I sit in my room, armed with my journal as the morning light shines through the window beside me. It’s still and the only sound is my mother humming a melody from the kitchen as she makes our last breakfast together. I finish up my journal entry and go to join her. Before she notices me, I decide to document the moment. I pick up my pencil and sketch my mother as I wish to remember her – caring for me as she always has. When I’m done, the spell breaks and I go about getting ready to leave the only home I’ve ever known. This is how Season: A Letter to the Future begins.
Season is a third-person atmospheric adventure game that tells the story of a young documentarian as she leaves her village in the mountains to enter the great unknown. You know only a few things as the game begins: you are living in a post-war world and soon everything will be washed away in a great flood. In order to make sure history doesn’t wash away your stories, your goal is to go out and document the current season which in this world relates to a period in time. In a world where prophecies, rituals and prayers fill the atmospheric landscape, every part of your journey is tinged with mystery. Overall, the entire story feels like a goodbye.
After leaving your village and heading off on your bike into the great unknown, you soon come across the main setting of our tale – Tieng Valley. Here you discover the remaining residents are packing ready to flee the great flood. Armed with a polaroid camera, audio recorder and journal, you scour the valley for not only places and people that have a story, but also to find out about this strange and mystical world.
Although you have a map in our journal, you have free rein to explore the valley as you please. Whether you head to the cow farm first to learn all the cow’s names (from the weird to the spectacular), or to the gas station parking lot that has now become a resting place for the ‘sleeping.’ At this location, I pull out the audio recorder and allow the sounds of the various wind-chimes to fill up the microphone before taking a quick snap of what was once a vending machine and is now a grave. On the grids that cars would have once parked are now the resting bodies of soldiers. They are surrounded by incense and tokens. It is clear they have not been forgotten. It’s moments like this in Season which stayed with me long after I finished playing.
Your limited inventory of a polaroid camera, audio recorder and journal are key to our findings. You can snap photos of everything without limit, the same goes for audio recordings. You can record the birds chirping in the canopy above you or the water trickling in the nearest stream. You can snap a photo of a frog lounging on a lilypad or the valley below you as you climb to a vantage point. All of these can be stored in your journal alongside other trinkets you find on your journey. The best (and most time consuming part) is having the ability to decorate your journal. Every page is unique to the player as you decorate with your recordings, photographs and stickers. An area is ‘complete’ when you have stuck five items in your journal but you can fill it to your heart’s content.
Traversal through the winding roads and mountain vistas is effortless in this game. Pedalling on your bike feels dynamic and so does coming to an abrupt stop when you spot another interesting location on the road. Your bike will be your companion as you journey on it to the most incredible areas. You can come across a graveyard suspended in time which overlooks a lake adorned with a giant mechanical sculpture. You can happen upon an entire meadow filled with glistening pink flowers known as memory flowers. These hold the trapped recollections of a person long gone and you can decipher the voices using your audio recorder. Some are dotted around, a lone bloom waiting to be found. This meadow, however, is filled with thousands of them as the owner’s memories battle to be heard amongst the cacophony. It’s another reminder of how strong our voices can become when our future is threatened to be taken away from us.
What starts off as an atmospheric bike-riding simulator soon becomes entrenched in mystery as we discover why the season is ending. You uncover the story as you go, in small pieces. This can be in the form of the stories from people you meet or letters left behind in abandoned mail offices. You learn about the war that came before and the flood that is on its way. Most importantly, you learn about the people.
The characters you meet on your journey are few but they are impactful. You meet a woman and her son, packing up their belongings to move from their fruit farm to the big city. You help the woman decide what to take and what to leave behind before heading off on a tour of the valley with her son. The two of you bond over the deaths of your father and turn from strangers to friends.
Season is a game with a great many messages hidden throughout a simple yet impactful story. For me, it is a story about grief, memories, hope and connections. It’s a reminder to appreciate the little things this world has to offer, and how fragile they really are. It’s about the bonds we form with people – from strangers to family. It’s about how the future is uncertain and yet thrilling and exciting and out there waiting.
Angharad played Season: A Letter to the Future on PC with a code provided by the publisher. Season is also available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.