There’s a lot of games coming out these days, in case you haven’t noticed. A whole lot, in fact. It’s hard to find time to play any given game, so developers need to take pains to trya nd stand out from the crowd. Some games go for unique gameplay, some go for really solid multiplayer and others…well, others just buy some assets from the Unity store, mash them together and try to sell the result on Steam to make a couple bucks.
With The Last Day of June, the second release from Ovosonico (developers of the bizarre Murasaki Baby), the focus here on strong storytelling, emotional involvement and a unique art style.
I’ll need to preface this one by admitting that a video game has never made me feel any emotion other than hunger. Certain games just make me more or less hungry. I Am Setsuna, for instance, brought about some pangs here and there. So, too, is The Last Day of June, in which we follow Carl reliving the day his wife June was killed in a car accident. You’ll take control of multiple characters all involved in that day in an attempt to change the past. It is heart-wrenching if you have a heart. I do not. I have only a stomach. Sandwiches are what I need, not tissues, and I’m less prone to the sort of breathless rhapsodizing that typifies reviews of games that try to inspire emotion. I’ve been hungry before, after all. This is nothing new to me.
As with many games focusing on emotional reaction as a selling point, there’s not a lot of gameplay here. The Last Day of June’s conceit is that it’s a take on the reliving-a-single-day theme popularized by the film Groundhog Day. In practice, it’s essentially a vast, interconnected puzzle comprised of button-presses; you’ll take control of characters to affect events that will impact other characters, whom you’ll take control of to effect further events and so on, ideally resulting in a situation where June is saved. There’s no small degree of trial-and-error involved, and every time you fail, June bites it again…and again…and again. In attempting to get everything just right, you’ll learn more about the characters you control and their own little personal worlds, but the focus is always on June, the accident and how things can be mended.
Kidding aside, it’s actually fairly moving when not being frustrating. Having to rewatch scenes is rarely a great addition to a game and that’s certainly the case here. The first time you see something new, though, tends to have some degree of impact. Further, while the game plays out largely as you might expect (and ends in a way I saw coming) it’s executed with artistry, especially given that the characters don’t actually speak so interactions are conveyed primarily via body language. The puppet-like nature of the characters and environments helps give the game a surreal sort of quality that makes the deadly serious event at the center a more intense weight.
Again, this isn’t the sort of game I usually play: I’m not especially fond of being hungry and one can only be thrown out of so many buffets. Still, I can’t deny the value inherent in a game like The Last Day of June – the way it approaches grief and loss is certainly different, even if yet again we see gameplay suffer as a result (and without compelling gameplay, why not just make a short film?) With that in mind, if you’re in the mood for a tearjerker, then The Last Day of June is worth a look.