What would you do to save the one you love? Climb the highest mountain? Slay a dragon? You would do anything, surely? Do you know what the hardest, most painful thing is in reality? It’s not to face a physical adversary, or a challenge or choice you are aware of. How about reliving your loved one’s last day over and over again, in the belief that you can change the past? Could you do it, as you wade through the stages of grief?
The Burton-esque is strong with this one. Last Day of June is based on Steven Wilson’s heart wrenching music video ‘Drive Home’, which was directed by Frankenweenie animator Jess Cope. Ovosonico’s Massimo Guarini teamed up with these creative giants to present a wordless tale of love and loss. The result? Last Day of June is a narrative focused, interactive puzzle adventure, told entirely through haunting ambience and the visual landscape of the lives of one devoted couple.
As you begin Last Day of June you are confronted with a striking, bulbous headed, eyeless couple – who make oddly endearing sounds at each other and live in a village made up of impressionistic paint daubs. It certainly appears goofy, simplistic, and charming enough to begin with. The daily lives of June, her husband Carl, and the neighbours play out in a seemingly innocuous fashion. June is looking for the perfect location to place Carl’s surprise gift, while he peacefully dozes in his chair, and she totters around leaving various romantic gestures in her wake. Inspiration strikes June as she comes across an image of their favourite spot by the lake. You are introduced to this peaceful locale at the very start of the game, which is designed to give you a feel for the minimalistic navigation mechanics, storytelling, and the chance to lovingly place a flower in June’s hair. Awww.
Carl awakes with a start, as the village gent fires his shotgun toward the sky, and peers out of the window for the source of the sound. A local boy asks Carl to play ball but he refuses, as has every other villager, and decides to look for June. June has excitedly prepared the surprise trip to the lake where she plans to present Carl with the mysterious gift, and so they set off without a care in the world.
Carl begins to open his present, but suddenly the once serene and colourful surroundings are engulfed in darkness. A storm approaches and they dash to the relative safety of their car to drive back home. At least, that was their intention – fate had other plans. Alas, the car veers off course and results in a devastating car crash, leaving Carl wheelchair-bound and June is lost forever…
This event haunts Carl in his nightmares. However, mysteriously after June’s death, he ends up with the ability to travel back to that fateful day via June’s paintings which act as portals. As you restore each painting to June’s art studio, Carl can witness the day from the perspective of each neighbour: the Kid, the Best Friend, the Hunter, and the Old Man. Remember the boy who wanted to play ball? Someone bloody should have done! I thought, as I experienced the day from the Kid’s perspective. The most fleeting of moments you encounter in the game’s opening, such as this, reappear as something far more consequential than you would have imagined. It’s as maddening as deciding whether or not you choose to have a snowball fight with Ciri in Witcher 3, which could generate dire end-game consequences…
Before long you become like Carl, obsessed by the puzzle and your niggling ear bee which rattles about buzzing: ‘ if you just change that small, innocuous event then maybe, maybe, June would have lived. If it wasn’t for the Kid playing ball dangerously with the Hunter’s dog due to loneliness, or the Best Friend’s terrible packing method, June would be alive…’
Last Day of June is a purveyor of life’s ‘what if’s’, and poignantly represents the human psyche during times of grief and hardship. As you explore the minutiae of Last Day of June there are no thumb breaking mechanics, just simple exploration and interaction. Making sure you remain at Carl’s pace, as you journey through what can only be described as a series of nightmares.
The repetitive nature of the scenes aren’t generally an issue, considering what Last day of June sets out to achieve; it’s a central mechanic representing the nightmarish ordeal of grief and obsession. However, it’s worth pointing out that once you are committed to a painting portal, there’s no going back. While the scenes become shortened and flash through to the point of choice, if you’ve selected a painting by accident there’s no way to skip or return to the studio, which can affect the experience.
Aside from the primary objective to adjust the past to save June, the only other side activity available involves the collection of each villagers’ memories. All present stories of loss in one form or another, and paint a clearer image as to why the characters are in the position you find them in on June’s last day. This adds a surprising amount of depth to what is a very compact setting, and gives you the chance to interpret events in different ways.