What would you do if you knew that the world as you know it is about to meet its end? That is the dilemma facing the main character from the adventure game SEASON: A letter to the future. With no way to prevent what’s going to happen, she sets out on a journey to record everything she can about the old world before it’s swallowed up by the new, to provide a historical record for the new season that follows.
SEASON: A letter to the future is more of a storytelling experience than a game per se, with the protagonist traversing a landscape that has already seen its fair share of eras come and go. To say more about the tale itself would ruin the said experience, but it is a journey rife with discovery and feeling. It is a tale of discovering loneliness with lingering sadness and regret, but also of the hope and power of the memories and moments we keep and leave behind forever. It’s transient and impermanent at times but also long-lasting in other ways. You’re buoyed along during the journey by your mission and what you encounter along the way, with your actions impacting events and what you invariably experience. The way the gameplay mixes with the core storytelling loop is phenomenal.
Upon setting off on your quest, you get a bike to ride into the great unknown. The bicycle is your primary mode of transport, aside from slower-paced walking, and there are vast swatches of open fields and winding pathways to use your vehicle best. The PS5 controller makes for an optimal riding experience by allowing you to get a sense of the different terrains you’re riding over and even applying resistance to the controls when faced with differing speeds and inclines. Similar to real life, more push is required when climbing up a hill on your trusty bicycle, but less resistance and button pushing is needed when traveling downhill. The bicycle riding controls are intuitive and feel fun and relaxing when uncovering their innate rhythm.
Once you reach a point of interest, you can forgo the bike temporarily to explore and gather information. While there, you can take pictures or make a tape of unique sounds for posterity. You can sketch landscapes at specific vantage points or take samples of items for your journal records. The journal serves as a keepsake or scrapbook of your travels in SEASON. Within its pages, you lay out your findings and even what conclusions you ultimately make, provided you gather enough information to form a final note. Since you’re writing down letters for historic preservation, it’s also important to remember that your conclusions in the journal may color the tone of a particular point for future generations.
In that same vein, you encounter some colorful characters throughout your adventure. How you respond to them or your actions in their lives impacts how their role in the tale plays out. Time is a moving, fluid thing, and SEASON: A letter to the future captures that sentiment wonderfully in how it presents its character interactions. As you continue the narrative and find new areas to explore with new people to talk to, your journal has the potential to be filled and that much richer in content.
SEASON is all about your own experience and how you approach things. Because of this, it has a patient, relaxing quality to its gameplay mechanics and story progression. I never felt punished for choosing to respond or act in a certain way throughout, and it’s genuinely fascinating to see the differing spider webs of story that happen as a result of your responses during a playthrough. The game can take as little as six hours to complete or more than twelve, depending on the pace with which you approach it. My playthrough was on the longer side, yet because I constantly uncovered hidden truths and moments along the way, I always felt that the title stayed welcome. It is a good length for this type of narrative experience.
The game’s visual style is unique and beautiful, with a warm color palette. The character designs reminded me fondly of Studio Ghibli in part, and I love how distinctly each character truly stands out. The journal’s art direction is creative and rather scrapbook-influenced, making page creation feel very tailored to your tastes. The soundtrack is minimalistic but genuinely moving, where silence can tell just as much as a musical note. It made the tracks that did appear stand out, and the sound effects helped paint a vivid picture of the world. A siren blaring in the distance of a serene vista, animal life thriving in abandoned areas, wind moving through a wind chime: they’re all exceptionally well done! SEASON’s world, for all that it may be ending, still feels alive in wholly unexpected ways, which is a large part of its innate beauty.
The English voice acting for the characters is also worthy of note. All the actors do an incredible job of breathing life into their roles, no matter how small they might be in the grand scheme of the plot. I loved the quiet-yet-powerful emotions at work throughout every line of spoken dialogue. This wistful reflection emerged when a character talked about the past or their tentative hopefulness for the uncertain future awaiting them. Maureen Adelson stands out amongst some genuinely stellar performances as the protagonist. While silent during dialogue with other characters to let you pick her responses, her voice work carries the story in parts where you’re traveling alone. It offers some genuinely gorgeous poetic insight into observations you unearth.
While SEASON: A letter to the future is a gorgeous game in terms of its visual direction, though not having characters’ mouths moving while conversing is a creative choice not appealing for everyone. It’s also near impossible to add every photo, recording, or piece of observation you might stumble across into your journal pages, as they fill up quite readily. Mine often became a jumbled mess depending on how much I uncovered in a given area. There’s also no real save option in the game itself, manual or otherwise, until you exit the title and get prompted to make a save. While this is understandable from a creative stance to create an immersive experience, it did make me nervous about playing the game when the weather was temperamental, as I needed to figure out what would happen should a power outage occur.
Still, minor quibbles aside, SEASON: A letter to the future is a beautiful and ethereal gaming experience about what is both permanent and impermanent in our lives. I was satisfied with the conclusion my particular journey took, finding the game to be genuinely moving and inspiring in unexpected ways. SEASON: A letter to the future is one journey adventure game fans will want to experience.