It doesn’t happen all that often, but sometimes a game really manages to emotionally resonate with me. Normally I’m a guy who’s all about the gameplay, indulging myself on all the roguelikes and platformers I can get my grubby mitts on. A good story and endearing characters can happily get me on side though, and possibly even draw out a tear or two. Season: A Letter to the Future did just that, and so much more.
Our main character lives in a quiet village at the top of a mountain, until a prophecy signals the end of the current season. In this version of Earth seasons are specific eras of time where everything resets, and as there’s about to be a big change you ask the Elder if you can leave the village to document the state of the world before it all kicks off. You get the all clear as long as you wear a protective pendant your mother makes you, and prepare to set off on a coming of age adventure.
The first hint you get that not all is as it seems in this world is from the pendant. To create this bit of magical apparel you need to gather five items with strong connections to each of your five senses, like a cuddly toy you were comforted by the touch of as a child or a floral smell that triggers an important memory. Once you’ve wandered the house and chosen suitable objects, your mother has to erase her own memories connected to them for the pendant to be charged. It’s an utterly bizarre but oddly touching opening to a video game, and is good preparation for what’s ahead.
You’ll spend most of your time in Season: A Letter to the Future recording the environments you travel to. A handy Polaroid camera and audio recorder are the tools of your trade, and can be used to capture anything of note you encounter. For those more artistically inclined there’s plenty you can mess around with when snapping photos, from focus to filters, and it always feels rewarding to log something new. Even before leaving the village there are trees, posters and fountains to take note of, and almost everything you capture is commented on by your character. Her thoughts on everyday objects as someone who has lived a very sheltered life are fascinating, and really help to showcase her character and build the world around you.
Once you’ve collected enough keepsakes in an area you can arrange them in a page of your diary. Physical photos can be stuck to the pages, along with some quotes from the protagonist and patterns and pictures relevant to the location. By fitting together the images and text in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing to you, you’ll create a sort of scrapbook of your time in the game. I cannot overstate how satisfying it feels to create the perfect two page spread to showcase a shrine or petrol station you’ve happened to visit, despite there being no real reason to do so.
After taking some last pictures and recordings of your home you set off on your trusty bicycle of choice into the great wide world. The environments are just breath-taking, and are packed full of eye catching natural wonders and mysterious shrines and statues. It doesn’t take long for you to find the main location of the game and meet your first new person. Tieng Valley is a beautiful area that happens to be located downstream from a dam, which is unfortunately in pretty rough shape. There’s nobody left who knows how to repair it, so you’re informed by a man at the entrance that it’s going to be fully evacuated in the next 24 hours and destroyed before the new season begins. Before that happens though, you’re welcome to explore to your heart’s content.
And for the next few hours that’s what I did. I went from cow farm to forest path on my little bike (ringing the bell as I rolled along) took photos of the interesting flora and fauna I found, and put them in my scrapbook – and it was one of the most relaxing gaming experiences of my life. I wasn’t really sure if I was progressing in the game, but I discovered more and more about this lovely locale. I found out about purple stones that were dug up nearby and that contained the memories of others when listened to through my audio recorder. I learned more about how the war ended and the tragedy it left behind. And eventually I learned of the people who lived in this place, and went to meet some of them.
When you start encountering the inhabitants of Tieng Valley you really get to experience the best of what Season: A Letter to the Future has to offer. These people are just so relatable, and are struggling with the thought of leaving their homes and how their life will change outside of the valley. A mother and her child in particular made a real impression on me. When I arrived at their farm they had all their possessions laid out in a field in the exact dimensions of their new flat in the city, and were trying to figure out how to keep all their precious possessions filled with memories of the past. These personal stories are touching, relatable and sometimes even heart-breaking, and should be experienced first hand.
After meeting enough people, logging enough areas and solving a mystery or two about this strange valley, the way forward opens up and you’re able to continue your adventure. After all the talk of exploring every corner of the world and cataloguing it for future generations, I was shocked when the game just abruptly ended. That’s not to say it’s a short game or that there isn’t plenty to do in the lush open plains of Tieng Valley, but it just felt like my character had only just begun her mammoth task when the credits started to roll and it was rather jarring.
As much as I loved my time with Season: A Letter to the Future, it does have a few gameplay niggles that are worth mentioning. For the sake of realism you can’t open your map, take photos or interact with objects when cycling, and because of this it feels like a lot of your time is spent hopping on and off your trusty metal steed. It sounds like a tiny complaint (and in the grand scheme of things it is) but I’d have really loved that little quality of life improvement, realism be damned.
Season: A Letter to the Future tells a beautiful story with themes of memories and loss spectacularly. The world is densely packed with points of interest and is a joy to explore, and the scrapbooking is intensely satisfying. This emotional rollercoaster ride is something you need to experience first hand, so get on your bike and get started.
An emotional and beautiful adventure
Environments are packed full of interesting things to see
Incredibly relatable characters
Scrapbooking is so damn satisfying
Ends very abruptly
Getting on and off your bike is a pain