I’ve championed the walking simulator genre for quite some time. Ever since a teenage version of myself decided to give Gone Home a try, but it’s been a while since I’ve had a title in this genre truly resonate with me. There have been attempts, and good ones at that, in the form of Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, Maquette, I am Dead, and a few other modern entries. However, none have managed to immerse me like their predecessors.
In fact, I feared that the entire genre was dead. That we had seen all that the format had to offer, and it would serve as time capsule that we would look back on fondly as a sign of the times. However, it seems that this format is alive and well, thanks to Season: A Letter to the Future.
Season is a game that is hard to describe without spoiling aspects of the game that are much better experienced firsthand. So I’ll just say this. Season is like a warm hug, a moment of introspection in a quiet corner of the earth. Season embodies the courage to set off on your own and face your fears, yet captures the need for community, comradery, and love.
It’s a brief moment of meditation in our fast-moving lives where we can empathize with others, reflect on our past experiences and look to the future, and what lies ahead. It’s soothing, melancholic, thought-provoking, and open-ended enough that each player will take something different and profound from the experience.
That’s how I would sell Season without giving anything away, but if you are someone that wants to know what you are getting into before you hand over the cash for a game, I have all the info you need. Below, I’ll discuss the highs, the lows, and the in-betweens of Season, and help you decide if this indie title is something you want to invest in. So without further delay, here is our Season: A Letter to the Future Review, conducted on PS5.
Let’s begin with the visuals on offer within Season. If I was going to make a direct comparison to another title, I would say that Season is a lot like Breath of the Wild. The washed-out pastel color palette, the way that assets have very soft, almost incomprehensible outlines. It just shares a lot of visual similarities, and when you enter the more open areas of the game, this becomes even more prevalent.
However, that isn’t to say that Season doesn’t have anything unique to offer, far from it. Season is a title that has innumerable moments where the sheer beauty on the screen will take you to another world. As if a wave of tranquility has washed over you, lapping all your worries away.
One of my most memorable and treasured gaming memories was the fast-paced slide down the golden sand trail in Journey, where you slide across the screen to a sun-kissed backdrop. That, for me, was bliss. An unparalleled moment of gaming beauty, and I made my peace there and then with the fact that I might not ever feel that feeling again. Well, Season may not have hit those heights, but I felt a flicker of what I did back then when playing this game.
In that first moment when you leave Caro, you get on your bike, and you build up speed by pedaling, before easing up and gliding down the long, winding hill into the great unknown. That was a moment that I will place in my internal gaming scrapbook and look back on fondly.
The game keeps delivering those ‘stop and stare’ moments throughout, and when you enter Tieng Valley, you truly get to see what this game is capable of. Each small pocket of this Valley feels interconnected, meticulously designed, and real.
Every section is a joy to explore; every object and piece of landscaping feels like it has a certain uniqueness to it. Perhaps because you feel an inherent urge to snap a picture of everything and find the beauty before you.
In short, this is a game that is made up of moments, but the visuals make the time in between just as memorable.
The Sounds of the Valley
Moving on to the audio, which, much like the visuals, is pretty great. The game doesn’t boast an OST that you will find yourself playing on repeat when the credits roll. However, the game’s sound is so important to the overall presentation. Season’s audio is largely made up of ambient sound.
Birds in trees, the crashing of waterfalls, wind chimes vibrating as a breeze rolls in. You name it, and there is probably a sound to accompany it. This is brilliant for two reasons. One, is the immersion that it provides when simply exploring the world. Then two, is the fact that each sound you hear can be recorded via your microphone and stored in your journal so you can play it back later.
This attention to detail makes the world feel alive, makes each sound worth investigating, and gives the player another medium to record what they love within this world. Lots of games have allowed players to capture images, like Toem, for example. However, to be able to capture soundscapes, too, was a cool extra layer.
However, the game’s vocal performances do let it down a touch. Not always, but definitely enough to be noticeable. The player character, their mother, and Pate are examples of great performances. However, the characters within the Valley, The Elder, the Grey Hand, and the stranger on the beach are examples of those that let the side down. None are enough to ruin the narrative beats they are delivering, but they do mar them slightly.
Then take into account that sometimes, when skipping dialogue, the lines will overlap, and you have the potential for a scene where the presentation takes away from the poignant moment the developers are trying to convey.
Document Your Version of History
Now, we move onto the meat and potatoes of what makes a walking simulator memorable and successful, the storyline. Season tells the story of a young girl who sets off from her village, closed off from the world, to document the changing of the seasons, as the old world dies, and a new era commences.
She serves as the old world’s last explorer, documenting history for those living in the future to discover, record and learn from. This is the core premise of the game, but within this adventure, we learn about the player character’s family, her close friends, the pillars of her village community, and the communities that lie over the horizon.
From the offset, the writing immediately allows the player to create a close bond with Estelle by performing a touching ritual with her mother, and then introducing the player to Caro, the town they grew up in. Before then setting the player loose to explore the world and uncover the secrets of the Golden Age.
What’s brilliant about the experience from then on out, is that you are in control of your adventure. You can explore as much or as little as you like in each area. You can carve out your own path through Tieng Valley, choosing which areas take priority in your expedition, and you also have your trusty journal, which allows you to record each poignant moment, sight, sound, or encounter, and you can do so in any way you like. It’s literally like a virtual scrapbook. I’ve always been told that scrapbooking was really cathartic, but now I know that to be a fact.
The game is packed with little nuggets of intrigue, and there are so many touching moments, both with characters that you will find in the Valley, and through encountering relics of the old world. I will admit that some story beats don’t grab you as much as others.
For example, I never really had a strong desire to dive deep into the religious aspects of Tieng, or understand the Grey hand’s motives. However, I know some people will find it fascinating, so it’s hard to level criticism at the game for not enthralling me 100% of the time.
