This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all games, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
I found myself with a few spare hours and decided to spent it on a short, narrative-driven game and looking through my options I spotted Last day of June, which I realized I put off playing for more than a couple of years. I can’t remember what initially drew me to the game, but the reason I decided to play it now was the peculiar art-style and the wordless narrative experience (this is a 2017 game when that particular trend was on fire for indie developers); then I remember that this is a game inspired by Steven Wilson’s work and I start questioning why I haven’t seen too much discussion about this game. I no longer wonder about that; Last day of June is a thoughtful experience with some cool ideas, but it has some serious issues that will put off most people. Overall, it’s FINE, but the problems are so frustrating at times you can’t help but leave the experience a bit disappointed.
Last day of June is about Carl, desperately trying to change the past, which involves his lover June. For a wordless narrative, this is actually pretty straightforward and rather smart about how it handles that; the game uses a simlish-esque voice over that does more than enough to convey essential emotions and uses ambiguity to draw the player in. There are a few characters in the game and I gave them names to remember them by, which to my surprise where completely contradictory to what other people named the same characters. The story itself is not overtly ambitious or pretentious in any way; what it tries to convey emotionally is relatable and the story structure and progress are well handled.
What caught me off guard though was how much I actually disliked the art style, even though that is something that drew me in at the beginning. There was something about the blurry look of the background (I didn’t find any depth of field sliders) and the featureless faces of the characters that irked me; the faces, in particular, alongside the goofy VO straight out of a children’s cartoon reminded me a lot of a web series called “Don’t hug me I’m scared” or more appropriately (since Jesse Cope animator of Frankenweenie worked on this game) like a Tim Burton stop-motion film with characters that have feature-less faces. I like that it is unique, but in this case that’s not such a great thing. By far the worst offender though has to be the accident; as I’ve said many times before, I’m not a stigler for reality in my media, but that is always more of a frequent frustration I have with media criticism in general, not something I that doesn’t matter. Depending on the project it can be the most important aesthetic decision and Last day of June is no exception. There is a scene that is shown multiple times and each time it gets sillier in how goofy it looks; this is one of those cases where even making the lighting harsher to show how dark it is, would have worked wonders in believing that scene and not start laughing every time it shows it (which is a lot). However, when the lighting hits just right and the extra saturated look of the game works as intended (and I don’t look at anyone’s bizarre mass of yarn where their head was supposed to be) while the music swells, it is a very pretty game.
Gameplay wise, the developers clearly wanted something more involved than a “walking sim” and they’ve done exactly that, but it’s not as good as it could have been. The game is about changing the past, so Carl must figure out a way to prevent something from happening and while that idea is very cool and it actually works surprisingly well to draw the player into the “deduce the right solution” mind frame that makes gamers feel like Hercules Poirot, it is also very frustrating. For example, each time you can try and change something, first you have to see some cutscenes and then play out a guided way to finishing that story before starting the actual puzzle; then once you have figured it out, you have to do everything in the right order, otherwise you have to end the “vision” and start all over again, which is a lengthy process. There were some particularly aggravating instances that demanded use of multiple characters (which meant minutes spent going between them) just to get the few final collectibles.
Beyond that, I applaud a game that tries to blend gameplay and narrative in ambitious ways and Last day of June certainly does that; when the game doesn’t actively waste your time, it also largely succeeds in making a well written story feel more unique and interesting through the interactive elements added to it. As I already mentioned, I think its FINE and that has to do more with the story, how its presented, and some cool gameplay ideas, as well as the fact that Steven Wilson scored the game and it sounds great. There are a lot of frustrations that stopped me from falling in love with it and some weird visual choices that I wasn’t particularly on board with, however it is still a pretty game with a lot to convey and it does so in a fairly concise 3-hour playthrough; I certainly don’t regret giving it at least that and I don’t think most people will.