I am under the firm conviction that video games are an art form; a medium which the artist uses to evoke and provoke certain feelings. While most great games make us experience the call to heroism or personal sacrifice, every so often, a game comes along and makes you experience uncomfortable emotions that lay dormant. Ovosonico’s and 505 Games’ Last Day of June is that type of art. This is our Last Day of June review for PS4.
Last Day of June seeks to tell the story of Carl and June, a married couple celebrating love and life together, drawing you in as June whisks Carl away on a whimsical date on a beautiful fall afternoon. It’s not long before a storm drives them back to their car and, ultimately, to tragedy. And so begins a game whose story along with your choices will seek to answer the question: “What would you be willing to do to save the ones you love?”
Let’s dive right in and talk about the story – with no spoilers, of course!
Since there is no dialogue in this game, Last Day of June’s story is told through body language, June’s paintings, vocal emoting, collectible photographs, and the individual character’s point-of-view. Relationship dynamics are implied between Carl and June and their neighbors. As you take on the role of each of the neighbors, you unpack their relationships with not only Carl and June, but each other. As you find more and more collectible tokens (each character has five), you begin to see why their relationships are the way they are.
From a gameplay standpoint, Last Day of June is a puzzle-solver. The puzzles are layered in such a way that the decisions you make with one neighbor impact the options available for the others. Not only that, the actions you take on one neighbor can open up areas of the village for the others to explore. While this is the main mechanic, the puzzles are not overly complex and the controls very simple… but they do take some time to solve. I’ll get more into that in a bit.
Let’s talk about the art. It’s quirky. It has a Tim-Burton-meets-Charles-Shultz aesthetic, but it makes sense when you discover that the director, Jess Cope, worked with Tim Burton. While I’m not typically a fan of Burton’s more macabre style, it was a bit softer than what I’d expect from Cope. It works.
From a musical standpoint, huge inspiration for Last Day of June was the music of Steven Wilson, more specifically, his song “Drive Home.” Wilson lends his talent to this endeavor to provide a soundtrack that fits the emotional tones of the game, from plucky ambiance portraying the whimsy of a child flying a kite to swelling, overdriven guitars and thundering drums to summon the terror of feeling trapped.
While there are several things I appreciate about Last Day of June, there are major some issues that I observed. Since much of the story elements were implicit, many of the mechanics of how to play the game and how to interpret the interface were left up to the player as well. I figured it out eventually, but these elements could use some improvement, but I’ll get to that along with the next issue.
As I mentioned before, the puzzles are simple, but they take a long time to complete. This was largely due to two major issues: character movement speed was pretty slow and there was no way to skip cutscenes. I imagine that this was intentional – to make the player continually experience the tragedy and keep it at the forefront. However, it had an adverse side effect of me: it took me out of the story. This is a huge problem when the story is the thing that is driving your game. After my third time experiencing the tragedy over again, I became numb to it…
Since keeping the player in the story of the game is the goal, it would have been interesting to see a shuffle mechanic in a sub-screen that could not only shows what actions each neighbor is taking but change them from that screen. This would cut down on a number of repeated cutscenes and improve the pacing of the game, ultimately, keeping your player focused on what matters.
I started this review by calling Last Day of June art. Despite my critique, I stand by my opening opinion and here is why:
Last Day of June, similarly to games like That Dragon, Cancer and To the Moon forces us to get in touch with emotional parts of our humanity that are messy. We don’t naturally handle conversations about loss or how to grieve in emotionally healthy ways – especially in video games – but games like these can be a powerful aid.
For me, Last Day of June tapped into some of my deepest fears: losing a loved ones, having my choices scar another person’s life, and feeling helpless to change awful circumstances – to name a few. And while it made me feel things that no one wants to feel, it figuratively brought me through the five stages of grief with its characters; further drive home the point that we are all connected to each other, we need community, and our choices could make all the difference.
Before you pick this game up, know what you are getting yourself into. It gets messy and you may only play it once. This is not a game you play for the fun, but for the feelings. So, be open to getting a little uncomfortable… and don’t blame the onions, it’s ok if you tear up a bit.
Note: Our copy was provided by 505 Games PR for review purposes on the PS4.
Last Day of June Review Score – 7/10
- Unique Story Telling
- Interconnected Puzzles
- Character Relationships
- Confusing Gameplay Elements
- Unavoidable Cutscenes
- Gameplay gets in way of experience