The only true criticism I would level at the game, and I suppose the world design as well, is that I felt this strong desire to see and do everything, and this made me feel anxious and overwhelmed, to the point that I almost felt like I couldn’t progress for fear I might miss something. I didn’t want to leave portions of the journal unfinished, and when you witness the story in full, this goes against the themes the game is trying to convey. The need to let go, and that, even when the present becomes the past, the past remains with you.
So I suppose this is my pro tip for a top-tier Season experience. It’s okay to miss things. You have ample time to come back later and explore.
Gaming Meets ASMR
Here’s something I’m rather surprised I’m going to admit in print, I’m a big fan of ASMR. There are some nights I can’t sleep unless some random person is in my ear, cutting my hair, or sloshing a water bottle around. Why do I do this, you ask? Well, because it has a certain meditative quality to it, and Season is all about embracing the art of meditation.
I could rattle off lots of examples of how this game embraces this, but the most impressive is the way that the player, in certain moments of the game, can choose to take in the moment, or simply close their eyes.
In these moments, the screen will fade to black, and the audio will play, allowing the player to focus their mind on the ambient noise, the song being sung, the instructions being read, or the story being told. This seems like a very small, almost insignificant choice, but it allows the player to experience certain moments in a way that makes them most comfortable and at ease. It makes these moments more personal, more memorable, and I hope to see other games embrace this ‘set the controller down, embrace the moment’ sort of style.
The Occasional Puncture
The thing that many people will have seen about this game in its marketing ahead of release is the beautiful vistas where Estelle is cycling downhill. These are some of the most soothing and magical moments this game has to offer. However, there is a slight snag with the biking mechanics, which take the shine off these moments more often than I would have liked. Sadly, the bike controls aren’t as refined as they could be, leading to moments where you lose control, or get caught in some scenery, having you stop in your tracks, and this can ruin these majestic downhill descents.
This might seem like a small gripe, but it’s actually a bigger problem than it sounds, because a lot of the time, when your bike gets stuck, you find yourself floating in midair, and there is no way to correct the situation. There is no reset button, and no respawn option, and as a result, you have to battle against the glitch to return to a position where you can cycle again.
Which, in some cases, takes a few seconds, and in others, may take minutes. At one moment, I thought I would have to restart the game from the beginning as I was trapped with no clear method to escape. Luckily though, after five minutes of wrestling with the game, it finally tapped out.
This broke immersion a few times, as did the shaky camera, which would judder a lot, recorrect by snapping into place, and would often sink below the map, or get lost behind bushes, or other assets, making it quite hard to navigate to a place where I could walk around normally again. These are small issues that probably could have been smoothed out before release, and while they don’t ruin the experience, they do have the potential to ruin really poignant moments.
Like The Changing of the Seasons
Overall, Season: A Letter to the Future modernizes a tired walking simulator format, providing a more dynamic way to explore a much more vast and open landscape. The game keeps things linear for just long enough to let you get your bearings, before releasing you into the gorgeous Tieng Valley, and when I stood at the Shrine Entrance, I had trouble saying goodbye.
The game offers you lots of avenues to explore, but the player only has to engage with the characters in the Valley to progress. Everything else is down to you. Plus, the game lets you engage with everything at your own pace. So if you simply want to glide down hills on your bike, and drink in the view of the sun setting on the horizon, then that’s up to you.
It’s a game that allows for lots of quiet moments of introspection, offers plenty of points of interest that allow players to learn more about this world on its final day, and allows you to have the autonomy to capture and highlight the moments that are special to you, and you alone.
There are some mechanical hiccups, like the bike getting stuck in areas, or having a poor turning circle. Plus, some of the vocal performances weren’t as strong as others. However, looking holistically at this title, I can’t say I’m anything less than astounded at how beautiful, profound, and delightful this experience was. So if you are someone like me that wants to feel what it’s like to be truly captivated by a walking simulator again, now is the time. But hurry, the Season’s almost over!
- An incredible story that allows the player to engage with what truly interests them, and nothing more
- Tieng Valley is a lesson on how to compact open worlds where exploration is key
- The audio within this game is sublime. It’s literally ASMR meets gaming
- A unique and striking art style that never stops providing jaw-dropping moments
- A story with more than a few emotional, profound, and touching moments
- The bike mechanics are clunky, taking the shine off what is a really fun traversal mechanic
- The camera is wonky, often juddering or getting lost behind or under assets
- Some vocal performances pale in comparison to others
- Dialogue overlaps from time to time
- The want to see everything can take away from the calming nature of the experience
Question: Is It An Open World Game?
No, not really. The game’s first third is actually a very linear experience. It’s only when you reach Tieng Valley that the player is truly allowed to explore freely. Tieng Valley is a sizable open area, but the game is not a completely open-world experience.
Question: How Many Characters Can Be Found In Tieng Valley?
There are five characters that can be found in Tieng Valley. To keep things vague, you have the Grey Hand at the gate, you have the old artist, you have the mother and her son, and you have The Monk who is in the Shrine.
Question: When Do You Get A Bike?
The game will have you perform the ritual with your mother before leaving Caro. Then you will briefly explore Caro on your way out of the village. After that, as you reach the gates to leave Caro, you will find a bike repair station with three bikes. You will get to choose from a blue, pink, or yellow bike, and from there on out, you will have a bike you get about on. I chose the yellow bike, in case anyone was wondering.
Callum wrapped this one up in almost exactly four hours. It’s not a long game, but it packs a lot of value into the short run time. I filled almost every journal section, and I managed to collect all the trophies too.
No platinum on offer for this one, though, so the quest for his first platinum of 2023 goes on.
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