The arts have always had a certain affinity with death. Representing something so intangible like death, to allow an outsider to experience it through someone else's eyes, is one of the latest trends in recent years for games, and it's surprising that the first steps towards such a complex issue have been made mainly by indie studios, including That Dragon, Cancer, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Fragments of Him.
Ovosonico's Last Day of June, from the minds behind Murasaki Baby, deals with these topics, and unlike the studio's previous titles, Last Day of June is extremely colourful, weaving a story of great pain and the inability of the human being to come to terms with death. This is exactly why Carl in the game keeps experiencing the day his wife June died, experiencing the event through four acquaintances of the couple.
It's not just a case of passively witnessing, though, as the player is called to change events so that the inevitable doesn't happen. To do so, the player/Carl is invited to enter in the paintings of the four characters portrayed by June. By entering the picture and experiencing that day again through their friends several times (just like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day), Carl/the player can manipulate the course of events and try to save June's life.
Switching from one painting to another, the player has the task of solving several tiny puzzles, none of which are particularly complicated, in order to figure out which character should act in order to avoid the car crash that killed June and put Carl in a wheelchair. In attempting to save June's life, the player also comes across several collectibles, well hidden in the small village on the lake where the story is set, showing some memories, more or less joyful, to do with the different secondary characters.
Gameplay-wise, Last Day of June is quite simple, but this allows the player to focus primarily on the plot and the background themes in the story. Even if the game is quite short, Ovosonico's game definitely caught our attention, dragging us into an emotional rollercoaster. We won't spoil anything, of course, but the profound reflection that comes at the end of the game left us pretty much lost for words.
To further amplify the unique feel Last Day of June provides, its outstanding soundtrack, composed by Steven Wilson, also contributes to the mood and feelings, as it cradles and drags us through a world that, little by little, turns into a dream/nightmare. Ovosonico's charming character and level design fits hand in hand with this and tops it all off.
Last Day of June is not free of issues, though, and one of the most serious problems you'll find there is undoubtedly its continuous loading screens. These, in fact, tend to dramatically break the pace of the tale. Another element that tends to throw off the pace (but which, in the end, is a pretty big part of the game's structure) is its repetition. The idea of having to revisit the same sequence to modify its events, without any possibility of jumping the cutscene attached to it, can become tedious, and it softens the magic just a bit.
Another aspect we didn't like was the lack of background about the characters, especially with the secondary characters, and how they're linked to the main ones. Perhaps a greater background story would have allowed these characters to be less casual in the entire structure of the plot, and we're somewhat surprised by this choice, especially considering it's a game capable of transmitting such a powerful message.
Despite these small points of criticism, Last Day of June is a game that we strongly recommend you "experience". Thanks to an exciting story, an effective soundtrack, and an extremely beautiful art style, Ovosonico's new work goes straight to the heart and gives the game an immense strength via the very human issues it portrays.