Live. Die. Repeat.
Last Day of June is a sad, depressing game that speaks to many of life’s great anxieties. What do you do when you lose your partner and have your life destroyed beyond recognition? How do you keep going? And, perhaps most importantly, what if you were given an opportunity to change the past?
The game, developed by Ovosonico (Murasaki Baby) and originally released on PlayStation 4 and Windows last August, attempts to explore these questions, and does so (mostly) successfully.
Last Day of June focuses on Carl and June, a couple with a level of comfort that suggests they’ve been in the honeymoon phase for many, many years. One day, when Carl is asleep, an old man comes over to deliver a present to Carl. June has the idea, then, to surprise him with it during a trip to the lake where they fell in love.
The trip goes well, but as Carl intends to open the present, it starts raining. They get in the car and drive home, and as they do, the neighborhood kid goes into the middle of the road to retrieve his ball. They swerve out of the way, the car crashes, and the story begins.
June is dead. Carl is now wheelchair-bound and very, very grief-stricken. As Carl, you discover that various paintings around the house (that June painted) have activated with a magical aura. The rest of the game follows four different characters present in the paintings you touched—all members of Carl and June’s quiet neighborhood. As those characters, you relive that fateful day and have them make “better” decisions that will, hopefully, result in a better outcome for both you and June.
Over its three-hour journey, Last Day of June depicts Carl’s grief (and his fight to save June) with a deft touch and a series of emotional gut-punch moments. I didn’t cry or anything, but I did finish the game thinking a lot about my own mortality. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best stories I’ve experienced in a modern indie adventure game. But if you’re the kind of person who easily gets depressed about this subject matter, I would probably recommend you stay away. This is a game that has no happy beginning, middle, or end.
As for the gameplay, call it a third-person walking simulator with some light puzzles used to depict the story. As you embody the various characters and walk around Carl and June’s town, you solve typical modern-indie-adventure-game puzzles. A lot of go here, do that. Even though it’s standard stuff, it’s fairly easy and helps to move the story along.
What does get in the way of the story is its core mechanic, in which you have to relive days over and over again. If you repeat a character’s day, you have to watch the same short intro cutscene over and over again (even though it’s shortened on subsequent visits). And when a day ends, you still have to watch the same cutscene of June dying over and over again.
This isn’t helped by the long load times, which come frequent and often in excess of 10 seconds. I understand what Ovosonico is doing by making you relive a day over and over again (a phrase I am re-using intentionally), but even as the game makes some adjustments to help you get through days faster, the repetition feels less like an emotional depiction of grief and more like repetitive adventure gameplay. I was still attached to Carl’s story—and still eager to see it to the end—but the game part felt a good bit more frustrating than engaging.
Thankfully, looking at Last Day of June is a treat. It has this 3D art-style that is both cartoonish and dreamlike, and the animation depicting all of these characters is second-to-none. Most of the story is told through the animation, as well as a muffled voice acting where you can usually only make out the tone in a character’s voice. Although this delivery results in a few storytelling scenes that are a bit too vague, the overall storytelling is extremely effective.
Last Day of June is mostly quite good. It’s a story-driven game with one of the best-told stories I’ve seen in some time, and it offers an emotional edge that’s likely going to leave you with a lot of feelings by the time you reach the credits. The gameplay, however, is passable at best and annoyingly repetitive at worst, and while it didn’t fully keep me from wanting to reach the end, it added a somewhat frustrating slog to get there.