There are many things we'd like to tell you about Last Day of June, the touching adventure developed by Ovosonico that will be released for PS4 and PC on August 31, but we have to chose our words carefully so as not blur the line between information and spoilers, example and revelation. In fact, we didn't even spend all the time we were offered with the game because, as soon as we started playing, we wanted to savour the experience until its full release.
The word June in the title doesn't refer to the month, as June is actually the name of the main character in this story, a woman doomed to die over and over similar to Bill Murray's plight in Groundhog Day, as creative director Massimo Guarini described it in an exclusive interview for Gamereactor at Gamelab, in Barcelona. She shares this curse with Carl, her partner at the time, who was driving the car when the accident happened. This tragic event acts both as the cause and the main gear for a core mechanic deeply soaked in emotions thanks to the ever-present narrative and artistic work.
However, Last Day of June is not a sad or depressing game, but instead a joyous one - that's the surprising magic touch that welcomed us during the first 30 minutes of play. You quickly realise that your goal is not suffering over the loss, but trying to prevent it from happening by playing with time and with the characters involved in the accident, cheating fate as many times as needed.
Last Day of June clearly draws from Pixar's Up, and the daunting scenes at the beginning of Pixar's film serve as a source of inspiration for the romance's style and tone. Those scenes in Up were meant to make us cry, but not in despair, as in the end we were left with a nice and pleasant feeling. The first few minutes of this game repeats the formula, the difference being that here you play as Carl and June. Those few minutes are enough to introduce the characters in such a charming way that it's impossible not to relate to them. You see the day unfold through the eyes of this pair of lovers, but as time goes by, fear starts creeping in because you know that sooner or later tragedy will occur.
June was a painter, and her house is full of portraits depicting the neighbours from the small, coastal-yet-mountainous town the couple live in. What she didn't know was that Carl would be able to travel back in time through each of those paintings. Last Day of June doesn't come across as a complex or convoluted adventure, at least while we work on solving the first puzzles. We have to interact with the few moving objects to resolve the puzzles and progress through the story, both with the protagonists and the rest of the characters that could somehow make a difference. The first one of them is a mischievous kid that can climb ropes and slip through the cracks of fences, and the camera goes back in time and relives the last minutes prior to the accident through his eyes so we can find out why he acted the way he did and have a chance to change his actions. At the end, a video shows how everything has changed.
We could only touch one of the paintings, but there'll be at least four characters involved, and it seems that we'll have to touch all of the portraits at once if we want to save June. Ovosonico has probably had to weave a net among all of them because, as expected, the game can't be completed just by changing the actions of only one character. Somehow, all of these character's fates will be connected in such a way that they'll have to move in unison. The nature of that link is precisely one of the great doubts we are left with after our initial contact with Last Day of June and, to be honest, we feel that it will determine whether or not this will turn out great. There's no middle point here.
At the beginning of this preview, we mentioned how this gameplay mechanic was inextricably linked to the game's narrative and artistic work. The core mechanic should be clear now, as we've already explained how the game plays out. The graphics and the plot, though, can be admired thanks to the title's trailer and screenshots. The Italian studio has opted for a unique art style that mixes Tim Burton-esque, bigheaded characters (it might have been Ovosonico's idea, but Jess Cope has likely influenced this decision) and initially realistic environments that slowly morph to achieve an impressionist look. The warmest and coldest colours immediately catch our eye, but the gradient effect on the surfaces that provide depth to the world is just as important. Another striking element is the lack of eyeballs in the characters sockets, but believe us when we say that they don't need eyes or even a voice to express themselves.
Slowly but surely, we're starting to get used to bold developers that come up with those different, signature games and dare breaking the industry's standards despite the risk it entails. Last Day of June comes in a time when narrative adventures, love stories and tragedies are overwhelmingly welcomed by players, but it takes risks with its aesthetic choice and complex plot. Our first impression has been very positive, largely because of the way it manages to connect with the player. We hope this intensity remains as the story unfolds. If it does, we're in for a great time.