A couple sit on a pier, completely at ease in their contentedness with each other. The sun is setting, casting a gorgeous orange hue over the water. It’s picturesque, the kind of stock photo that travel agents would kill to have in their portfolio. Carl loves June and June loves Carl – it’s an image you could happily stare at forever.
A cold breeze is the catalyst for change. Carl gives June a blanket without knowing that it’s one of the last meaningful and loving moments the two will share.
Last Day of June is a narrative-driven game with heavy emphasis on the themes of loss and acceptance at its core. Its characters are eyeless and almost entirely featureless, though that doesn’t stop them from being relatable. Through small gestures in body language, Last Day of June manages to convey everything without saying anything.
Set in a small village with Carl as its primary protagonist, Last Day of June is all about the small things that can change the big picture, how the seemingly most inconsequential of decisions can leave a lasting impression, and why there are just some things that you can never change.
To delve into the plot would ultimately be to spoil the entire experience – it’s so intrinsically tied to the game that it’s impossible to not bring it up. While other reviews have effectively just barreled through the entire plot, Last Day of June really has to be played through for you to “get” it. For that reason, this is going to be a short review.
It’s a stunning game, gorgeous vistas awash with vibrancy and environments overwhelmed with melancholy in every other scene, almost as a blatant juxtaposition. The nearest touchstone in terms of visual style would be Campo Santo’s Firewatch, and although there aren’t as many captivating sights in gaming as walking out of your watchtower for the first time, Last Day of June’s village isn’t too far behind.
Its inhabitants are the aforementioned Carl and June, The Boy, The Old Man, The Best Friend, and The Hunter. They all have their own stories to tell and you can play as all of them, but their main purpose is to serve as conduits for the game’s themes. You don’t really play as them, just the impressions of them and what they did on that fateful day.
Gameplay wise, Last Day of June is bare bones – you can almost see the marrow, in truth. You can pick up or look at items with X and occasionally change things up a little with square, but apart from moving with the left stick, that’s basically all you have. It’s a conventional narrative-driven game in the sense that your hands can almost let go of the controller for most of it, so your mileage may vary depending on how you enjoyed the likes of Dear Esther and What Remains of Edith Finch.
The gameplay loop is centered around puzzles that, although not that challenging, may do enough to drag you out of the game’s sense of agency. You can switch between characters and do different things and see how it impacts the overall story arc, whether that be picking up a piece of rope or having a dog by your side or not. However, the Last Day of June’s logic is slightly off-kilter at times. Instead of having X do Y instead of Z, why doesn’t X just do nothing at all? Realistically avoidable or circumnavigable obstructions are another minor annoyance; characters not being able to go to certain places when they could really just duck underneath or over obstacles.
Repetition is also the enemy of Last Day of June. As fun as movies like Groundhog Day and Source Code are, the hook doesn’t translate quite as well here, mainly because of how stilted it feels to go through every scenario again and again and watch the same unskippable cutscenes. This causes a bit of a disconnect with the characters – there’s only so many times you can watch tragedy before you become disaffected.
Still, the hook of Last Day of June’s story was enough to draw me in and keep me invested through its two hours, though the fact that it -more or less- wimps out on the angle it was forlornly trudging towards is disappointing. It’s a brief affair, but one that will make you cherish your own precious memories of those you’ve lost once the credits roll. You might even like it more if you’re a Steven Wilson fan.