Last Day of June

I played a bunch of shorter games in August and September, so still trying to catch up on the posts for those, weee!

I don’t remember how I came across it on Steam, but from its store page, Last Day of June certainly looked drool-worthy!  Absolutely gorgeous graphics and it was noted to be an interactive, story-rich game on love and loss, in which you play as a wheel-chair bound man, Carl, trying to prevent the tragic circumstances that resulted in his injuries, but worse killed his beloved June and their unborn child on the way back from a special outing where she’d planned to tell him about said pregnancy.

This game does have some great things going for it.  The graphics were indeed as beautiful as promised, the music is excellent, and Carl and June are absolutely adorable together, both in the opening prologue before said tragic accident, and in flashbacks seen during the game.  Their relationship seems to have solid foundations and took them through both happy times, sad times, a time of deep depression for June, and just life in general.  They are supportive of each other’s aspirations and really, so much richness in their relationship can be seen throughout the game in all the details of their home and, of course, Carl’s determination not to lose her.

The controls are pretty simple, allowing you really focus on the story itself as you slowly assemble the pieces of that day and what led to June’s death.  There are four major characters in the town, besides our loving couple, plus a dog.  You play as each, in part, figuring out how their actions during the day led to their contributions to the accident, and this does a wonderful job of playing out the “what if” idea and showing how a seemingly small change in something could make a huge difference.  From a man deciding to fly a kite with a boy instead of the boy being ignored by all the adults and left to play with the dog, to multiple bundles of rope being found and made available, events and actions that had significant changes to the way the day played out, and figuring out the way to puzzle each one together in the right way is an interesting challenge.

Unfortunately, the game leaned WAY too hard into wanting the player to feel the same frustration as Carl but forcing you to repeatedly watch the exact same sequences over and over and over again.  Even though you already know, crap this leads to this and try again, you can’t skip it.  Regardless of whether it was the “right” choice or not, you will still have to watch the eventual results of the entire line and it gets incredibly tedious.

The secondary problem with the game is with the other characters: the aging pastor, the hunter, June’s best friend, and the boy.  Whereas June and Carl are fairly grounded in reality, the rest are so over the top stupid and cartoonish that it is an off-putting distraction.  The hunter keeps running around town firing a gun at a bird, everyone ignores the kid, June’s friend decides to just load a truck with her stuff to ridiculously high levels and not secure the load, the pastor is stingy with freaking rope.  I mean seriously, it’s like playing two games at once.  The bittersweet tale of June and Carl, and then the TSTL people who you really would be perfectly fine if you could make them die in June’s place.  There are collectible bits for each of them that also give them more context, through a picture book, but it just doesn’t undo the damage done by the weird characterizations.  (and I still don’t get the point of having June’s seeming BFF be in love with Carl, it goes absolutely nowhere and just makes her seem really pathetic and weird to decide that it was finally time to leave?)

And then, there are the design choices in terms of artistic design.  The characters are all eyeless, literally just pits where their eyes should be.  And, for no apparent reason, they are all apparently 3’ tall, adults and kids, or their fences and houses are all 20’.  Either way, the adults are shorter than a normal white picket fence and so they can’t reach over it to unlatch it, leading to the required mechanic of playing through each character’s story multiple times so you can access stuff unlocked by another, implying that the actions are changing each one’s story.  If it wasn’t so hamfisted in, it would be great, but it is almost as if the game makers couldn’t decide for sure if it was going to be silly or serious and ended up with a Frankenstein of the two.  

The comedic aspects of the visuals and the sheer idiocy of the NPCs certainly do provide the laughs, though they really weren’t what I was wanting or expecting.  I went into it presuming the game would be more grounded, and that the overall mood would better fit what is otherwise a beautifully told, heartbreaking, and painfully relatable story of grief and accepting the limitations of what we can and can’t control in our lives.   That we can’t hide from grief or pain, nor can we escape it forever.  Life is full of good and bad, of happiness and pain, and living with both is part of being human.   Overly focusing on the past and playing “what if” when something painful has happened can lead to darkness and self-destruction, and ignoring that which we still have in the here and now.

Though it is only three hours long, Last Day of June would have been better served by being even shorter, from adding a skip ability to replaying the same scene.  I probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone at full price, but it is worth picking up on sale as the main story is still a wonderfully told tale that can stir up the feels, or perhaps the rage depending on how you interpret the dialog-less progress of the story.

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