and unique gameplay mechanic quickly becomes a chore. It’s not to the game’s detriment that all you do is walk around and press a button, as many games succeed on such mechanics. Rather, it’s what this mechanic leads to. Throughout the game, you’re completing tasks all in an effort to see if your actions will keep June alive. Upon completing the day, you’re forced to watch a cutscene of how your actions play out and their effect on June. If you fail to keep her alive, you will watch the same cutscene you’ve seen before. You’ll be prompted to restart and try again, this time making different decisions. If this doesn’t work, again, you’ll watch the cutscene you just witnessed. A few times isn’t too bad but because the gameplay relies on you trying over and over again to save June, you’ll be seeing that cutscene over and over again, with no ability to skip it.
Watching June die over and over again is especially damaging to the game because with each time you fail, the emotional impact of her death is lessened. Because the entire game revolves around you replaying the past, this flaw in design is particularly disengaging. If the premise of potentially saving June isn’t enough to keep you hooked, you’ll likely be done with this game in less than an hour.
Furthermore, even after succeeding with one particular character, you’ll discover that in order to save June from one character’s perspective, you’ll have to go relive the past of a character’s story you’ve already completed. The game is a time loop, where one character’s ability to save June stops another character from doing so. It’s a puzzle for you to solve but because you’re constantly resolving arcs you’ve already completed, which come with cutscenes you just watched over and over, it’s not a particularly fun puzzle to work through.
Now, Ovosonico did amend the repetition in some way–it will fast forward through actions you’ve already taken, but still, the cutscene (although sometimes slightly different) will still be replayed. When I reached the end, I felt satisfaction that I had finally completed this puzzle, rather than satisfaction that the story had ended. In a way, the gameplay robbed the story for my experience.
If this game took any longer than the four hours I spent completing it, I can’t say for sure that I would’ve made it to the end. Last Day of June’s brevity is one of its greatest accomplishments because of this. After having reached the end, I am extremely happy that I did stick around. It’s ending, albeit a tad predictable, was exactly what this story needed to matter. It kept me thinking about it for months, perhaps even years, to come.
Last Day of June succeeds when it focuses on the greater picture at hand–how humans deal with mortality, and ultimately, how they confront it. It’s the times that the game reminded me that it is in fact, a game, that I found myself ready to put the controller down.
A copy of Last Day of June was given to BagoGames by 505 Games for the purpose of this review.