Losing a loved one is hard to fathom until you actually experience it yourself. Grief is a natural reaction when you lose a person in your life that you love. It’s the heart-breaking outcome when you develop emotional connections with other people in this world including your family and friends. Last Day Of June – originally released in 2017 – deals directly with these unpleasant themes in the most beautiful way possible, with much reliance on its stunning aesthetics and soundtrack.
The Italian-based studio behind Last Day Of June originally wanted to create a game that would appeal to people who didn’t play video games, or even necessarily like them. With the belief that video games aren’t adverse when it came to storytelling, this release was the end product. It's an adventure-puzzle title with a strong focus on a narrative centered around the above-mentioned themes – while using the most unconventional storytelling methods possible. No dialogue, no text and even no eyes on the characters. This peculiar art style, as well as the animation and setting of the game, is credited to Jess Cope, who worked as an animator on the Tim Burton movie, Frankenweenie. The core idea of the game also draws inspiration from the song ‘Drive Home’ by British musician, Steven Wilson.
You are placed in the shoes of Carl, a man from a small village who is involved in a car accident with his wife, June. Unfortunately, the tragedy takes June’s life and Carl is left wheelchair-bound. Left to grow old by himself, Carl carries on life as best as he can until one evening he discovers he can change the outcome of past events using the magical power of his wife’s paintings. Desperate to prevent his devastating loss, Carl travels back in time by interacting with the memories contained within June’s works of art.
The premise from here onwards is comparable to the 1993 film, Groundhog Day. Basically, you’ll be required to solve puzzles around the village with a handful of other villagers as you attempt to stop the car accident from happening. As short-lived as this entire story is, you’ll take control of a number of fleshed out characters – with their own memories littered around the village – including a young boy looking for someone to kick his ball with and a woman who is moving out of her home.
Disappointingly, the puzzling and adventure sections are probably the weakest aspects of the title. There’s nothing particularly striking on offer. Every character you take control of typically requires you to find an item around the village, or within a house, that then needs to be relocated to another location in the village. Effectively, you’re just doing a series of fetch quests. One of the tasks involving the young boy, for example, requires him to connect a rope to a poll so he can exit his tree house. From this point, he must walk around the village asking fellow villagers to play with him. One pathway in this case leads to the car accident whereas the other saves the boy from the trauma altogether. If you decide to end your day early, or happen to not correctly solve a puzzle – expect a bad ending and be prepared to start again. At the very least, incorrect decisions make the solution more evident.
One common problem is the imbalance between the game holding your hand with obvious hints and in other sections lacking a substantial amount of guidance. On other occasions, you may feel as if you have no real say in the matter. There’s not as much freedom here as there is in certain other games.
An extra layer of depth to the puzzle and adventuring is how actions of villagers carry across to other character play sessions. This means one villager can impact another on a separate playthrough. As all of the houses in the village are divided by fences, only particular characters can unlock certain gates and sections of the village. This means you’ll encounter minor setbacks regularly. Each character also tends to have unique traits, granting them exclusive abilities – such as the boy who can kick and throw his ball at various objects around town. Fortunately, all of the villagers are able to move at a fast pace, making the sluggish pacing of the puzzling just a little more tolerable. This also makes up for the fact you’ll have to view the same or similar sequences over and over again, as there is no option to skip cinematic cut scenes if you do feel you’ve seen enough.
Any form of character interaction in the game is made up of incomprehensible ramblings - it's an odd choice for such a poignant game, but the powerful sentiments of its themes remain intact nonetheless. Fortunately, the colourful visuals add enough life to each character, and the game world itself resembles a beautiful water-painted canvas. However, the technical shortcomings, in terms of performance, detract from the overall quality. The inconsistent framerate further contributes to this, and makes character actions and movement even slower.
The soundtrack is a redeeming quality, though – with sombre music that perfectly captures the moods of the many scenes and characters on-screen. This is not surprising given the fact the title was based on the composer’s material. Wilson has seamlessly interwoven his work with the gameplay.
Looking past the mediocre puzzle and adventuring elements as well as the cinematic repetition, Last Day of June excels at storytelling – conveying emotion on-screen in a way few other games manage to achieve. The developer has admittedly done a sound job at making a title involving such depressing themes as beautiful as possible – through its unique animation, perfectly synced soundtrack and stunning visuals. If you do intend on playing this, the ending is as catastrophic as it is comforting.