Games are often about how many people you can slaughter, and the efficiency with which you can do so. This makes death abstract – a means to an end. The more death you can cause, the more points you’ll get, and the more points you get, the more likely you are to win. Last Day of June isn't about death in the abstract. In fact, it's about just one death. And it’s not about causing that death – it’s about trying to stop it from happening in the first place.
You play as Carl, a man from a small town whose wife, June, dies in a car accident. One night Carl realises that June’s old paintings allow him to manipulate events that occurred in the past. This power obviously has great potential. Specifically, if he can change the flow of events in a substantial way, he might be able to stop June from dying.
To this end, you'll play through the same hour leading up to June's death numerous times, attempting to change the outcome. This will require you to inhabit various different people who also live in Carl and June’s town. There’s a young boy who’s looking for a playmate, a woman who’s leaving town, a man whose prized possession has gone walkabout, and an older man who has a special delivery for June.
You play as one character for an in-game hour (roughly fifteen to twenty minutes), and then the game shows you the combination of your choices, and what the outcomes of those choices will be. With this knowledge, you can go back, play through the hour again as someone else, and try for a better ending.
The characters themselves are remarkably well drawn out despite the game’s two to three hour play time. There are memories scattered throughout the town which flesh out their backstories, and tie their specific struggles into what’s happening with Carl and June. Finding these memories and unpacking their significance is a joy.
What’s more, the characters can interact with the world in subtly different ways. For instance, the young boy can’t open heavy doors, but can knock down pot plants and climb through the holes in fences. Similarly, the choices you make with one character carry over to the other characters’ day. Thus, you’re set up for a series of time-bending puzzles that require you to figure out what each character is doing, and how that might affect the other characters.
These puzzles, while never especially challenging, are always satisfying to solve. This is partly because of the puzzles themselves, but also because the act of solving them often reveals new information about the overall story.
They do betray the game’s biggest flaw, though. While repetition is obviously a key aspect of the experience, playing through the same moments and watching the same cutscenes over and over again gets frustrating. The game takes some measures to alleviate this issue, but it can still be a pain. Similarly, the path the game wants you to take becomes obvious pretty early on, and this means it sometimes feels like you don’t have any say in how things will proceed.
Despite this, the story manages to be captivating until its very last moments. And while the take-home message isn't particularly novel, the time travelling aspect, along with some clever non-verbal storytelling, mean that even if you do figure out where everything’s headed, you’ll at least get a well-executed payoff.
Rather than full voice acting, the characters communicate in gibberish grunts and hums. It’s a super clever system for a number of reasons, but the most pertinent is that it mitigates the potential for shoddy acting to ruin emotionally intense story beats. The nonsense syllables also match the dreamy storybook aesthetic perfectly.
Speaking of which, the game’s visuals are a triumph. The entire experience is designed to look like stop motion animation – think A Nightmare Before Christmas meets Van Gogh's wheat fields. As you wander around the town, the views slowly snap out of focus and begin to blend into gorgeous painterly swathes of red, blue, and orange. It’s not just in the visuals themselves, though, it’s also in the clever use of animation. The characters’ walk cycles, for instance, convey a lot about their personality in an unobtrusive way.
Finally, the soundtrack is perfectly suited to the action and story. This is unsurprising given that the game itself is in-part inspired by a pre-existing song written its composer. Each character has a specific theme and instrumentation style, cleverly cluing you into their disposition. The more general music also does a great job of complimenting the emotional beats.
Last Day of June is a beautiful rumination on the ways death and fate are indelibly intertwined. It's also a competent puzzler with a winning sense of style. Repetitiveness and a slightly predictable structure stymie the proceedings somewhat, but never enough to ruin what is an otherwise lovely experience.