Until Then Review – Begin Again

Reviewed June 27, 2024 on PC




June 25, 2024


Maximum Entertainment


Polychroma Games

Until Then is an artful and quaint narrative-focused game developed by Polychroma Games, one of many examples of the talented work coming out of South East Asia. Set in the Philippines, where the studio is based, it is a game with a strong sense of place, plenty of heart and themes that resonate on a global scale. With a story so focused on the beauty and tragedy of life to quality and authentic degrees, you better be ready for the fitting gut punch blows it’ll deal throughout. 

Set in 2014, the game follows Mark, a teenage high-school student renowned for being a slacker. A lover of video games and cramming assignments in the very final moments and not much else, he lacks a lot of drive. Incredibly relatable. In true coming-of-age narrative fashion, Until Then is all about the people who come in and out of your life and how they grow and shape your existence… for good. 

Until Then nails that feeling of teenagehood where the days turn into months, passing you by in what feels like seconds. Marcus lives at home alone, while his parents work overseas just to make ends meet for him in his modest life in the Philippines. Naturally, he’s a bit of an isolated kid and has taken to escaping in different ways: getting vested in an MMORPG, crushing on girls and talking to strangers online in anonymous chat rooms in hopes of a connection. Some of these scenes are so painfully real in depicting the teenage loneliness of the early 2010s. I should know; I lived it.

Thankfully Mark isn’t fully alone. He’s got his best friend, the adorable and very queer Cath who sports a little bit of cheek and fancies herself as a bit of pro with both the boys and the ladies…even when striking out. You’ll pick up other acquaintances and new friends along the way such as Louise, a studious girl who’s the polar opposite of Mark, Ryan the jock with a heart-of-gold basketball player and even Nicole, a newbie in the town who becomes Mark’s love interest. All of these characters are a part of Mark’s life to varying degrees, always in his orbit and always endearing and well-written. Through classic visual novel-style dialogue and opportunities where you’ll get to text friends with dialogue options and scroll a mock-up of Facebook, they’ll all be using lingo and terminology of the time such as ‘For reals,’ and old-style referential meme-speak. It’s a hell of a throwback.

What is most interesting about Until Then is what’s bubbling away just under the surface. Initially, you’re playing what seems to be a pretty by-the-numbers visual novel with 2D walking sim movement and occasional light minigame gameplay. However, it becomes apparent how deeply geopolitical and timely a release Until Then really is. Shortly before the events of the game, a catastrophic series of natural disasters happened in close succession, a number of freak occurrences that would later become known as the Ruling. The government and media are incredibly eager to move along like nothing has happened, releasing constant press releases that pollute your phone about how well the country’s doing.

Talk to the everyday people, however, and the story’s entirely different. You’ll hear rumblings of people that disappeared. In alternate, more truthful news sources, you’ll see what the death toll is and how it’s still climbing. One scene takes you to a hospital and you’re surprised to find the reception all quiet. Travel up to the other floors, however, and you’ll see it filled to the brim with patients and visitors. You’ll walk down linoleum hallways while stock ambience audio is playing of distant voices and ramblings, coughs filling the air and so on. This struggle has to be kept secret. Tucked away.

Suddenly you’re exploring a coming-of-age story overrun by tragedy, chaos and uncertainty if you’ll even live to see another day, wondering if your town is next. Though the Phillippines is no stranger to natural disasters, especially in the 2014 setting, it doesn’t take a genius to make links to other recent events such as the Covid-19 pandemic or the Palestinian and Israel conflict. Those comparisons are striking, stick with you and are done well.

Until Then is always a delight of a story to experience across its 5 chapters long experience. You’ll see Mark get some drive in his earnest efforts to learn to play the piano, the catalyst for his later blossoming relationship with Nicole. The characters and environments of Mark’s town are depicted unbelievably beautifully in highly detailed pixel art. Close-up shots of characters disgustingly sobbing, pulling friends in for hugs or just laughing are animated beautifully. Every so often you’ll see adorable frames of the way a character smiles, lighting up the room. There’s even the manga and anime-style approach of having extreme close-ups with comedic expressions as a reaction to an oddity. It’s unbelievably charming

When the camera’s pulled back the grainiest image of all is the cast, which is animated to bob in place and have simple reaction expressions and the like. This makes the cast pop against the environment which is in higher definition and is lit, crafted and depicted beautifully and authentically. Walking along Mark’s street past sleeping cats, you’ll hear the sounds of traffic and the hum of a generator nearby. Scooters and small cars populate the roads and you’ll visit bodegas and shopfronts or sit atop the rooftop of the school, surrounded by a chainlink fence. I value games that offer a quality sense of place. Until Then more than delivers on that front, beautifully painting a country I’m admittedly not all that familiar with.

You’d be forgiven if you found Until Then to be a bit of a slow burn. Polychroma Games dedicates a lot of time to getting to know the characters, sometimes going hours without the next big story beat. It feels like the studio knows this and is doing its best to help you stick with it. Every so often light gameplay will occur such as rhythm game sequences when Mark is practicing piano. At a later point in the story, there’s a fair that Mark and Cath attend, undergoing a series of games such as mock games of darts, a coin toss game and so on. The quality of these varies and is never truly exceptional, though they aren’t terrible either and are often over in a flash.

It’s hard to fault Until Then for much, but if all else I wish the game were just a little bit better at being a visual novel. Chapters are broken up into a series of scenes that can be brief to around 10-15 minutes long. At no point in Until Then can you save or have the dialogue play automatically. You start a scene you have to see it through until it wraps up and the game autosaves. This choice doesn’t ruin the experience, but this is largely an antiquated issue the genre has worked out by now. It became even more an apparent issue when the freak one-off crash I had made me lose a scene’s progress.

Still, Until Then is undeniably magical. Its slow burn makes for a fantastic leadup to when the final shoe drops. Then come the emotional waterworks. Everything the entire experience has been building up to. All that political tension bubbling under the surface, the friendships and relationships you’ve made along the way, the foggy flashes of Mark’s past… it all coalesces into a gut punch of a resolution. Then it continues! Without spoiling much, the game tasks you with a second playthrough of its events, more streamlined and now with deeper meaning. You, like the characters of the game recovering from tragedy, do your best to begin again.




  • Pixel work that is equally stunning and fantastically animated
  • Really nails the feeling of being a teen in the '10s
  • Incredibly endearing characters
  • A wonderful and memorable story with political intrigue


  • Minigames are welcome breaths of fresh air but never excel
  • Missing visual novel quality of life features like manual saves and dialogue autoplay

Until Then is a must-play for lovers of narrative-focused games everywhere. The game already depicts living the life of a teenager in the Phillippines in the 2010s beautifully with its thoughtful and authentic writing, combined with a picturesque world. That alone would be enough, but it goes above and beyond, adding breathtaking pixel animation, an intriguing mystery and a palpable geopolitical subplot. The cast of characters is incredibly endearing and you’ll grow to love them all, building to the final emotional gut punch of the game that takes the wind out of you. Joining the plethora of quality narratives in 2024, Until Then is a game you won’t soon forget.