The powerful yet ordinary love of June drives Carl every day. He lives for her and she for him. During the opening moments of Last Day of June, a sense of narrative pours out of your monitor. A tender moment in a special place is depicted through gorgeous visuals, it's almost like living in an impressionist painting of a Pixar movie. As the two lovebirds sit beside a lake, a cold wind sweeps through the scene. June shivers and Carl, the gentleman that he is, heads to the car to grab a blanket or coat, something to keep June warm. On the way, you're prompted to pick a flower for June. It's in these small details that their relationship is superbly told, conveying emotion through actions. Especially important as there is no real dialogue, just a series of incomprehensible grunts and murmurs.
As it turns out, that gust of wind was a warning, a precursor to the storm which quickly invades the scene. As the rain tumbles down around them, Carl and June run back to the car and drive off as puddles form all around them. After a heartbreaking scene with Carl, we learn that June died in an accident whilst making their way home through that hazardous storm. As Carl jolts awake, alone, the game's tone is set. What begins is a mysterious set of circumstances in which Carl relives the day through the eyes of various characters who live in the village. All the while, dreaming of how if one small thing changed, it could save the life of his beloved.
That narrative feeds brilliantly into the gameplay. While the village is small, it's exceptionally well-designed, as you play as the first of four other characters, you realise that certain areas are cut off. You also realise that these areas will be opened up later on. It's not only Carl and June's story that we get to experience but the other playable characters too. It's one of the things I liked most about the game, featured throughout the village are 5 collectibles for each character which open up story 'cards' for each of them. Each card tells part of their story which helps to fill in the relationships between them all. Whilst the main story uppercuts you with emotion, these small jabs of emotion really add something special to the game.
To collect those cards, you must return to each characters day multiple times. For example, when you play as the second character, you can open up gates which were previously locked. Then, when you play as the first character, the gate is still open and gives you another area to explore. No card is hard to uncover but it does require a little extra thought whilst switching between characters. The further you get into the game, the more you appreciate how well thought out the village is (well, apart from the gates which even an adult can't open from the 'other side' - that seems like a major design flaw to me). Bumping around the level, solving puzzles oddly brought up memories of old PSX games, Jersey Devil and Croc particularly. It's hard to pin point why this was, probably a combination of a small vibrant area, the style of the collectibles and the simple puzzles. Certainly not a bad feeling to evoke!
As you perform various acts in each day, you'll jump back to a different character, and, like the gates, each act you perform helps another character have a different day. This is important as their day results in the death of June. Can you save her if you can remove each danger in the journey home? A slight problem with this mechanic lays in seeing the same scenes multiple times. To Ovosonico's credit, the scene is shortened each time to make this bearable but even in a short time, it does provide a little annoyance. A probably necessary one, but one nonetheless. What probably isn't necessary, however, is the inability to skip them.
Beyond the puzzles, there isn't much gameplay to be had. You can explore the areas, learn a little about characters by inspecting various items but if you're looking for innovative, exciting gameplay, you're looking in the wrong place. And actually, as a purely narrative game, the puzzle mechanics fit really nicely. I've lost count of story-driven games I've played in which features are forced in just to extend running time, or to make it feel more like a game. In Last Day of June, everything feels natural, like it belongs. That portrays a certain confidence on Ovosonico's part and they ought to be applauded for it.
The story is a simple one, but it's well told and really does tug on your heartstrings (do hearts have strings?). It's backed up with a fitting soundtrack that helps to set the scene. Only natural when you consider that the game is based on a song by Steven Wilson (you might recognise Carl in the Jess Cope animated video). It's backed up with great animations, animations in which attention-to-detail is clearly evident. It feels more like a game that Pixar would create than anything before it and while it doesn't quite reach those highs, it's a valiant effort. That said, there are a couple of niggling issues I have with the story, the first is that certain parts felt a bit contrived, a little bit too coincidental. It only slightly takes away from the game and the more I think about it, the more it feels like a necessary evil. Wary of spoilers, I won't say more. And neither will I say more about a potential plot hole in the ending. I say 'potential' as I'm not sure that what we see on the surface portrays the actual meaning behind the story.
Whilst I've touched on the graphics (they really are beautiful) there was another slight annoyance. It seemed to me that there's a depth of field effect which is overpowered. At points, it felt like I'd taken my glasses off. It feels like I'm nitpicking on certain factors but it's those small things that break immersion just a little and although they don't ruin the experience, it would have been even better without them. Even with these small issues, the overall journey is fantastic and one I'd suggest to any fan of story-driven games.
Review code authorized and provided by Wonacott Communications.
A fantastically well-told story, a lovely soundtrack, beautiful animation, and enjoyable, if easy puzzles. Last Day of June isn't the best 'game' but it's accomplished in every other area.
- Beautiful, Pixar style graphics and animation
- A fantastically well-told, even if simple story
- Small but well thought out environment
- Repetitive, unskippable cutscenes
- Blurred graphics due to an overly strong depth of field