The rest is still unwritten
A change of the seasons is usually a time for celebration. Whether you’re going from the dead cold of winter to the crisp dew of spring or leaving behind the dog days of summer for the kaleidoscope of autumn colors, the dawn of a coming season can bring with it fresh perspective and rejuvenation. At least, that’s what the changing of seasons is in our world. In SEASON: A letter to the future, seasons don’t necessarily abide by the calendar. People can’t assume they know when a season is going to end, but when it does, far more than just the temperature will change.
SEASON: A letter to the future is the sophomore game from Scavengers Studio, an indie outfit out of Montreal founded in 2015. For its debut release, the studio opted to break into the free-to-play battle royale market with Darwin Project. For its second outing, it’s aiming at a completely different audience, one that can appreciate the stillness of life and find beauty in the world that others may overlook. SEASON casts players in the role of the Protagonist, a young woman from a small mountain village who decides to do what nobody else she knows would: leave. A prophetic dream from her friend forecasted the end of the current season, and she wants to see what this world is before that end comes.
Seasons in SEASON are—from what I can tell, as the game doesn’t necessarily explain them outright—what we would call eras. Previous seasons have come and gone, changing the landscape and history of this world. There’s been a season of industrial growth, a golden season of prosperity, and a season of war. The season the Protagonist lives in is one marked by maladies of the mind, and throughout her journey, she’ll hear stories of how these unseen illnesses have incapacitated people from all walks of life.
There is a beautifully rendered world out there for the Protagonist to explore and discover. Traveling with a tape recorder, instant camera, and sketchbook, she’ll set off on bike from her hometown to document life as it exists now for future generations. Her destination is the Museum Vault, an almost mythical place at the end of the world that is allegedly safe from the changing seasons. Whether or not this place actually exists doesn’t really matter. What does matter is deciding how you want to tell the story of this world.
SEASON gives the players the ability to record their journey at their own pace and in their own way. The game encourages you to take your time, meander, and take in every sight and sound you can document. Each key location of the Protagonist’s journey will have its own pages to fill with pictures, recorded sounds, thoughts, and little stickers. While there are certain sights and sounds you’re supposed to capture—a ringing phone, a piece of graffiti, a cow’s moo—you’re free to fill the book with whatever you want. If you think the best way to document the world as it exists now is by filling your sketchbook with close-up pictures of grass, have at it. Outside of a few pages that require specific entries, you can tell this season’s story as you best see fit.
What I love about this game is it really got me thinking about life, the moment we live in, and whether or not everything we do is worth recording. Our modern society, or at least the slice of it that is perpetually online, is outright obsessed with documenting everything we do, see, taste, touch, and hear. And I’m guilty of this too. I’ve taken more than one picture of a meal from a restaurant or whatever Switch game just arrived in the mail.
SEASON questions such a practice. While the Protagonist’s end goal is to record life at that very moment, should she actually record every moment of her life? Are there some moments that don’t belong to the ages but rather to the here and now? It’s a choice you and the Protagonist will have to make as you fill her sketchbook, to live in the moment and experience it as it happens, or to document it as some outside observer.
There is a lot to contemplate with this game. Memories, legacies, and the way in which history controls us are all themes that are explored. Throughout her journey, the Protagonist will see evidence of a forgotten past and record plans for an uncertain future. She’ll discover stories with neither beginnings nor ends and make friends with strange, foreign travelers. This is a game that wants players to think about their own lives as they take pictures of pretty waterfalls and capture the songs of music boxes.
I bought into SEASON: A letter to the future hook, line, and sinker. The entire concept of this game has spoken to me since it first debuted at The Game Awards in 2020, and as I ventured throughout this world and admired how the developers incorporated the adaptive triggers of the PS5 controller into peddling the bike, I didn’t want this journey to end. I wanted to see more. More lost villages, more dilapidated remnants of the past, more everything.
But it did end.
Like, really abruptly.
I sat down on my second day with the game, thinking I was at the halfway point, only to reach the ending cinematic in two minutes. I was in such disbelief that I actually had tears from laughter at how this journey wraps up, and while there are many emotions I’m sure the developers wanted their audience to feel at the end of this game, I doubt laughter was anywhere near the top of their list.
I don’t have an issue with short games. In fact, as somebody whose motto is “ain’t nobody got time for that,” I’ll take a short game over a long game any day. And at eight hours, SEASON isn’t necessarily a short game. But by golly, does it feel like an abridged one. Make no mistake, there is an ending to this game, but it comes so suddenly that I couldn’t believe I’d reached it at that point in my journey. As I watched the credits roll, it felt like it was just getting started, that I still had so much to see. It was like being promised a trip to Disneyland but never going beyond Main Street, U.S.A.
I cannot remember the last time I played a game I enjoyed this much that left me this unsatisfied when it was over. Because I did really love everything about SEASON: A letter to the future, from the incredible art direction to the wonderful sound mixing to Maureen Adelson’s restrained performance as the Protagonist. This is a game that has moved me in ways no other has, but no matter how much it gave me to think about, when it was over, the only thought in my head was, “Is that all there is?”
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]