Last Day of June: review

Although there are some names you might find familiar attached – mainly Massimo “Murasaki Baby and Shadows of the Damned” Guarini and Jess Cope (if you don’t recognise her name, you’ll probably at least recognise Frankenweenie which is the highest-profile project she’s contributed to) – they really shouldn’t be necessary for Last Day of June to catch your attention. Just one screenshot or brief clip of the game in motion should do the trick. It’s clearly had a lot of love poured in; but is love really all you need?

So, yeah, let’s linger on the way this game looks for a while. We mean… wow, right? The art style is gorgeous. The fact that all the models have concave gaps where their eyes should be ought to be creepy, but it comes off as just as charming as everything else. The hand-modelled style of the people and animals, combined with the soft and luscious pastel colours and some great use of subtle lighting, ensure that LDoJ looks and feels like an interactive (and lovingly crafted) animated movie. The animation, too, is superb. Silky smooth, chock-full of personality, and peppered with humour. There’s nothing else quite like it out there.

You’ll soon wish that Carl would wake up…

Steven Wilson’s soundtrack provides a deep and beautiful background, a score given ample room to breathe thanks to the fact that there is no dialogue. What little speech there is, is nonsense Simlish-style language that makes everybody sound a bit like Mr Bean. Even on-screen text is almost entirely absent, present only one or two words at a time on the rare occasions it makes an appearance. This is a story-led game that relies entirely on visual storytelling.

The aforementioned story revolves around the couple Carl and June (though only June is explicitly named, and that practically at the story’s close). After a fairly brief period that we spend with them where it is made clear that they are deeply in love, they suffer a car crash. Fast forward a little, and Carl is in a wheelchair… and June is dead. Yet Carl soon discovers that, somehow, some of June’s paintings allow him to travel back in time to a few hours before the crash, and manipulate the actions of other people in an attempt to prevent it. Thus he repeatedly plays out the same day, desperately hoping that on his return June will never have died.

The obvious pop-culture reference is Groundhog Day (or perhaps Quantum Leap would be more appropriate), but it’s actually closer to Steins;Gate. You see, having solved the first puzzle (which is relatively simple, as they all are), the cause of the crash is removed. But it seems that Fate is determined that June must die, because that cause for the crash is immediately replaced by another. Then another, and another…

You never see what’s in the present box, but by the end you’ll probably have a good idea.

When in the past, you can neither control nor communicate with either Carl or June. Instead, you slowly go back and forth between three other inhabitants of the (very) little village in which the game takes place, with a fourth being introduced for the closing chapter. You’re omniscient so far as the events of the day within that village go; so, the idea is, you orchestrate people’s actions so that they unwittingly help each other out in order to create new paths and events that eventually lead to a happy ending for Carl and June.

It’s a neat idea that works in gameplay terms but not, in all honesty, in story terms. We were unsure of how to proceed in the early stages until we realised that the chronology is all over the place. For example, gates can only be opened from one side, and some gates can only be opened by a certain character due to their starting point. Open a gate with one character, rewind the day, and another character can now walk through that gate. Simple. Except that, often, it seems that the gate shouldn’t be open, because the first character shouldn’t have had time to go and open it yet. It’s even less plausible toward the end, when all paths are open at once as soon as you start the day.

We only consider that a minor criticism though, and it’s about the only one we have. You could certainly argue that the puzzles (which are not all gate-related) are a little too easy once you know to ignore the chronology. It’s a shame, too, that the whole thing lasts just a few hours. It’s a masterclass in how to tell a story without words, however, and the ending is suitably emotional. The brief yet astoundingly powerful epilogue succeeded in drawing tears from our cold, cynical eyes. If you want something unique with a strong heart, Last Day of June should be top of your shopping list.

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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