PS4, PC, PS5
January 31, 2023
The grass feels wet and cool on your back. Dappled sunlight dances across your closed eyelids as a light breeze sighs gently. You breathe, deeply, inhaling the rich scent of earth and tasting the hint of blossom on the back of your tongue. Exhaling, you make a point of recording this precious moment. You carve these sensations into the bedrock of your memory before you stand up, climb onto your bicycle, and set off.
SEASON: A letter to the future is a beautiful, reflective narrative adventure from Montreal-based developers Scavengers Studio. Described as “a game about lingering”, it tasks players with embarking on a bicycle road trip during the final days of a mysterious “season” and recording sounds, stories, and images of the world and its inhabitants. It’s a personal tale that takes place in the context of a greater change, and touches on memory, choice and consequence, loss, and community.
SEASON begins with protagonist Estelle speaking from the pages of her journal, unsure who its eventual reader will be. She comes from a universe similar to our own, though hers is forever passing through the titular “seasons”, eras that are marked by periods of significant change. There is a sickness in the world that consumes memories, but Estelle’s mountainous home village sits as a haven away from the dangerous lands below. After a friend receives a prophetic dream of the current season’s end, Estelle sets out from the village with the aim of documenting the final days of the season: its colours and shapes, its songs and sounds, and the stories of its people. She bears a camera, an audio recorder, a sketchbook, and a protective pendant crafted with great sacrifice by her mother.
The core gameplay of SEASON lies in exploring the world by bicycle or on foot and taking photos and audio recordings to store in Estelle’s sketchbook. As you add more content to the book, you’ll discover each location’s history and significance. Piece by piece, page by page, you begin to understand what it means for a season to end. While most pages begin as blank templates ready to document a particular location, some contain mysteries or questions Estelle has about the world. These require you to photograph or record specific details in order to progress.
You’re free to move through the world at your own pace, and controlling the bicycle is immensely satisfying. Using the PlayStation 5 controller’s adaptive triggers to pedal, you feel every hill, slope and tussock, and there’s a calmingly familiar sense of travel every time you mount the bike – it’s as though you’re on holiday, exploring some near-deserted island. Estelle’s need to document the world also ensures you remain present and aware of your senses. You find yourself actively listening for birdsong or the hum of electricity, and constantly scanning the roads for monuments or wildlife.
While it feels sparsely populated, there are a few characters scattered throughout the land, each of them preparing for the season’s end in their own way. They face the coming season in very different ways, and through your interactions, Estelle can help them come to terms with what will be left behind in this season. A particularly impactful moment involves helping a woman decide which of her late husband’s possessions she will bring with her to escape a coming flood. There’s only space on the cart for a few of them, and each brings up a specific memory for the woman. Through what he’s left behind, you get a picture of the entire family – how can you possibly choose which memories to keep?
The environmental design in SEASON feels like a character in itself. The world feels lived in and discarded, a ruin that has yet to be ruined. The art direction is absolutely stunning, with characters presented in a subtle blending of comic book and Ghibli-esque styles. Colour is used in an intensely evocative way, using plenty of pastels to invoke nostalgia and make the game’s magical elements feel real. The relentlessly atmospheric soundtrack responds to the environment but never detracts from significant soundbites that you may want to record. This is a world to lose yourself in.
From the beginning, choices and their consequences are presented as an important theme in SEASON. Estelle’s protective pendant must be forged from specific memories her mother provides, which are then lost forever. You choose which memories are sacrificed, in turn shaping how her mother remembers Estelle and her late father. While the choices you make rarely impact gameplay and many have implied rather than explicit consequences, their simplicity and connection with the world and its characters lends them narrative gravitas. The choices become part of the experience: as Estelle chooses what will live on through her journal, she is also shaping the lives of those around her.
Amid its other weighty themes of loss, memory, legacy, and community, the game deals with quite a lot. At times, the serious tone of its writing and voice acting comes across as rather earnest. There are moments of levity to break things up, but they are few and far between what becomes a sort of aesthetic wash of wistfulness. When I could suspend my cynicism, I was able to connect to the characters, but often I found myself wondering if the game just really wanted me to cry. Thankfully, there is plenty of beauty and consideration in the environment to offset the lack of variety in tone, and the lighter moments (such as meeting a refreshingly cantankerous artist) do provide a nice contrast.
SEASON’s intended time for a single playthrough is around six hours, which I found a slightly awkward length. Its subtler environmental stories would lose their impact if not experienced in a single play session, but the deliberately slow and self-driven nature of its exploration makes this an arduous ask. It almost feels as though part of the experience was cut, or that it was originally intended to be broken into chapters more rigorously. Despite this, SEASON is an emotional and well-written narrative adventure. Immersive and reflective, it takes the grandeur of an epic journey like The Artful Escape and condenses it into something more like Firewatch: a series of personal, microcosmic stories that feel incredibly real.
- Stunning visuals, particularly in choice of colour
- Simple yet engaging mechanics that encourage being present
- A patient, considered exploration of loss, change, and community
- Too long to be played in a single session, but feels like it should be
- Lacks light and shade in its tone
Hinting at a grand and epic adventure, SEASON: A letter to the future instead presents a personal, vertical slice of a transient world. Through its small-scale stories and simple gameplay, it exists as a reflective meditation on liminality that encourages patience and presence. It weaves environmental storytelling and player choice into a compelling emotional journey. While it may occasionally stray into an overly-earnest territory and doesn’t quite nail its pacing, SEASON: A letter to the future is a special, honest experience and a worthy addition to any narrative adventure lover’s library.