If you’ve read my review of Spiritfarer, then you’d know that it takes a LOT for a videogame to make me cry. SEASON: a letter to the future is another one of those games; narrative-driven art pieces meant to change your life forever. However, SEASON is more than just walking forward and watching the assets do everything for you like in What Remains of Edith Finch. Read on to see why.
In SEASON: a letter to the future, the world is about to end. Apparently this happens all the time, but it doesn’t affect Estelle’s idyllic village. Estelle decides to go on a spiritual journey to record the world in its current state before it ends. Thus, she leaves her home to accomplish this task.
While I normally don’t care about story, such a thing is vital to make indie games like this enjoyable. However, before getting into the plot, I need to preface this by saying that I personally don’t dig the core themes in the game. It’s partially about media preservation, which is something I’ve grown to care very little about for an admittedly dumb reason. I’ve forgotten much of my childhood, especially a lot of the really bad bits (specifically school).
However, much of my disdain toward my own childhood didn’t come until adulthood. A lot of the YouTubers I watch were kids and teens back when I was growing up, and through them, I’ve learned of some really cursed things that I was alive for. As an example, my first session on SEASON was on the day I watched the episode of the Disc Only Podcast where they talked about some TV commercials from the 1990s and 2000s that would be considered horrifyingly unhealthy by today’s sensibilities. People tend to laugh hysterically when harkening back to these, but I honestly feel really uncomfortable. To think that an entire board room of adults in a marketing department thought that this stuff was A-okay… it just makes my skin crawl. I know it sounds dumb, but it’s through this that I really don’t care for media preservation. This kind of extends to actual personal memories. While I’d like to remember the best part of my childhood while I’m alive, why would I care if a complete stranger in a post-apocalyptic world received those memories after I’m gone?
Besides media preservation, SEASON has a much bigger, obvious theme. You could probably tell from the fact that these seasons have happened multiple times that the game is an allegory to change. It’s pretty apropos, since we’re four years into the most recent season: COVID-19. Anyone who was born before the pandemic should immediately be able to relate to SEASON. After all, it really did feel like the entire world transformed into a different planet overnight, and we’re still feeling those changes. I have not gotten over the trauma from 2020-2021 to this day. And now, another season in the form of the war in Ukraine is occuring before we’ve even had a chance to recover from THIS season!
In terms of the story therein, SEASON is what you’d expect from this ilk. Every line of dialogue and narration is as poignant and poetic, as it should be. I normally call this writing pretentious, but I actually didn’t mind it in SEASON. It allows for open interpretation, and you could have some interesting debates with a friend over the themes brought up in this game.
In SEASON, there are more-or-less five characters, including Estelle. Estelle is basically the narrator, and she takes notes from Edith Finch; every sentence is super esoteric and poetic. You never really know anything about her beyond three objects you choose to imbue into a pendant at the beginning of the game, and you don’t know what she’s thinking throughout her journey. While it seems like a lack of character development, in a game like this, it’s probably better that she keeps her thoughts to herself instead of a lot of times when writers appear to impose predefined takeaways into the audience.
The other four characters whom you interact with for the bulk of the story are the last people to evacuate from the main overworld, Tieng Valley. They’re what you’d expect from an indie game like this; relatable in every way possible. They are no doubt the weakest aspect of the game’s story, basically being templates for the audience to connect with from every angle; loss, moving to a new home, uncertainty, etc. The reason is because you basically show up to do their quests, and then… that’s it. You can speak to two of them and show them some of the stuff you’ve found, but it’s just cosmetic (Matyora is actually pretty great though).
Before we get to gameplay, I must praise SEASON‘s visuals. Despite being a world about to end the next day, it sure looks nice. It has a lovely cel-shaded look that makes every corner of the place look like a painting. It’s not the most novel style, but it beats out any of those photorealistic games nonetheless.
There are many games, like Breath of the Wild, where I go into them telling myself to enjoy every detail of the world in order to appreciate it. However, those games, especially Breath of the Wild, have so much to do and collect that I just never had the time to do that. However, in SEASON, those details essentially ARE the collectibles.
The gameplay is divided into two sections. First, you freely explore the world on your bike and collect anything you can find. Theoretically, you can take any photo and record any sound you want. However, there are specific sights and sounds that are actually considered “collectibles”, and you generally want those. Fortunately, these are pretty easy to find, as long as you are explorative. Visual landmarks stand out very well, while the game’s excellent sound design organically points you toward relevant audio keepsakes.
I’ll admit that recording stuff in SEASON felt really engaging, exciting, and rewarding, despite the latter not actually existing in gameplay. Each area of the game is thoughtfully handcrafted to be rife with metaphorical roses to stop and smell. You are meant to just drop everything you’re doing and just do nothing for minutes at a time. This is also a relatable aspect of the game’s story, especially in events where you can choose to record a scene or just listen. As someone who used to bring a big fancy camera to Disney, I wholeheartedly understand the pros and cons of actually choosing to preserve a moment in time versus just living that moment.
After you collect enough stuff, you can place them in that area’s page in Estelle’s journal. This part is really fun, and highly customizable. When you fill the Keepsakes gauge by finding the relevant capture points, then it is considered complete (although it doesn’t take much to get the bare minimum). It also unlocks stamps for that page as well, so you can really make it look nice.
However, the caveat comes in the form of the most justified use of bad inventory management in all of videogames. Estelle’s journal is not a College Ruled notebook; it’s a tiny little scrapbook. To keep with the game’s themes, the devs intentionally put an excessive amount of keepsakes throughout each area. As a result, you must constantly decide what stays and what goes. It’s actually pretty tough, since a number of keepsakes come together to frame the full extent of the game’s plot. The biggest battle is with the text that comes with each capture; you can’t shrink the font size.
This deters you from getting everything. Don’t worry completionists; you don’t have to in order to complete this game! Getting 100% is so easy that even someone like me was able to do it just by naturally exploring around. There aren’t even achievements related to filling the scrapbook whatsoever.
If there is any big flaw I find with SEASON, it’s the same flaw I have with pretty much every philosophical narrative like this: us. One of the things I really resent is that we—in a pop culture sense—are aware of so much about good, evil, life, death, capitalism, the corruption of the media, climate change, yet… as is pointed out in the Tomorrowland movie, no one bothers to fix any of it. We just consume the latest thing, maybe write a pretentious review of it to make us look smart (I actually went out of my way to read reviews of things game to confirm that they were pretentious, and boy howdy were they), and then move on; I at least know I’m not going to be “transformed” by my experience. I just couldn’t let that feeling go during my playthrough of SEASON. In a sense, it could be interpreted as an allegory to the rapidly shifting “seasons” of pop culture, where the new constantly eats the old alive. SEASON, a game about remembering and forgetting stuff, will probably be forgotten, perhaps this year. However, not to toot my own horn, I will make sure as hell I do not forget the unique experience that is this game.
Final Verdict: 9.5/10
SEASON: a letter to the future didn’t make me cry, but it is still a fabulous game that has helped me appreciate the unique and important role that this type of game plays in the community. Other than some frame drops in specific spots, it is an extremely well-crafted little story rife with universal messages. The price of admission (24.99 USD on Steam, and 29.99 USD on PlayStation) might seem steep, but if you play it the way it was intended, that price is well worth it. Besides, you probably paid 59.99 USD for Metroid Dread which isn’t even ten hours long. This one really is a no-brainer.
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