When Season: A letter to the Future was revealed at The Game Awards back in 2020, I remember being quickly enamoured by its striking sense of style.The fact that it was an atmospheric indie adventure where you traversed the land on a neat little bicycle helped too. A few years on, Season is finally here, bringing with it an engaging gameplay loop of exploring, documenting, and making sense of its strange and fascinating world.
Season sees you assume the role of Estelle, a young woman who has spent her whole life living in a small peaceful village in the mountains. A village so safe that no one has left its walls in a generation. After Estelle’s best friend experiences a vision that the village elder deems as a sign that a change in season is coming and that a new era is on the horizon, Estelle decides to break free from the comfort of what she’s always known and leaves the village for the very first time. Estelle sets out not only to experience the world for herself, but to document and chronicle its changes and record her thoughts in a journal for the benefit of future generations.
Off we go!
A season in this world isn’t quite the same as your real life transition from spring to summer. Instead, they mark a period of great change for the world at large. Throughout Estelle’s travels, you’ll come to learn of prior seasons, such as the decade-long season that consisted of a war that still has lingering effects on the land and its people. You’ll also strive to learn more about the current season, and attempt to find answers to questions about its meaning and why it’s coming to an end. Her journey for answers leads her to a mysterious yet beautiful valley, where she meets its handful of remaining inhabitants, and begins to learn of the land’s past, as well as the event that will rob the land of its future.
From a narrative perspective, Season does a great job at providing a reason for Estelle to set out on her knowledge seeking adventure. But other than that motivation, and the necessary interactions with characters required to plod the narrative along, the amount of content and enjoyment you derive from the storytelling will largely hinge on how much effort you put into exploration. If you’re putting the time in to fill out your journal with photographs, drawings, and audio recordings and utilising them in your interactions with the denizens of the valley, you’ll find the story to be rather satisfying. If you don’t, however, its impact may not be as poignant. In saying that though, the game’s final moments are truly fantastic, whether you’ve littered your journal with content or not.
All the characters you meet throughout your travels are somewhat interesting, but I feel like none exhibit enough personality to be truly memorable. Your interactions with characters in the valley are relatively brief, but serve as ways to learn more about the world, as well as their current hardships. One such interaction sees you help a widow decide what items her and her son should keep for their impending move from the valley to the city, learning more about them both, as well as her late husband. I was quite surprised by how strongly I cared for each character in moments like these, so much so that when it came time to leave the valley, I made an effort to say goodbye and capture a final photograph of all those I’d met along the way.
Look how pretty the Valley is!
You’ll probably spend a decent chunk of this game taking photos of the gorgeous landscapes and lush forest present in the valley, as Season looks gorgeous. Its unique art style somehow manages to be simplistic yet vastly detailed at the same time, exhibiting a vast array of vibrant colours that truly aids the games’ wholesome and peaceful atmosphere. The soundtrack is also equally excellent.
Gameplay wise, Season is essentially a walking/cycling simulator in which you explore and document the world as the change of season quickly approaches. In order to do so, you’ll make use of various tools such as Estelle’s camera and audio recorder to collect pictures and sounds of the world before the season change turns it into something else forever.
Season isn’t the sort of game to hold you by the hand, instead forcing you to explore and find locations and inhabitants on your own, or through the assistance of maps that are strewn throughout the valley. Traversal happens largely via your bicycle, which can be dismounted at any time if you prefer to explore an area on foot.
One of my favourite photos
Some pages of the journal represent areas you visit along the way, while others pose questions that you can seek to answer by taking pictures or recording particular things hinted at on the relevant page. Filling the pages with enough of the world around you will be rewarded with insight and dialogue from Estelle.
Even though I’m sure you could carelessly cobble together a bunch of poorly taken photographs and audio recordings to satisfy the requirements of the journal, I never once felt the desire to speed that process along. I poured my heart and soul into each page, crafting a letter for the future with pictures and sounds that I deemed worthy of remembering.
The freedom to craft this journal largely in your own image is the game’s strongest asset, and allows the experience to feel extremely personal. If you want to ensure that people in the future remember how beautiful nature is, then take photos of trees and flowers. If you want to just make sure humanity remembers how fresh your bicycle was, you can do that too.
Although I had plenty of fun exploring areas of the valley and taking photos and sound bites, some of my favourite gameplay moments were sections where I was traversing the overworld on my beloved blue bike, absolutely taken aback by the sheer beauty of the world I was present in.
I really enjoyed padding out the journal
I also really enjoyed that the resistance of the PlayStation 5 DualSense controller’s adaptive triggers varies depending on whether you’re cruising downhill or struggling against a steep incline. I also enjoyed the haptic feedback, which saw the controllers vibration feedback alter when driving on different types of surfaces.
While I appreciate plenty of what Season sets out to do, I did still have a few issues with the game. Despite the visuals being brilliant to look at for the majority of the experience, they were sometimes let down by the odd bout of frame drops. The game performs particularly well for the most part, but the occasional drop in frames did slightly loosen the experience’s otherwise gripping sense of atmosphere. The same can be said for the odd flickering texture I encountered on my travels.
I also had a few weird moments with the bike as well, such as instances where I’d bump into an obstacle and awkwardly ping pong off of it. I found the forced dismounting of the bicycle when bumping into things to be annoying as well, but I think I’m being fairly nitpicky here.
On the road again…
My last issue would be my aforementioned problem with the characters failing to be fleshed out enough to be truly memorable. Yes, I did enjoy their company, and they do have their moments, but I would have liked to have been able to form deeper bonds with them.
Season: A letter to the future is a quality atmospheric journey through a gorgeous world on the brink of seismic change. The world is fascinating and absolutely stunning, the story is intriguing and has a decent amount of content if you take the time during gameplay to seek it out, and the act of building up a journal full of moments you’ve personally captured is a heap of fun and makes the adventure feel unique. Pair that with enjoyable cycling mechanics, and you’ve got a solid indie well worth taking a chance on.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- Scavengers Studio
- Scavengers Studio
- PS5 / PS4 / PC
- January 31, 2023