Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: PC, PS4
Rating: E for Everyone
From a team that consists of the director of Shadows of the Damned and an animator for the film Frankenweenie, comes Last Day of June. It is a game that wants its players to consider how far someone is willing to go for someone they care about. The end product is an interesting tale of love and fate that uses the manipulation of the past in a unique manner that remains engaging throughout the game. It’s unfortunate then that there are a few missteps in the way the story is told.
Violence: The game revolves around a fatal accident. One of the characters is a hunter.
Positive Themes: The story centers on a man’s devotion to and love for his wife.
The game’s graphical style is one of the first notable things in Last Day of June. It’s certainly a unique presentation as you can see from the screenshots. It’s almost as if Tim Burton decided he wanted to make a video game, but decided orange and purple would be his primary colors. This choice in aesthetic and style are pleasing to the eye, but it can be a bit jarring that the characters don’t have eyes. Perhaps it just didn’t fit with the vision for the game, but eyes are extremely important in expressing emotion, especially in a game like this where there is no spoken dialogue (just grunts essentially).
Despite the lack of eyes and dialogue, Last Day of June still manages to successfully express what it needs to express. There were a few times when I wasn’t quite sure what the characters were meant to be doing or saying, but this was never during an integral moment. For the most part, no eyes and no dialogue work. The characters being successfully expressive is important in a game like this that is trying to tell a meaningful story.
The story itself revolves around a man named Carl, who, after an accident that left him in a wheelchair and his wife, June, dead, discovers he can revisit and manipulate the events that led up to the accident. The goal is immediately clear: change the past and save June. The problem with this setup that is quickly noticeable is that June simultaneously manages to be both damseled and fridged. While we are able to play as June for a brief period of time, and she is characterized a bit by Carl’s memories, she ultimately exists in the story to evoke an emotional response as she dies over and over again as Carl tries different edits to the past. There was no real logistical reason why the roles of June and Carl couldn’t have been switched to avoid playing into stereotypes. It’s an unfortunate story telling decision, but it ultimately does little to harm the emotional impact of the story.
The plot very much plays with the idea of fate. The game makes you wonder how the rules of time manipulation work in this universe. Each fictional universe tends to have its own rules about time travel and part of the intrigue of Last Day of June is figuring out what rules it subscribes to. Can the past even be changed? Is time just resistant to change, but can ultimately be changed with the right edits? These questions are what ultimately drive the player to the ending. In fact, wanting to find out how Carl was going to eventually deal with these rules was more of a driving force for me to see the ending than learning of June’s fate. I think the ending will be unsatisfying for some, but it avoids being overly simplistic. For the most part, it subverts expectations which is great, but it also manages to play into stereotypes a bit again.
The gameplay requires you to do some light puzzle solving as you play through the lives of various characters who all had an impact on the day of the accident. Essentially, only some characters can open up some areas of the map. So you may have to have one character unlock an area or cause something to happen and then switch to another character to proceed. It’s never overly taxing or confusing, but it also is not overly simple. It strikes a nice balance between the two, which is good because the narrative is important to the game and it would be counterintuitive if it got buried under puzzles. You can also learn more about the characters you’re playing as by finding 20 memories (5 for each of the characters you play as in the past) scattered around the town. These memories also may be blocked off until you unlock the way with another character. It’s ultimately fairly inconsequential, but adds another layer to the game should you choose to explore it.
The one major problem with the game is the actual act of switching between characters. You have to pick a character, view the start of their day, pick an ending to their day, and then watch the ending to their day. So every time you need to edit what a character did that day, you have to watch 2 unskippable cutscenes as well as get booted back out to select your character. This gets really irritating, really quickly, and it especially comes to a head during an ending sequence with 6 different variables and you have to watch a lengthy cutscene after each edit to see if you achieved the desired outcome. If not, then you have to go change things and watch the scene again. The game tries to cut out some extraneous parts when switching characters, but it’s really not enough.
At the end of the day (pun intended), Last Day of June is an intriguing game that presents interesting questions about the immutability of time and fate as well as showing the lengths people will go to for someone they love. The game fumbles its story a bit by relying on overused tropes and the ability to fast forward through some things would have been appreciated, but it’s ultimately a unique and thoughtful experience.
The Bottom Line
Last Day of June is a worthwhile experience marred by narrative decisions and unskippable cutscenes