At some point in all of our lives, we’ll have to deal with loss of a loved one. In many cases, it’s something that will fill us not just with sadness but remorse and regret. Perhaps there’s something you wish you’d said, something that you wish you’d done differently, some wrong you wish you could right. For Carl, his only regret should be that he was at the wheel of the car as it crashed, swerving to avoid someone in the road.
Of course, the title is a play on words. Yes, it might actually be set on the last day of June, but it also refers to the character June who died in this car accident. However, where we would have to simply try to come to terms with the loss, Carl finds a way back in time to try and alter events. It’s a classic time travel tale of trying to rewrite history to save a loved one, with a kind of butterfly effect of possibilities and eventualities, all of which seem to lead to June’s death.
Immediately what strikes you is the game’s art style. After the sheer weirdness of Murasaki Baby on PS Vita, Last Day of June has a different and completely different visual style that’s more reminiscent of classic stop motion films, in particular Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas – it’s no surprise when writer/director Jess Cope was an animator on Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie. It’s especially true of the weird, surreal character models with their spindly bodies and oversized, eerily eyeless heads, but goes beyond it with a more painterly style that tries to evoke June’s own paintings. It’s largely thanks to what Ovosonico call the Marmalade Filter, and you can see why, with much of the game bathed in the autumnal, orangey glows of the setting sun, despite being early summer in game, each particular colour palette tied to a particular time or character.
Waking up with a start some time after we see June and himself veering off the road, we see that while Carl survived, the accident has not left him untouched. Bound to a wheelchair, he struggles to get around his own home, searching for some food and stretching to reach a tin up on his shelf. Eventually, he realises that he’ll have to venture into June’s atelier, filled as it with with her portraits of fellow villagers, into a room full of memories he’d rather not have to revisit. However, it’s those painting that offer a source of resolution, allowing Carl to jump back in time and view the world through the eyes of another person in the village.
That’s what you see as a bored kid searches for someone to play with. From his animation to the little hand drawn pictures hung up in his treehouse, you can understand that he just wants to play, yet he’s rebuffed at every turn. The old man is too stiff to go and kick a football around, the pompous moustachioed man with a shotgun too busy running around chasing after butterflies, it seems, the woman moving house too busy packing her car and struggling with a pile of leaves. In the end, it’s the dog that the boy finds to play with, grabbing the football as you throw it to him and then shaking his head and throwing the ball away. It’s this play that leads to the boy having to sneak through a fence to clamber down the hill and get the ball from the middle of the road. It’s this play that leads to Carl having to swerve off the road to avoid him.
However, much like the film Groundhog Day, simply reliving the events of that fateful day won’t resolve anything. Instead, it’s up to Carl to repeatedly venture into this day from a number of different perspectives and seek to change events time and again, looking to find a way to keep June safe from harm one way, no matter how many goes it takes. With four different characters and their lives to play with, there’s a number of different outcomes for each to blend together in different ways, creating a rich puzzle that will span the entire game – thankfully, revisiting a character for the umpteenth time will see their day abbreviated in some way. It’s through exploring and trying different things that you might manage to save the love of Carl’s life.
This game isn’t narrated or voices, but is instead accompanied by the cooing gibberish noises that Carl and the other characters make. They’re evocative of an emotion, feeling, request or dialogue alongside each character’s motions and general demeanour, giving us the broad strokes of what they’re trying to convey.
Last Day of June looks to be as poignant as it is gorgeous. It’s part of a wave of games that look to explore the emotions of family, love, loss and how that shapes characters, and yet it does so in its own distinct way with a wonderful looking style.