SEASON: A letter to the future is less a game and more a meditation. One that focuses on life, change, connection, and the wondrous depths of the world. Its unaffected narrative and alluring exploration are intimately linked, making both better for it. While the overall inspired canvas is smudged in places by spotty technical elements, the memory of this game will stay with me long after putting down my controller.
Anyone that picked up the demo last October will recognize the game’s opening hours. However, the familiar village echoes with new sensations for both me and the heroine. A scene right at the start puts everything I’ll do afterwards into a much wider and more urgent context than before. And though Season is most praised for its stunning visuals, this section plays out in confined, interior spaces. This does a fantastic job of pushing me to drink in the moment’s sounds and to recognize how beautiful these are on their own.
I’m also happy to say that many of my worries from the preview are addressed, though not gone completely. My character’s locomotion feels floaty, but the speed feels better than before. How my character walks becomes mostly unimportant soon anyway, as my bike is my dominant mode of traversal. My wheeled steed –which I can thankfully retrieve in the pause menu at anytime — can’t turn on a dime, but any problems I have with this are neatly solved. I automatically jump off my bike and face the other way if I meet an obstacle, letting me get on with my trip with little delay.
Season is an adventure game to its core. My only aim is to get lost in the breathtaking world, recording its sights, audio, and culture before a world-changing event takes place. And while it’s not an explicit part of my objective, my wandering also leads me down the path to unraveling the mystery of the imminent new era.
To preserve life as I know it for posterity, I have a few tools. I carry a camera and tape recorder with me everywhere. At any point in my journey, I can break these out and fill in a journal. Each location I visit gets a dedicated page in my sacred tome, and, to complete the game’s mission, I have to include at least five memories from each place in the book for future readers.
Snapping a picture or registering the reverberations of anything noteworthy triggers an interesting dialogue. Sometimes, the protagonist comments on how she’s feeling or muses on her worldview. Other times, she reveals a little about previous seasons. One, I learn, was a time of cultural exchange, another dominated by war.
As I roam the countryside, I begin to piece together how each period left its mark on the current, unnamed, season. It’s difficult to make such subtle worldbuilding effective, but the developers have nailed it here.
Even though I only have to capture five things from each place to check it off my list, I can’t stop myself from recording everything I encounter. And happily, the game rewards me for this.
At one point, I took a picture of an unimportant bag of chips sitting on an empty chair. When I went to fill out my journal entry, I discovered I had a silly chip bag sticker to plaster over the pages. The game takes note of everything I focus on, not just the big stuff. That’s the kind of brilliant mechanic that motivates me to dig into an experience and investigate every object.
But it’s the people, rather than the objects, that really draw me into the world. I help a widow pack up her life, share grief with a child, and compel an old man to accept painful hope. I give inspiration to an old artist and she gives me, the player, something back: A realization.
It dawns on me a large percentage of the game’s principal characters — my mother, the elder, a life-saving monk, the widow, the artist, the heroine herself — are all women. Each contributes to a kaleidoscope of personalities and representations I don’t often see in gaming.
It took me eight hours to reach the conclusion, but Season doesn’t waste a moment — even if at times all I do is sit on a bench and look out over the landscape. I’m not sure I made all the best decisions along the way, and I’m tempted to run through the world again to see how things might have gone differently. It’s not for everyone, but I suspect SEASON: A letter to the future will be one of my favorite games this year.