Review: Season: A letter to the future
There are two kinds of video games: Some emphasize the “game” part and are all about a thrilling challenge, novel mechanics, or otherwise giving you an experience that’s simply fun. Others are perhaps better described as interactive narratives, primarily about the story but presented in such a way that your own choices are pivotal to how the story is told.
Season: A letter to the future is firmly in the latter camp. Games like this tend to face an uphill battle in popularity, but resonate strongly with their fans when done well. As for how well it did, art is always subjectiv; I have my score at the end, but I encourage you to look at the themes and presentation and come to your own conclusion.
Season: A letter to the future was developed by Scavengers Studio and will be released on January 31st, 2023. The PS5 version was played for this review.
An End to an Age
In the wake of a friend’s prophetic dream, you find yourself undertaking the task of chronicling the world, a task that is important as it is futile. The world is a large place for just one person to travel, and not only do you have the luxury of recording every last thing you come across, but whatever you catalog will be an invaluable record of the past for the season that follows. A season in this case not being a mere quarter of a year, but an era of history.
The world of Season is an interesting one. By and large it feels similar to our own, a great deal more rustic, sure, and there are ruins that suggest an earlier era was much like the one we have today. However, there’s also the little ways things are different. There’s magic – not the flashy incantations and fireballs of fantasy novels, but the more subtle rituals of tradition. There’s bizarre illnesses and strange plants and minerals, but the inhabitants just consider it part of their world. Little things spaced out every now and then, rearing their heads just when you’re about to get comfortable again.
As you explore the world, you’ll learn about the current season, guess at what the previous seasons were like, and even where things may go in the future. Through the people you meet and your own task, one theme remains constant: The notion of what we take with us, and what we choose to leave behind. Is something an invaluable memento, or a painful memory? Should something be shared, or is it better to keep it a secret? If you could pick one achievement for the world to remember you by, what would it be?
Just as powerful as the theme is the mood. The season may be ending, sure, and your work may be important, but that’s no reason not to take your time and enjoy the present. A great change is coming, but for now it’s calm and serene. Your observations are focused on the beauty of the world. Most of the people you meet have the slow, relaxed demeanor of someone content to oblige a stranger for hours.
This is a game that doesn’t want you to rush. It wants you to relax, take your time, look and listen to your surroundings, and bask in the beauty. To preserve what’s important to you and not fret over losing the rest. And maybe, if you’re feeling bold, give that a try in the real world as well.
Epic Scrapbooking Action
Season is… well, a walking sim. You go from place to place, interacting with things to learn about the world and see the story unfold. But that’s putting it extremely loosely. Primarily you’re taking photographs and audio samples of things that look interesting. If it’s something your character can comment on, she’ll do so. Using this data, you’ll fill your journal, and once you’ve got enough you’ll have an insight about the area and mark it as complete.
Now, there are two types of entries to your journal. Some pages are focused on a question, require evidence from multiple areas, and are extremely straightforward about what to place, and where. The majority of pages, however, are themed around each area, and offer quite a bit of freedom. There’s a calming joy to organizing what goes where, and once you’ve had an insight you’ll unlock even more customization options, but you can’t place everything. There’s simply not enough space, especially if you’re including comments rather than placing them devoid of context.
In that moment, you’re deciding what’s most important to you. Do you try and cram in everything you can? Do you go for something that pleases your artistic sensibilities? Are there things you’ll leave out on purpose even if you have the room? You will not be judged either way. The game only really cares that you fill it “enough”, for better or worse, and you don’t even need to finish your journal to complete the game. This does leave you free to arrange things as you see fit, but it also means you really have to enjoy it for its own sake, and the experience may be marred for some once they realize they can just chuck a half dozen random things in there and ignore a whole chunk of the game.
While filling out your journal is what you’ll likely spend most of your time doing, there’s all sorts of little things here and there. There’s people to talk to and help prepare for the oncoming season, objects to interact with, and if you’re trying to find every last noteworthy observation you’ll need to pay extra close attention to your surroundings. Even the act of moving from place to place is made a bit more unique by using the triggers on the controller to emulate actually pedaling a bike (and on the PS5, using the adaptive triggers to simulate the difficulty of starting out or going uphill.)
A Catalog of Sights and Sounds
A lot of care was given to the look and sounds of Season. It’s vibrant and cel-shaded, and alongside the word balloons and font choice give it the feel of a comic book. This is contrasted by the more realistic-looking items you can place in your journal like postcards and letters, and the charcoal sketches that’ll surely be dotted all over your journal by the end.
The sound by itself is nothing too groundbreaking, but it is played with a bit in how it’s presented. You have both a camera AND an audio recorder after all, and the game trains you to keep an ear out as you play. Just about everything is diegetic, having an actual source in the game world, so the game is typically rather quiet (suiting the chill, relaxed vibe). But when a sound DOES arise, even something you might otherwise ignore like birdsong or the wind whistling through some ruins, it becomes something to check out and elevates even rather uneventful sounds to a level of importance.
A Definite Mood
More than anything else, Season is about the vibe it cultivates. Asking you to pause, actually look and listen to your surroundings, not just as a way to work on your journal but as a way of life. It is certainly a beautiful experience, one I couldn’t help but reflect on even after I’d put it down. But outside of that, it is a little bit short, and there doesn’t seem to be too much in the way of replay value.
If you’re down with that vibe, you’ll find this a very relaxing experience with some entertaining worldbuilding and a few mysteries for suspense. However, being pretty much a one-off experience more like a movie may rub a lot of gamers the wrong way.
Review copy provided by Scavengers Studio for PS5. Screenshots provided by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Scavenger Studio.